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Mutula must evict elephants from office

OPINION
By - | August 23rd 2012

By OKECH KENDO

With two elephants occupying his mahogany-decked desk at Jogoo House, the Minister for Education has lost the luxury of minding minor operational details of schools. To protect his space, he must evict the mocking beasts.

 The minister who wants to become a senator of Makueni County can no longer preoccupy his working day with small issues like skirts and unqualified ban on tuition, even for candidates who do not have teachers for examination subjects. 

Now the minister must confront the jumbos – apende asipende.  When he gathers the courage to do so, observers will be keen to find out whether the minister has as much passion in handling bigger issues as he does with the minute.

Bigger issues

The first elephant is snorting cheekily, with the mocking tone of voluminous Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary General David Okuta Osiany.  When you introduce the bully Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary General Francis Atwoli into the fray, then the minister has much bigger issues to confront. He won’t pass the buck because teachers have issued a seven-day strike notice. They have to be persuaded out of the industrial action that could disrupt the examination and school calendar.

 Indeed the minister’s challenges are much bigger even without adding the shrill Knut chairman Wilson Sossion to the clash. And the clash has nothing to do with the minister denying teachers extra cash from tuition.

The bullish and voluble trade unionists have called for a teachers’ strike on the day schools open for third term. This is also the examination and final term of this year.

Unsettling rage

Knut wants teachers to impose work stoppage unless they get a 300 per cent salary increase, with Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers asking for 100 per cent pay hike.

Teachers do not want to talk to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission as they have been advised:  They want their employer – the TSC – to resolve these pending issues.  Teachers want these matters of the pocket and the stomach resolved and sealed by September 3 – the day they want the strike to begin.

 The other elephant at Jogoo House – the flipside of a good step  – is also snorting, with a rage that would unsettle the minister and the Teachers Service Commission.

TSC is recruiting 11,000 teachers as the first step to bridging the 80,000 national staff deficit.  The commission intends to deploy these teachers at the beginning of the third term – a month before the beginning of Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, or two months before Class Eight candidates sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams.

Hiring teachers is fine, and it is overdue. But it must be remembered that the new teachers are not coming from colleges, villages or the streets. Most of the applicants graduated years ago, and are registered with the TSC as trained teachers.  Most of them have been teaching in public schools as employees of school boards. 

The TSC hiring gives the former BoG employees better pay, permanent, and pensionable terms. But the new status will take most of these teachers away from their current workstations where they were hired on the basis of a need. 

The ministry and TSC had failed to satisfy this need for years. Some of these teachers have been teaching examination classes throughout the year. Most of these teachers will be deployed to other schools a month before their candidates sit for final examinations.

There is also no guarantee the BoG teachers shall be replaced instantly in the schools where they have been. Nor is there a guarantee TSC will give these schools the teachers they asked for. But even if this happened, the transfers will disrupt preparation for national examinations.

Timing

Principals who want better results for their schools are concerned about the timing of the deployments, but they dare not raise it with the minister or TSC.  They fear being victimised for questioning the timing of the hiring that disrupts planning and revision for national examinations. Principals welcome TSC take-over of their BoG staff, but they want those teaching candidates retained in their current stations until after examinations in November.

These teachers know what they are talking about. The numbers involved are as many as 17 for a national school in Nyanza, and 12 for another national school in Western.

A top girls’ secondary school in Nyanza shall be losing eight members of staff who have been teaching candidates at the beginning of next month, without a guarantee of immediate replacements.

Disoriented

Some of the schools are yet to complete the KCSE syllabus, and introducing a new teacher so late in the examination year could disorient candidates.  Yet TSC says it can do nothing about the timing of the deployment of new teachers. Now who can if the minister and the TSC plead helpless about matters of planning?

These two elephants  – the strike and transfer of teachers in third term – are kissing the minister in the nose. Both are testing his ability to handle the rough ride of the Ministry of Education.

The spine of a leadership is tested in moments of challenges. This is Mutula Kilonzo’s time to demonstrate his mettle by placing the children first

Writer is The Standard’s Managing Editor Quality and Production.

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