The government’s decision to close all schools with effect from Monday to break the teachers’ strike is a most drastic, unprecedented and ruthless move and is bound to worsen the crisis in the education sector.
Never before in this country has a government reacted to an industrial dispute in such a draconian manner.
Kenyan teachers have gone on strike over pay a record 12 times since 1997. But never in all those cases did the government resort to closing schools.
In fact, the 1997 strike that was the first major industrial unrest in the education sector since 1967 did not elicit such a severe response.
Yet this happened under the Moi administration that had all the hallmarks of bad governance, high-handedness and intolerance. If President Moi could climb down and initiate dialogue with teachers, why not the current administration?
For a start, closing schools indefinitely puts Kenya in the league of failed states, where public services such as education and health are grounded due to armed conflict or natural calamities.
Second, the cost of closing schools barely a month into the third term means massive losses to the 14 million children in primary, secondary and tertiary colleges.
Inevitably, the curriculum will not be covered yet they have to progress to the next grade. Matters are particularly grave for the Standard Eight and Form Four candidates in the public schools, who will sit national examinations without adequate preparations.
VIOLATING CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
Third, there is no bigger crime against children than what the government has done. It goes against its stated objective of protecting the rights of children and promoting quality of basic and compulsory education in line with the Constitution.
Fourth, the closure is an admission that the government does not want to engage the teachers in any meaningful discussion to resolve the strike that has gone on for three weeks. This casts the government in very negative light.
The Opposition Cord alliance has issued a threat to mobilise the citizens to protest the casual manner the government has handled the strike.
And to underscore the point, the Opposition seeks to file for impeachment of President Uhuru Kenyatta for disobeying a court ruling.
Although that may not go far, it signifies the frustration of some people due to the casualness with which the government handles crises and critical matters.
Fifth, this graphically demonstrates that the government operates in total disregard of the courts. Not only is that prejudicial but disavows its stated commitment to the rule of law.
Sixth, questions are being asked as to who will invigilate and mark the national exams when teachers are out of work. We caution that enlisting non-professionals to handle exams will be disastrous and tragic.
In the same breath we take cognisance of the hard stance that the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and the Kenya Post-Primary Teachers Union (Kuppet) have adopted.
Even if the law is on their side, the practical reality of the day is that the government cannot afford the 50-60 per cent salary increase awarded to their members.
Labour relations are about give-and-take. Thus, we implore the unions to review their position and agree to renegotiate the award, even if it means staggering it over a longer period.
President Kenyatta may have goofed by casually dismissing the teachers’ salary claim, but he should review his position and address the matter more thoughtfully.
He must provide the leadership to break the impasse to get the teachers back to school so that our children can resume studies.
He risks going down in history as the leader who presided over the collapse of an education system and destroyed lives of millions of children.
In sum, a government that does not care for children, does not listen to voices of reason, disobeys court orders and resorts to cruel actions loses the legitimacy to rule.
The solution is not shutting down schools — that is running away from the problem — but negotiating with the teachers to end the standoff.