It was at the height of Covid-19 pandemic, when many had lost their lives and livelihoods to the disease.
But for Concepta Abwona, August 15, 2020 was the best day of her life. She had just found out that she was among the 610 teachers shortlisted for the position of Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) caregivers in Nairobi County.
The news was like manna from heaven, because all learning institutions had been closed indefinitely from March to help reduce the risk of infection among learners, and the fate of many teachers was hanging in the balance.
The future was bleak for teachers employed in private schools -- most of them were not getting paid.
“Like many of my colleagues, I had decided to travel upcountry, to Kakamega. Many of us did not know what the future held for us, especially for me and others who are employed in private schools. The school I work for only paid us the first two months and stopped. So I decided to go back home because I could not afford to continue staying in Nairobi with all the bills piling up. So in June I packed up my belongings and left for Kakamega,” explained Ms Abwona.
But her fortunes were about to change.
“I remember like it was just yesterday, a friend who is also a teacher, called me, I could hear the excitement in her voice but it was difficult to understand what she was saying because my phone reception was not stable. I asked her to text me and that is when I saw it, my name on the list,” she recalled.
“I can’t describe the joy I felt in my heart. I thought the future was not so bleak. At that time, I was not really sure if I would still have a job at my current employer,” she went on.
It seemed that Nairobi County had finally sorted out issues that have been plaguing the recruitment of lower primary teachers, which have always ended in cancellation.
The requirements included academic certificates and a certificate of good conduct.
“I was broke, and had to look for money to renew my certificate of good conduct and for a bus ticket back to Nairobi. But thanks to my family, I managed,” said Ms Abwona.
However, her spirits would be deflated on August 17.
“I received a text saying that the interviews scheduled to take place the next day at Nairobi Primary School had been cancelled. I did not believe it until the next day when I went to the venue of the interview and confirmed.”
It was her third attempt.
“The first time I applied, there was a person who claimed to be an official at the county and he would help me and a couple of my colleagues get into the system, but we had to pay him Sh250,000. Of course we could not afford it. The county later re-advertised the positions and we applied, only for it to be cancelled again,” she added.
“This whole experience has been traumatising and draining, both financially and emotionally. Applying for a job three times, getting shortlisted and it being cancelled. The worst part is the time you wait. I cannot tell you the number of times I have received calls from people wanting to con me of money with promises of getting the job or getting different links on WhatsApp purporting to have names of shortlisted candidates,” said Ms Abwona.
Numerous court cases
The Nairobi City County cancelled the interviews in 2020 after a court order was issued stopping the recruitment. This is after a group of teachers sued the County Public Service Board for side-lining lower primary teachers who were already working as caregivers in the recruitment.
In 2017, ECDE was devolved to county governments. The counties were mandated in the recruitment and paying of salaries of ECDE teachers.
However, for Nairobi County, since 2017 no recruitment has been done.
“Nairobi has been without ECDE teachers for long and it is about time the shortlisting and hiring was done. The exercise has been plagued with numerous court cases. It all started back in 2017 when ECDE became free and the teachers started working as volunteers,” explained Mr Lawrence Otunga, the national chairman of the Kenya Union of Pre-Primary Education Teachers.
Since counties were mandated to take charge, a fresh recruitment had to be done.
“Remember at this time, as teachers worked as volunteers, they were not getting paid. However, they decided to continue, with Nairobi County giving them its word that when the recruiting begins, they will be given first priority,” said Mr Otunga.
However, when the county shortlisted teachers who had applied for the positions, many of the volunteer teachers’ names were missing.
They went to court.
Shortlisted for positions
“This resulted in the cancellation of the recruitment. The court ordered the two parties to reach an agreement. It has been an ongoing battle. Out of the 47 counties it is just Nairobi that has not yet employed ECDE teachers,” explained Mr Otunga.
“Before the introduction of free ECDE education in Nairobi, teachers used to depend on tokens from parents. However the former governor Mike Sonko abolished this. This in turn increased the number of pupils in classrooms,” he added.
Classes became crowded with unpaid teachers. This affected many schools.
Nairobi County Public Service Board Commissioner Thomas Kasoa said last year when the exercise was cancelled again due to a court case, the judge ruled for the process to continue, all the 240 teachers who have been working on voluntary basis should be given first priority.
“Before, when we were recruiting we were not aware that there were teachers who were working on voluntary basis. That is why most of the shortlisted people were from the public. And there was no agreement between them (voluntary teachers) and the county. So they decided to go to court and because of the pandemic it took a while before a ruling was made,” said Mr Kasoa
The court ordered that all the voluntary teachers should be shortlisted for the positions first before others are considered.
“It is a matter that has been resolved because if you think about it, it is unfair for the people who have been working for some time and then they see other new teachers coming to class. If we knew earlier they would have been considered,” said Mr Kasoa.