Education International
Education International

Kenya: Teachers protest in nationwide strike

published 12 September 2011 updated 20 October 2011

School will start a little later than usual this year in Kenya as teachers have gone out on strike across the country to demand the government awards permanent contracts to thousands of teachers.

Led by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), the teachers are calling on the government to hire 28,000 new teachers on contracts that are permanent and pensionable.

As KNUT members marched through the streets of Nairobi last week, as part of a nationwide strike, they insisted that they were not after more money, although pay is certainly an issue.

KNUT members have been fighting for a long time to end the practice of employing teachers on temporary contracts as a means of saving money.

Ephrahim Muregi, chairman of the Nairobi branch of the EI-affiliated teachers’ union, said: “This [is] a government that does not care for the common man. Imagine a teacher earning 10,000 shillings a month, that is what most of these young men and women are earning.

“These guys [politicians] are earning a million shillings and they are not paying tax, while we earn 10,000 which is taxed. That is why we are saying the government is totally insensitive to the plight of the poor in this country.”

Ten thousand shillings is approximately $90. To put this figure into perspective, it costs about 3,000 shillings to rent a shack in the city's Kibera slum.

A government committee on education earlier this year proposed budget cuts to save about $75 million (6.7 billion shillings), part of which was to be used for recruitment, but that money was later re-allocated to the military.

The move has caused rifts within Kenya's government, with education ministers blaming the Finance Ministry, led by presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, for mishandling the funds.

Teachers have pledged to continue their strike until the government meets their demands and have told students not to show up for classes.

One primary school teacher, Olembi Peter, who often has to teach classes of 100 students at a time, says the children understand the teachers' concerns: “People are enlightened nowadays, even the little children know what’s going on,” he explained, “so even they know that we are marginalised and we are suffering, so we just told them, the issue is with the government and it’s not with you."

The KNUT has vowed that teachers will not back down until the government relents.