The push by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) to have Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) teachers employed by the national government is gaining momentum.
The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) should take charge of employing trained ECDE teachers countrywide and post them to schools, said Knut National Executive Committee members Malel Langat and Richard Lentayaa.
Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok has backed the demand, saying counties were willing to offload ECDE teachers to the TSC for employment under permanent and pensionable terms.
“As it stands now, the counties are underpaying ECDE teachers, with those with diploma certificates earning Sh12,000 maximum in what has demoralised them over the years,” Mr Langat said.
Mr Langat, the Bomet branch executive secretary, said a majority of the teachers were hired under temporary terms while others served under contracts renewable every two years.
He noted that there are 32,437 public and private primary schools in Kenya and the number of ECDE centres was higher as most schools have more than one centre attached to them.
“Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education has since independence not taken seriously the ECDE programme yet it lays the education foundation for Kenyan children in what has a huge impact on their performance in primary and secondary schools, middle-level colleges and universities,” Mr Langat said.
The Knut officials said the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms, chaired by Prof Raphael Munavu, should take up the matter.
“Both in private and public institutions, there is always an ECDE centre attached to it, which demonstrates the need for the teachers to be employed by TSC. We should get it right this time round with the ongoing reforms in the education sector,” Mr Lentayaa said.
He noted that some of the centres were staffed by untrained teachers, a majority of whom were volunteers, and most county governments were not concerned about the quality of education being offered.
Mr Langat and Mr Lentayaa said the proposal would ensure the same scheme of service is deployed, uniform salaries for teachers and their access to medical insurance and loans from financial institutions, as opposed to the existing disparities where counties pay them different salaries.
Some people have argued that ECDE teachers are reduced to babysitters, especially in play groups before the children join pre-primary one (PP1).
Prof Barchok, a curriculum development expert, said counties were willing to hand over the teachers to the TSC if the recommendations are considered and accepted.
“The only permanent solution to this very serious issue is to have all teachers in the country fall under one commission (TSC). Let us leave counties to deal with infrastructural development, provide learning materials and employ assistants to the teachers,” he said.
“The truth of the matter is that counties are constrained by the demands to employ ECDE teachers under permanent and pensionable terms.
“The morale of the teachers [is undermined] by the terms and conditions they are working under.”
Prof Barchok, a former secondary school teacher who became a university lecturer before plunging into politics, noted that there was no uniformity in the salaries and benefits paid to ECDE teachers by the 47 county governments.
“Much as the ECDE function is a devolved function, there are a lot of disparities in payment of salaries to the teachers by the county governments,” he said.
“Meeting their demands is very challenging to the devolved governments, and, in fact, fulfilling the demands by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) would leave [counties] with no money for development projects.”
Mr Richard Chebusit, the chairman of the ECDE Teachers’ Association in Bomet County, said moving the teachers from counties to the TSC was long overdue.
“ECDE teachers are overworked and underpaid, with most of them only offering the services on a voluntary basis because of their commitment to education and welfare of the children in the society,” Mr Chebusit said.
He added: “It is unfortunate the teachers whose input in education is huge, but yet to be appreciated, have been neglected by successive governments. There are no indications yet that the current government will decisively deal with this issue.”
President William Ruto has pledged to hire 116,000 more teachers countrywide to reduce the teacher-pupil ratio in public schools. But there has been no mention of the fate of ECDE teachers.
The first batch of 30,000 teachers will be hired by the TSC in January next year as the Kenya Kwanza government seeks to fulfill its promise to raise the number of tutors in schools and improve education standards.
For the past few years, the TSC has recruited 10,000 teachers annually to address natural attrition, but trade unions and education stakeholders have said this is a drop in the ocean.
Free primary education and the government’s policy to transition 100 percent of students from primary to secondary schools has compounded teacher shortages in public schools.
It is estimated that Kenya has more than 300,000 trained but unemployed teachers.
A high number of them are older than 45 and cannot be employed under permanent and pensionable terms by the government. Many work under boards of management and for private schools, while others have decided to pursue other careers.
The education reforms team is expected to provide a way forward on several issues bedeviling the sector, with parents anxiously waiting to find out how junior secondary school (JSS) education will be managed.
Some parents and other stakeholders have called for the JSS to be domiciled in primary schools due to the tender age of the learners, availability of infrastructure and the fact that learners would not have to enroll in new schools.