Teachers in Kenya are still waiting for the government to come to the table to discuss their demand that 40,000 new teachers be appointed and that 53,000 teachers who have gained higher qualifications be given promotion. The dispute has been ongoing since July of last year and as yet the government has failed to discuss with the teachers union, the Kenyan National Union of Teachers (KNUT).

While some of the media has made use of data collection which purports to show that children are not achieving at the required level, union leaders point out that since the introduction of Free Primary Education in line with the so-called Millennium Development Goals, the number of teachers has remained the same - so that 9 million extra children are being taught by the same number of teachers. This means that classes are not infrequently over 100 to a teacher. Moreover many teachers have not had the opportunity to train - particularly at secondary level. It has been to address this that the 53,000 have put themselves through higher level training, yet their efforts have not been rewarded.

Another accusation thrown at Kenyan teachers by the World Bank and repeated in some parts of the media, is that teacher absenteeism is high. Leaders of the union point out that no account is taken of sickness or maternity leave or that teachers might be involved in training for example. In many parts of the global South, no substitute teachers are provided in those circumstances. Moreover the shortage of teachers can mean for example that eight classes are taught by four teachers, meaning inevitably that some classes will be missing their teachers.

Teachers in Kenya were on strike for four weeks in July 2013. At that time the strike was broken by the new government, with some help from divide and rule tactics which saw the smaller post primary union, KUPPET, break ranks, and the trade union centre putting pressure on the union to end their strike. Moreover the government declared the strike illegal and threatened to jail union leaders. As we reported at the timepressure was put on the leaders of KNUT, threatening economic collapse if they did not give up their demands for a living wage and for pay allowances which have been promised since 1997. KNUT President Walter Sossion says that the government wants to cripple the unions and pursue capitalist policies, according to the Saturday Nation newspaper. Sossion said, “Profits override the social welfare of the working class . . . the government is working to cripple KNUT because it sees it to be the biggest headache.

Meanwhile the government proposes to 'modernise' education with a Bill Gates backed scheme to give every child a laptop and increase connectivity in schools – this under conditions where many schools have not even got electricity, toilets or even in some cases buildings and where the teaching strength is at least 100,000 short. Teachers are on such low salaries that it is difficult for them even to fund basic living accommodation. 

Not only has the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund instructed the government to reduce its public sector wage bill, it has also advised them to increase VAT to 16%, hitting parents hard when it comes to buying text books for example for their children, not to mention the general effect on household budgets, both for parents and for the chronically underpaid teachers.

There was much support for the teachers' strike in July, both from parents and from some sections of the trade union movement, for example the dockers. There was also a great deal of opposition from the parents for the laptops for schools plan, since parents rightly saw that the most important thing that children needed were well paid and trained teachers. 

The Kenyan government is still dancing to the IMF tune, and meanwhile it is the teachers, children and parents of Kenya who are suffering. The KNUT has a noble record of fighting both for the rights of teachers and for education funding, they deserve all our solidarity as they go into battle again.