The current paralysis in the education sector brought about by the ongoing strike which was called by the Kenya National Union of Teachers a few days ago has been motivated by insincerity, showboating and self-seeking rather than legitimate concerns for teachers’ affairs as the country is now made to believe.
Make no mistake; teachers’ welfare cannot be toyed with! Teachers are an important cog in the wheel of any social or economic development. Everyone is who they are because of teachers who work tirelessly to nurture and transform naive school children into respectable citizens spread across all the spheres of our nation. Agitation for improved wellbeing for this indispensable cadre of servants is thus perfectly in order. But it is the manner in which KNUT has approached the negotiation table with the government that must be queried.
There cannot be meaningful progress if negotiations are not structured around utmost good faith accompanied with honest brokers. On its part, the Jubilee government is fully determined to better the welfare of teachers and the learning environment generally by improving the teacher to student ratio, improving and constructing new learning facilities in order to boost the quality of education in our public schools. This is well captured in its manifesto on the basis of which Jubilee successfully rallied support from Kenyans including teachers in the last elections.
KNUT on the other side is busy engaging in blackmail and brinkmanship to try and divert both attention and resources by calling for suspension of the laptop project. To achieve their selfish end, they have stopped at nothing in concocting facts and shifting goal posts.
For starters, the government has met all the conditions as stipulated since 1997. It is instructive that Legal Notice of No. 534 has since been repealed but on the whole, the teachers’ salaries have doubled over the years since the collective bargain agreement in 1997 notwithstanding that the said CBA was not registered in court as per the labour laws. Teachers’ salaries are now comparable to those of other civil servants.
It is grossly misleading for KNUT to claim that the laptop project will cost the government a whooping Sh53 billion in the current financial year. In fact, the project is only expected to cost the government a modest Sh15 billion in its first year of implementation taking into consideration that electricity and solar power provision to schools has been factored in.
Teachers demand for Sh47 billion per year in the circumstances is extravagant and insensitive to the fundamentals of our economy at the moment. If honoured, it will cost the taxpayer a staggering Sh138 billion in only three years which is clearly untenable.
The government is also in the process of promoting teachers in order to promote upward mobility while hiring another 30,000 teachers in addressing the student/teacher ratio. On the question of salaries for civil servants generally, the president has reiterated the need for collective effort in growing the economy before assembling at the table to share the spoils.
Within this context therefore, KNUT machinations are clearly discernible. It is important for the public to know that KNUT officials take home a mindboggling sum of Sh90 million per month translating into Sh1.2 million for the top officials and another Sh150,000 to Sh200,000 each week in allowances. With this kind of friends for teachers, they do not have to look for enemies. KNUT is basically fighting to justify their huge pay by teachers who must fork out this money from their slim pay slips.
The laptop project is a flagship project in the Jubilee manifesto which is essentially a contract between the government and Kenyans who streamed to the polling stations on the understanding that this is a government which would keep its word. It is also important to appreciate where the world is moving in the epoch of technology.
Either we are in as a competitive nation making economic strides by equipping ourselves with the necessary skills in computer technology or we are locked out of the global arena for dragging our feet as more enlightened nations by pass us. This is the rationale behind the laptop project for our school children. It is not a luxury for toddlers as some ignorant political opportunists have dismissed it. It is about the survival of a nation. Nobody should stand in the way of this idea whose moment is today!
(The writer is a lawyer with Maina Ngaruiya Advocates. [email protected])