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Leaders ask State and unions to end crisis in Kenyan public schools

By WILFRED AYAGA and AUGUSTINE ODUOR | September 14th 2015 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion speaks during a press conference at the union’s offices in Nairobi Sunday. He is accompanied by Knut Chairman Mudzo Nzili (centre) and Wycliffe Omucheyi, second vice national chairman. [PHOTO: EDWARD KIPLIMO/STANDARD]

NAIROBI: Moderate voices of the clergy, educationists, lawyers and civil society groups have called for dialogue over the ongoing teachers’ strike that enters its third week today.

The Government and teachers’ unions have been urged to consider the plight of millions of children in public schools, especially those about to sit national examinations in a few weeks’ time.

The stalemate took a turn for the worse after President Uhuru Kenyatta declared on Friday that the Government had no money to pay the 50-60 per cent salary increment.

Deputy President William Ruto echoed the President’s message yesterday, asking teachers to respect independent constitutional commissions that have already ruled out a pay rise.

But in a quick rejoinder, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Wilson Sossion said Uhuru’s declaration could throw the country into a state of anarchy

And yesterday, he vowed that teachers would not relent until they get the payout directed by the courts.

More worrying were reports that the Government was considering closing down all public schools this week and only have Form Four and Class Eight candidates in schools to prepare for examinations.

A Government official familiar with the development said the drastic action was considered at a meeting last week when the President met education officials on the crisis and Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi is likely to communicate the directive this week.

“The CS will most likely close schools this week and only allow candidates. Security would be provided to them,” said the official. Mr Kaimenyi yesterday did not respond to inquiries about the possible closure of schools.

The Standard has established that the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) has convened a crisis meeting this Friday to brief key stakeholders on the status of examinations. Knec Chief Executive Officer Joseph Kivilu yesterday confirmed the meeting will take place but described it as routine.

The Ministry of Education and Teachers Service Commission (TSC) county directors, yesterday confirmed receiving invitation letters to the Friday meeting in Nairobi.

The letters said the officials have been invited to the launch of the 2015 examinations that will be presided over by Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang.

According to the KCSE examination timetable, written examinations are scheduled to start on October 19, 2015, and end on November 5, 2015. KCPE examinations are scheduled to kick off on November 9, 2015 and end on November 12, 2015.

It is against this backdrop that calls for dialogue gathered pace yesterday.

Speaking during a fundraiser at the St Peter’s Cathedral in Siaya, Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukhala said: “The child is paramount. Both the teachers and the Government should know that they are putting the lives of children in danger.”

Head of the Catholic Church John Cardinal Njue, said that the Catholic secretariat had taken up the matter.

A day after the strike commenced, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Education and Religious Education urged the warring parties to dialogue, saying a standoff would see school-going children suffer injustice.

“It is disheartening that teachers have to revert to strikes to sort out salary issues and further that the government has to wait for matters to reach such levels for them to react. By paralysing education in our public schools these perennial strikes are eroding the quality of education and in the long term spell doom for the social and economic development of the country,” read the statement signed by Reverend Maurice Makumba, chairman of the commission.

Chairman of Kenyatta University Council Ratemo Michieka, blamed the current stalemate on historical factors and asked teachers and the Government to approach the matter with goodwill and sobriety.

Lawyer Judy Thongori said that both the Government and the teachers have a responsibility to ensure children get back to school. “The teachers and the Government owe the country on this matter. It is sad that children have been at home, but I believe that this is nothing that the two sides cannot resolve,” said Ms Thongori.

James Mwamu, a Law Society of Kenya council member, and immediate former president of the East Africa Law Society, said the important thing is for the Government to obey the court order.

Executive Director of the Federation of Kenya Employers Jackline Mugo, urged both sides to climb down from their extremist positions and embrace dialogue.

The Managing Director of the Kenya Investment Authority Moses Ikiara, said education is a big issue and everyone needs to sit at the table and see how the matter can be resolved without injuring the country’s labour competitiveness.

University don Egara Kabaji termed the current situation ‘tricky’.

“We need to dialogue as this matter is very tricky. One arm of the Government has given an order and the other has explained that it cannot pay. There is not silver-bullet solution to the matter. Everybody needs to sit down and find a solution,” said Prof Kabaji.

Kenya National Parents and Teachers Association Chairman Nathan Barasa, said candidates must be allowed to sit examinations.

“We wish there was a way the Government could resolve the strike because candidates are emotionally disturbed. You can imagine what is going through their minds now,” said Mr Barasa. “It has been almost two weeks now, the CS is saying his own things, and court orders are being ignored with abandon. It is completely unacceptable and immoral that children are missing an education,” said former Education Permanent Secretary James ole Kiyiapi.

The Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross Society Abbas Gullet, said that teachers deserve to be heard.

“I know that there is a court ruling and obviously, we should work towards complying with it. I know there are financial challenges, but a solution has to be found. The situation cannot continue the way it is. It is difficult for teachers who struggle to take care of our children,” said Mr Gullet.

Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation Chaiperson Rahab Mwikali, also called for dialogue as did renowned national women volleyball team player Janet Wanja.

“It is sad that year after year, we have these strikes. However, I believe that this is something that can be sorted out if people sit down and talk. I think that the problem has been that no one wants to back down,” said Ms Wanja.

“It is clear that no effort will cause stability in the education sector and that the country risks losing not only the billions pumped into schools, but also the generations of children who graduate with no competency in literacy and numeracy skills,” said Elizabeth Muthoni, Elimu Yetu Coalition co-ordinator.

Additional reporting by Olivia Odhiambo


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