Both of the main teaching unions in Kenya, KNUT and the smaller secondary union KUPPET meeting in conference last week, are predicting a strike in January at the beginning of the new school year. The strike had been put on hold in October so that students could complete their school leaving exams.

The strike is over a long-running dispute about teachers' pay, which has not been settled since 1997, when teachers were promised a substantial pay rise which would have given them at least a living wage. According to Professor of Education Kisiang'ani, talking on Kenyan television, the public schools system has been slowly killed off by successive governments since 1978, with schools underfunded and increased privatisation. The poor pay and lack of respect by government for teachers has been a reflection of this. According to the professor, politicians all send their children to private schools, so that they do not care about the public schools. Teachers should be some of the highest paid people in the country he said, yet this is far from being the case. Moreover schools are so underfunded that teachers have to work in very difficult conditions. 

Earlier this year, leaving certificates were withheld from school leavers unable to pay their fees, a situation unimaginable in much of the North. The reason for this is that schools were having to close early because they owed so much money to suppliers who were refusing to deliver to them and threatening legal action.

Meanwhile as public schools are starved of cash and teachers struggle to survive on their wages, Kenya is seen as a lucrative education market by corporations. Pearson has a stake in the  chain which runs low-fee private schools in the country charging daily fees to parents and providing school in tin sheds, the so-called School in a Box scheme. The Gates foundation on the other hand backed a scheme to supply  to children all over Kenya in which the government invested a huge amount of money, while it was still desparately short of teachers and those that it did employ were underpaid.

In a recent  private school owners are urging the government to change the system whereby 75% of places in the small state secondary sector are allocated to children attending state funded primary schools. Almost 900,000 children take the primary school leaving exam every year, but Kenya only has 18,500 state funded secondary school places. Before new laws came in in 2001, the places were almost all taken by children from wealthy families who could afford to send them to well-resourced private primary schools. Now private schools are attempting to turn back the clock. The real question of course is why is there not properly funded secondary education for all in a country where foreign corporations like  Unilever are benefiting from tax avoidance and special tax arrangements and making mega profits from Kenya's rich agriculture.