Though employed, teachers working for private schools in Taita Taveta county are living in hard times because many have not received salaries since schools were closed in March due to the ongoing Covid19 pandemic.
Teachers employed by Boards of Management (B.O.M.) in public schools have also not been paid because their salaries come directly from school accounts and not from the national government. With schools closed, school accounts have no money. Some public schools have already terminated the services of B.O.M. teachers, further increasing the ranks of the unemployed.
“I am hawking school books,” says Isaac, a teacher at a private school in Taita Taveta. Isaac Mwalili (real name disguised on request) says his employer has not paid teachers’ salaries since the government closed schools in March. “I get the books from a wholesaler then I sell them for a profit in the estate,” explains Isaac.
As a teacher, Isaac knows many parents and his contacts are proving useful in his new trade. He has created a Whatsapp group through which he advertises whenever he gets new books. His customers are parents eager to keep their children busy learning at home.
“I also do holiday tuition classes for parents willing to pay,” says Isaac. Though the Ministry of Education frowns on home-based tuition, Isaac feels he has no choice. “I need the cash and, besides, parents don’t want the children to be idle and that is why they call me for private lessons,” says Isaac.
The situation for private school teachers is not unique to Taita Taveta but is reflected throughout Kenya. Reports from Mombasa indicate that most private schools have not paid salaries since March. “As we speak now, most private schools are at the verge of collapsing,” an educationist is quoted as saying.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]The situation for private school teachers is not unique to Taita Taveta but is reflected throughout Kenya. Reports from Mombasa indicate that most private schools have not paid salaries since March. “As we speak now, most private schools are at the verge of collapsing,” an educationist is quoted as saying.[/epq-quote]
Unlike Isaac who is hustling from his skills and contacts as a teacher, not all are lucky enough to find a business that matches their profession. Elizabeth*, another private school teacher, is hawking bananas for a living since schools were closed.
“I started selling bananas because I don’t know when I will be paid,” she explained. Luckily, Elizabeth lives in a family home and does not pay rent, but she needs the money for household expenses and for the teacher training course she is still pursuing and which she hopes to complete some time in the future.
The crisis facing private school teachers is so acute that there are calls for the national government to classify them as vulnerable persons so that they get relief food, cash transfers and other forms of government assistance. Owners of private schools have also requested financial assistance from the government but their proposal has been opposed by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) which says the schools are private businesses that should not be supported with public funds.
The government has announced plans to begin reopening schools starting September 2020, but there are fears many private schools might not survive much longer. Six months without revenue could be a fatal blow to many private schools.
Godfrey Kimega is a communication professional with lots of experience in
media, civil society, government, and manufacturing. Currently residing in
Voi town, Godfrey has a keen interest in matters affecting communities generally
and weighs in various opinions on how best we could change the narrative positively.