I cannot be silent about the teachers’ strike impasse any longer. It concerns all school-going children in Kenya and all parents. Of all the human activities my mind can list, education always stays number one. My simple mind tells me that for this reason, other activities can safely be postponed to save Kenya’s education from an impending disaster.
Let us get our minds off money because the amount they are talking about is insignificant — Sh17 billion in a budget of Sh2 trillion. Suppose an enemy attacked this country today, would we just wait and be crushed because we have no money? To anticipate the spread of salary demand from other departments is not a valid reason for denying teachers a pay rise. Each case deserves to be treated according to its own merits.
My strong feeling is that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his advisers now need different advice from outside the government. I mean we have very high-ranking religious leaders, some of whom are owners and sponsors of some of our best educational institutions. I cannot wait to hear them advise the president and his cabinet. The declaration of indefinite closure of schools is most disturbing to parents. Our misfortune as parents is that the government is insensitive to our feelings. There is no consideration to parents’ investment in schools. Parents even employ teachers, an express responsibility of the state. The government needs to rethink its position in education. I know the best developed countries invested very well on education and research. Where are we in these important aspects of economic development? Personally, I believe development is not tall buildings in Nairobi or other cities. Development is the state of our minds. What do we value? I am not about to say God help Kenya. God helps those who help themselves.
The question of salaries and allowances in public service has for a very long time been handled badly and in violation of ‘terms and conditions of service’. Often I wonder if such a document still exists to guide anyone considering the awarding of improved salary and allowance. During the early 1970s and 1980s, the Government of Kenya had a well structured salary scheme, a product of the Ndegwa Commission.
Soon after, President Daniel arap Moi assumed office, things began to change in a very unusual manner. Sections of the public service were isolated and awarded very high salaries and allowances while the rest were bypassed. In so doing, the government began a systematic distortion of salary structures in public service.
This was followed by very slow progression in terms of salary increments. To make the situation worse, civil servants’ trade union was abolished by a decree, making those workers totally unable to fight for better terms of service. Though teachers still had their trade union, each of their demands for better pay was met with strong resistance from the government. Thus, the phenomenon of low pay in public service became a persistent and long standing problem because as the government forced its own workers into low pay, the cost of living rose significantly. At times I felt the leadership in this country was composed of very ignorant people. They understood nothing about economics. They even missed the simple fact that any money paid in salaries circulated in the economy and stimulated further growth and creation of more employment opportunities. They invented an economy of a few very rich people and very many poor people. This phenomenon is true of Kenya today. It is difficult to rise out of this mess unless we are ready and take a drastic step in a different direction.
We took the wrong direction immediately after independence and kept on this wrong path for five decades. We have committed many wrongs against ourselves all along and this has ensured that the majority remain poor. What must we do? Nothing new on earth, we must have a definite workable plan for industrialisation, implement it diligently, and accept freely any foreign investor willing to participate. Above all, we must avoid any corrupt activities that negate economic development.
What do we value today? We value large cars, huge mansions for home, luxurious lifestyles, large tracts of land that stay idle, big names, skyscrapers in our cities.
A developed mind thinks foremost of how any activity will benefit the community, not just self. Education, agriculture, health, and security must be our priorities. They will stimulate our economic development as a nation.
The writer is a farmer and concerned parent.