Why teachers’ pay is eating lunch money

Uyombo Maweni Primary School

Pupils of Uyombo Maweni Primary School in Masangoni ward in Kilifi County play during break time on January 11, 2024.

What you need to know:

  • Some schools have a shortage of more than 40 teachers.
  • principals say State capitation was too little to run the schools.

An acute shortage of teachers and delay in disbursement of funds by the national government, is forcing school principals in Kilifi to dip into lunch money collected from learners to settle tutor’s salaries.

According to school heads, despite high enrolment, most learning institutions are in dire financial straits.

Some have a shortage of more than 40 teachers and have hired over 25 tutors through management committees but are forced to use lunch money to pay them.

Those interviewed by the Nation said it was hypocritical for leaders and politicians to condemn demand for lunch money from students, yet they are aware of the many challenges in the schools including poor infrastructure and other pending bills.

The principals who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation said State capitation was too little to run the schools.

Besides, they complained that the government has always delayed the funds hence inconveniencing many programmes.

“Lunch fee in our schools is not about food but that is the money we use to pay teachers employed by parents and the boards of management. We even face more challenges due to poor payment of school fees,” said one of the principals.

The school head noted that this year, there are schools where students were admitted without paying even a shilling due to their poor backgrounds yet institutions must operate normally.

“We have tried to make our leaders understand that instead of picking a fight with the principals over the levies, they should help us address the many financial challenges we are going through,” added the principal.

Some challenges include water shortage, where schools are forced to fuel water tankers from Kilifi Mariakani Water and Sewerage Company Ltd (KIMAWASCO) to deliver the crucial resource. Incessant power blackouts force schools to purchase fuel for generators thus incurring extra expenses.

“Some of these issues might appear to be minor but they drain a lot of money from schools which they struggle to raise,” said the principal.

One of the leaders who has been openly criticising teachers for demanding lunch fees and other extra fees is Kilifi North Member of Parliament Owen Baya who insists they have no reason since there is capitation.

Kenya Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Kilifi Branch Assistant Executive Secretary Zachary Opollo said the county has a shortage of 700 tutors.

He said Kilifi has an average of 2,000 teachers in 153 schools.

However, he said schools are facing more challenges since the advent of Junior Secondary Schools. Kilifi has over 300 Junior Secondary Schools.

“The government has employed only two teachers at the Junior Secondary School to teach nine subjects. That means in every school we are lacking seven teachers and a total of 2,100 teachers in the 300 schools,” said Opollo.

He said that even if the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) employs teachers, the focus is on Junior Secondary Schools.

“It is a hard task because it is like the government is starting a school with new teachers. We should keep in mind that there are teachers who are retiring, leaving jobs and dying and the shortage continues while there are no replacements,” said Opollo.

“If the government is telling principals to use their capitation to buy lunch for the students then who will teach them? In the Coast region Kilifi County is suffering most from shortage of teachers,” he said.

The leader said schools are underfinanced to the extent that principals dig into their pockets to provide for the students including food.

Mr Opollo said the recent reduction in the student capitation from Sh22,000 to Sh17,000 had affected operations.

“The Sh17,000 has a different vote head and when it is reduced it means the money for a function has been reduced and again the government always insists that the funds should be utilised as directed and so the principals cannot divert it,” he said.

Mr Opollo said in some cases, the Ministry of Education delivers books instead of remitting the money.
He said the schools receive 70 per cent of the capitation annually.

Mr Opollo said leaders are not being honest when attacking principals on lunch fees and other levies.