Court orders Kenyan teachers to end strike - are Africa's educators greedy or damned? Here are the numbers

In some countries teachers are paid less than a gardener or security guard in the rich suburbs of cities like Nairobi and Johannesburg.

IT’S A familiar African story. A Kenyan court on Friday ordered all teachers to end a month-long strike over pay in the east African country.

Judge Nelson Abuodha, from the Employment and Labour Relations Court, ruled teachers must suspend their strike for 90 days, so that children can study while negotiations are ongoing. But the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) said they had not yet called off their protest. 

“We need to consult first,” KNUT secretary general Wilson Sossion said. “The strike remains on and there is no doubt about that, we will make a decision on Monday.”  

The Supreme Court ruled in August that state teachers should get a pay rise of at least 50%, but the government said it did not have the money to comply and refused. The teachers then went on strike. 

Last week the education ministry ordered all schools closed until the strike ended. Kenya’s annual school year officially began on August 31, but many schools never opened due to the strike. National exams are due to begin in October.

Kenyan teachers have been agitating for higher pay since 2013. Recently President Uhuru Kenyatta signalled what is likely to the government’s stand, release controversial statistics that the teachers claim do not correctly reflect their true wages. 

According to the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), in 2014 teachers have a minimum monthly basic starting salary of Ksh16,692 ($158) - about 33% of the teaching workforce earn this - with the highest paid teacher earning a maximum salary of Ksh144,928 ($1,373) per month exclusive of allowances. The average basic salary (excluding all allowances) for all teachers is Ksh31,274 ($296) per month - if their demands are met the average basic salary would rise to Ksh 62,548 ($592). 

But how do Kenyan teachers’ salaries compare to those other African countries that share a similar human development ranking?

In order to do this the three African countries featuring above (Zambia, Congo, Ghana) and the three below (Swaziland, Angola, Rwanda) were used as benchmarks to see just how well or badly Kenya’s teachers are faring. 

Zambia

At $250 a month, average Zambian teacher, with a diploma, in Lusaka earns closer to the lower salary margins of a Kenyan teacher. 

Unfortunately the more senior teachers have to deal with reductions in their salaries. In 2014, senior teachers had their salary scale downgraded with their initial pay going from K6,905 ($655) a month to K5,155 ($489). 

Republic of Congo

The country has a unique, and encouraging, phenomenon whereby about a third of its teachers in primary schools are women. According to official statistics, the capital Brazzaville tops the league with a record of 1,254 women among its 1,487 teachers.

Sadly for these women, despite significant oil resources the Congo is an impoverished nation that until recently was wracked by civil war, and teachers can only expect to earn a meagre 80,000 to 100,000 FCFA ($137 to $171) a month. A figure that skirts around the starting salary of a Kenyan educator.

Ghana

Like Kenyan teachers, Ghanaian teachers are also familiar with strikes and they even start before their professional careers begin. 

Earlier this year, teacher training colleges came to a standstill with the Teacher Trainees’ Association of Ghana demanding that the government reinstate scrapped teacher trainees’ allowances. In 2014, there were widespread strikes over unpaid salaries and allowances. 

But Ghanaian teachers do fare better than their Kenyan counterparts. A teacher’s  starting salary is $260 with the average salary being GHC 3,000 ($778). 

Swaziland

In Swaziland the government came up with a harsh way of dealing with strikes, cutting pay. In 2012 teachers who were involved in strikes, mostly members of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, had their salaries slashed by 33%. 

There are varying estimates on teacher salaries, though they still all come in within a similar ballpark. Currently, according to the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, an individual with a primary teaching certificate takes home approximately E5,000 ($358), while a diploma holder earned around E8,000 ($573) and a degree holder raked in slightly above E12,000 ($860). Even though the last teacher salary review was done about 10 years ago, they are, on average, doing better than the Kenyan teachers. 

Angola

Having come out of a 27 year old civil war, Angola’s education system faces numerous challenges. Since 2002, the pressure to meet Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and reduce Angola’s 27% teenage illiteracy rate has seen the country recruit thousands of untrained school-leavers into teaching. Currently, anyone with a grade 10 education can sit the exam to become a teacher. 

The teachers have faced a serious pay struggle. In 2000 Teachers in four of Angola’s 18 provinces were striking protesting about the lack of teacher-training and low or even no wages. Monthly wages were reported as being as low as $7. 

Today a regular salary as a teacher in the capital city of Luanda is KZ 40,000 ($295) monthly. Though this is about the same as the average Kenyan teacher’s salary, considering that Luanda is one of most expensive cities in the world, they can’t afford to live there and spend vast proportions of their salary on travel. 

Rwanda

Rwanda’s teacher package in private and international schools is so attractive that the small country even caused a teacher migration when in 2008 the former francophone country adopted English as the official language of instruction for schools and advertised for english-speaking instructors from other countries. 

However, research into what the average teacher in Rwanda in the state-run schools gets was quite shocking. The average teacher in a public primary school currently earns Rwf 59,000 ($85), while a teacher in a public secondary school can earn Rwf 212, 504 ($304).

This is lower than the earnings of the average Kenyan teacher, however there seems to have been efforts to improve their positions. In 2009/10 they were awarded a 10% increase in pay and though their salaries are still not high by Western standards, incentives are provided for teachers to improve their living conditions, including easing access to loans through Umwalimu Savings and Credit Cooperative (Saccos). 

In all, in a majority of these countries, especially in primary school, teachers are paid much less than what a gardener or security guard in the rich suburbs of cities like Nairobi and Johannesburg earn.


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