By George Ojema
Students and parents begun this week with a sigh of relief as teachers grumbled their way back to classrooms following the end of the strike after five weeks away from the chalk boards. Candidates awaiting the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations had been allowed to remain in school but without the guidance of tutors many fear that they will not be adequately prepared for the education milestones. Some parents have already prepared themselves for the worst with regards to results release in January and March next year as some pray the blow will be felt across the board. However, I suspect the gaping difference between private and public schools performance might just be that much wider and yet again it will be the students that suffer as public institutions plead for ‘fair’ distribution of form one spaces. It happens every year.
However, the drawn out strike (which has not been concluded) has seen several key characters reverse their roles.
Parents and teachers
At the beginning of every school term, children are sent to school and parents enjoy between 12 and 14 weeks of relative ‘freedom’. The children are at school hopefully studying and the parent is not constantly on the phone trying to figure out who’s been invited to the house, who’s listening to music at a thousand decibels or if your child is sexually active…in your house. Yes, a thousand decibels because children can listen to music at that sort of volume yet fail to hear you call them for dinner.
In these 12-14 weeks teachers become parents. They correct, direct and supervise your children as they shepherd their dreams and ambitions. Teachers sometimes know more about their students than their parents do. While I was completing class 8 and preparing to sit KCSE exams, my teachers knew I was no longer interested in becoming a doctor. My father came round to this realization four years later in a messy confrontation. He paid the fee but had no idea the changes he was paying for.
During this strike period, some parents were forced to step into their roles and do some actual parenting. And it was tough because fashion has changed and music has changed and children have changed. Some discovered their children have self-esteem issues and others discovered their children have drug issues. Parenting.
So it was a sigh when the strike was called off, right?
Government, law and citizens
The whole mess begun with a court ruling awarding the teachers a much anticipated pay hike. And since we live in a country governed by the rule of law we expected they would be receiving said monies and life would swiftly move on to the nurses’ strike. But things went from jubilation to dust when the Teacher’s Service Commission hinted at no increment because there was no money.
And they went to court to side step paying the new wage which only angered teachers more. But as the teachers were seething in slow rage, the commission had moved to court to have the strike termed illegal and stopped. But things didn’t pan out as anyone had expected.
Then the President stepped into the fray after weeks of silence and parents and students across the country held their breath only for him to deliver what will become his signature clause throughout the crisis…can’t pay, won’t pay.
And just like that the person we expected to uphold the law found an excuse to ignore it. And we’ve been pointing it out ever since. This bold side step has been made worse by the fact that the teachers have complied with their court order to suspend the strike and march back to class. They’ve grumbled about it, but they’re going.
So if the teachers, common folk really, can comply with court rulings, then isn’t the frame the wrong way up?
The politics behind it all
Unfortunately, many public servants have followed the teachers strike while waiting in the flanks. If the teachers had got their pay hike, nurses and everyone else would knock down the door. If the pay hike can be delayed, even till after the next election, the government can only look forward to more industrial action with no real obligation to pay up, despite court orders.
And with campaigns for the next general elections around the bend be sure to see better pay for everyone feature on both ends of the political divide. Who knows, someone might even suggest pay cuts for politicians and highly paid civil servants.
But I’m afraid a precedent has been set. Industrial action, even if warranted, has been shown to be weaker than wait and see tactics by the government. Court rulings, can be explained away by throwing figures from a leaking budget and the wage bill into a dinner time broadcast.
‘We have no money’
Sure, but MCA’s in Nyeri can award themselves 6 million…each. This country.