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EDUCATION-KENYA: Students Pour In, Teachers Drain Away

Kwamboka Oyaro

NAIROBI, Jun 4 2008 (IPS) - Six hundred teachers have left classrooms in Kenyan schools for better paying jobs elsewhere in just the past six months, according to the Head Teachers Association and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT). That is about three teachers leaving the service every day.

Kenya's schools face an acute shortage of teachers following the introduction of free and compulsory primary education and the waiving of tuition fees for all students in public secondary schools six years ago. But since a freeze on employment of teachers went into effect 11 years ago, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) has only been allowed to hire new teachers to replace those who leave the service.

The country's recommended ratio of teachers to students is one to 45, but many teachers are handling classes of up to 60 students. This means less individual attention to students and lack of motivation for teachers who are overworked and underpaid.

KNUT's secretary general, Francis Ng'ang'a, and the chairman of Kenya Secondary School Heads Association, Cleophas Tirop, both attribute the move out of the classroom to poor pay for teachers. A teacher entering the service earns 274 dollars. After two years, the teacher automatically moves to the next grade where the salary is a few dollars more. Your browser may not support display of this image.

To get to the third pay level – Job Group M – requires the teacher to become head of department, but if there is already a department head in the same area of specialisation in the school, the teacher will have to get a transfer to another school where there is a vacancy. This takes time – and the benevolence of the head teacher, who is often reluctant to recommend a transfer because of the uncertainty of getting a replacement or simply wanting to hold on to the teacher due to his or her good performance.

Some teachers have gone back to school to improve their chances of promotion. Stock broker Michael Kamau left the classroom three years ago to study for his post-graduate degree in economics. Just six months into the programme, he received a new calling away from the classroom.

"I started doing brokerage part-time for a larger company. There were many students at the university who wanted to invest in the stock market and they came for my advice. Within no time, I was in business and the commissions I received from the company every time I took a new client were handsome," Kamau told IPS. He said he will not go back to teaching as he finds his new job more exciting.

"Anyway I went to teaching because it was the only available job. I was just passing time in the hope of getting a job of my choice. Teaching is really boring as you do the same thing year in year out. Gradually you burn out," Kamau said. He said teachers are generally looked down upon by people including their students, which makes the job unattractive.

Teachers leave the classroom to work in a variety of fields – in the media, financial institutions, private academies, non-governmental organizations and insurance companies. Ironically, many are also leaving the teaching frontline for jobs with the ministry of education, which employs teachers as quality assurance and standards officers.

A senior education ministry official who preferred to remain anonymous told IPS that the terms of service in the parent ministry – education – are more lucrative than what the TSC offers. Teachers were initially recruited to the ministry as school inspectors on roughly the same pay scale as what they could earn in schools; but a change in terms of service in 2005 set salaries for a quality assurance officer at around $516 a month.

"Job groups in the ministry have higher pay than that of teachers. A teacher in Job Group M starts at monthly salary of 25,000 Kenyan shillings while at the ministry they start at 32,000 shillings. I believe this is the key reason they are joining the ministry," he said. He added that it is also easier and faster to gain promotions in the civil service than within the TSC.

The lack of opportunities to advance within the teaching field is a crucial factor.

"Unfortunately TSC has no scheme for those with a masters degree except just three yearly increments given at a go…but once you have reached the highest limit of the job group, you will not get further increments, but hope for a promotion to the next job group, which is not automatic," said Ruth Barongo, who taught secondary school for 15 years.

"What is more annoying is that some of my colleagues who joined the civil service after we graduated earn much more than I did. Besides, they received government scholarships to study abroad. For me, I had to pay my school fees if I opted to pursue further studies," she told IPS. "I was earning very little and I was spending nearly half of my salary on transport to and from school daily. It was unreasonable. After six months, I quit teaching and started a business which is doing very well now."

Barongo now sells imported electric fittings and clothes from Dubai and Thailand. "When I remember what I used to earn, I laugh. That is the kind of money I make in a good day."

With a significant number of older teachers expected to retire soon – some districts expect to lose as much as 60 percent of their teaching staff in the next five years – and younger ones rapidly leaving the profession, urgent action is needed. TSC secretary Gabriel Lengoiboni recently appealed to Parliament for money to hire 45,000 new primary school teachers and 13,000 secondary school teachers.

Without urgent reform, Kenya's plan for education for all by 2015 in line with Millenium Development Goal of universal primary education is likely to be a dream.

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