Just when the education sector is beginning to regain its composure after the Covid-19 chaos, teachers are threatening to throw the cat among the pigeons with a strike threat that could upend the gains made so far.
They are demanding a pay increase following the lapse of the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement and the signing of the 2021-2025 non-monetary one penned in the thick of the Covid-19 upheaval. If they don’t get a deal in 21 days, officials of the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet), say they will boycott work until it’s done.
When the virus was first detected in Kenya on March 12, 2021, the government closed down all learning institutions for the rest of the year, upsetting academic calendars and throwing the whole sector into disarray.
Exams, graduations, teacher recruitment and promotions, implementation of the Competency-Based Curriculum, internships and many other activities were all suspended indefinitely.
Since last year in January when signs of normalcy began to show and the education sector started getting back on its feet, education chiefs have been scrambling to steer the ship in an all-hands-on-deck endeavour.
While Akelo Misori, the Kuppet boss, has every right, legitimacy and justification to fight for the best pay deal for his troops, the timing of the strike could not have been more inauspicious.
One of the immediate and most devastating consequences of a strike will certainly be felt on the examinations front, for 2022 can as rightly be referred to as the year of exams.
For the first time in Kenya’s history, five of them will be administered this year principally because of the Covid-19 disruptions and partly due to the introduction of the Competency-Based Curriculum. Between today (February 28) and April 1, some 831,015 candidates will sit their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations in 10,413 centres compared to 752,981 in 10,437 centres in 2020. This will be a candidature increase of 78,034 representing 9.39 per cent.
Still, some 1,225,507 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidates are scheduled to write their examinations in 28,316 test centres between March 7 and March 9.
For these immediate tests, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) has rallied 242,406 teachers to work as invigilators, supervisors, centre managers and examiners. And in the words of the TSC boss Dr Nancy Macharia “Only the best cream of teachers, those who do not have any known disciplinary issues, have been identified as part of the Commission’s determination to guarantee integrity in examination administration.”
It is these teachers that Mr Misori seeks to yank out of schools in his demands for higher pay, leaving 2,056,522 hapless candidates to their own devices.
In October, Grade Six learners, who will be winding up the primary school phase of their education under CBC, will sit their national assessment test which will be used to gauge their interests, talents and skills before they get enrolled on junior secondary school, comprising Grades 7, 8 and 9.
And in November and December, according to the KNEC schedule, teachers will be called upon to administer, mark and grade the KCPE and KCSE national examinations, this time sat by 2022 candidates.
Kuppet has slightly more than 80,000 members who are mostly in secondary schools. However, if they go on strike they will upset the whole basic education sector because of the expected transitions from one level to the next.
Teachers may be entitled to earn competitive and generous salaries but they must be conscientious enough to evaluate their demands against those of their learners who have an unyielding right to sit their examinations and proceed to the next phase of their lives without undue interference.
Away from exams, TSC is scrambling to prepare teachers for the CBC junior high classes next year and has so far trained 229,292 and further training is scheduled in April. From the perspective of Kuppet, however, there couldn’t be a more propitious time to call for a work boycott than during an election season. The union is banking on support from politicians keen on winning teachers’ support if for nothing else but their own selfish interests.
No political leader worth their salt would want to earn the wrath of a 300,000-strong teaching force.
In all fairness, even if the TSC was interested in reviewing the running CBA, it is bound by the rules of the Salaries Remuneration Commission (SRC), which froze all pay increments for all public service workers last year in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. And the SRC is itself dependent on words from the National Treasury.
With the once-giant Kenya National Union of Teachers non-committal about the strike, and the TSC having called for patience to allow the smooth administration of examinations, Kuppet has been cast a lone wolf howling in the wilderness. The prevailing circumstances give it no option but to lay down its arms for now.
The writer is a consulting editor, [email protected].com