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Strike threat, higher fees as students

 A parent helps children to pick books at a bookshop in Kakamega yesterday. Parents began shopping in earnest ahead of reopening of schools for second term. [PHOTO: BENJAMIN SAKWA/STANDARD]

By MARK KAPCHANGA and KENNETH KWAMA

Kenya: Schools reopen this week for the beginning of the second term amid serious concerns that learning may be interrupted.

The Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) says it might be forced to call for a strike should the Government fail to factor in additional money it had promised to cover leave and responsibility allowances, promotions and hiring of of more teachers.

“With pressure coming from our members, we look forward to invoking our decision-makers whether we shall have a smooth term before the budget reading in June or we call for a strike,” (Kuppet) National Chairman Omboko Milemba told The Standard.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) yesterday promised to issue a statement on its official position on Kuppet’s threat today (Monday) and urged for calm.

“We will deliberate and make public our official position tomorrow (Monday),” Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion told The Standard. He declined to state whether Knut would support Kuppet’s position or not saying the matter was too weighty to be speculated on.

The Kenya Secondary Schools Head  Teachers Association said it was not aware of any impending industrial action, but stated it would support any decisions reached by Kuppet and Knut on such issues.

“We are a professional body that deals with professional issues. Welfare matters have been left to Knut and Kuppet. So far we don’t have information about the planned strike and details have not been made official, but we will support whatever decision they come up with,” said John Awiti chairman of the head teachers association.

Budget estimates

Kuppet says the schools’ second  term, which entails covering the better part of the syllabus, particularly for national examinations candidates, may be uneven due to failure by the Government to honour part of its promises to teachers in the recently-released budget estimates.

Mr Milemba says the 2014/2015 approximation of the cost of activities in the country failed to adhere to the promise made late last year after the teachers’ strike.

Apart from the payment of allowances to teachers, which has partly begun, Milemba argues that the budget estimates ignored promises on leave allowance, responsibility allowance, teacher promotions money, hiring more teachers and salary increments of up to 200 per cent.

The Kuppet boss observes that the Government must appreciate how important this term is to schools’ calendar and factor in these demands in its budget estimates before June 1.

In 2013, the Government promised an equivalent of a month’s salary for leave allowance, Sh1.6 billion for leave allowance for job groups L and above and Sh5 billion for teacher promotions.

“The present regime must be proactive this time not to allow teachers to strike as has been the tradition in the past,” he said.

On May 1, Kuppet’s National Governing Council, with representatives from all 47 counties, met in Nairobi to discuss the way forward following the exclusion of their demands in the budget estimates. It resolved that between now and the Budget Day, the money must be included.

“The Education ministry can even explain to teachers how the demands will be met,” he said.

The union said its members must be prepared for hard times ahead as there could be a strike in June.

“Teachers should cover the syllabus as much as possible in this month. Students, on the other hand, must concentrate on their studies within this period to achieve their best,” Milemba said.

But St Anthony’s High School-Kitale Principal Cosmas Nabongolo says it is time the concerned parties exercised tolerance, and compromise.

“They must consider the students in this case as the main denominator. We should therefore give our utmost to students this time because the last school term is usually short,” said Mr Nabongolo.

Squatters

The head of one of Kenya’s academic giants said schools should also look for alternative revenue sources so as to supplement parents’ fees through bursaries.

 “We appreciate the burden parents carry, especially here in Trans-Nzoia County as most of them are squatters. We have therefore initiated an alumni bursary scheme for needy but bright students. The school is at the same time offering scholarships to the talented students,” said Nabongolo, adding: “School heads should also allow parents to pay their fees in instalments especially during these tough economic times.”

Indeed, as the term begins, pressure will be on parents to pay school fees, which many said they couldn’t raise. Enock Mutisya, a parent at a secondary school in Nairobi, said it might force him to withdraw his child from school due to lack of money.

“I am supposed to pay Sh25,000 this term, yet, I do not have any other alternative income apart from the charcoal business in Ngara Estate, which gives me an average of Sh250 a day,” said Mr Mutisya.

Worse, there seems to be no hope in the horizon as the task force formed early in the year to look into the escalating school fees said it would hand over its report in a month’s time.

Parents had hoped the report would be out before the beginning of the term so as to ease the financial burden on them.

“We have got many suggestions from all stakeholders and we need the experts to summarise and harmonise the reports so that we can know the actual cost of quality secondary education,” the task force’s chairman Kilemi Mwiria told our sister publication, The Standard on Saturday.

The principal of Kipsoen Boys’ Secondary School in Keiyo, Mr Christopher Serem, was, however, optimistic, saying that an understanding between teachers and the Government that the financial environment is shaky would help avert the looming strike.

“Provided the Government releases the funds for tuition, salaries for support staff and administration on time, I am optimistic we will have a smooth term,” said Mr Serem.

The fund is normally distributed in phases. In the first term, 50 per cent of the money is disbursed, 30 per cent in second term and the rest in third term.

Serem urged the Government to help parents who do not have stable income by carrying more school fees burden.

“Parents get some support from constituency development funds, but this is not sustainable,” he said.

 


 

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