The long-running controversy over teachers’ performance contracts is back in the news with the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) threatening to declare another strike to force the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to abandon the process.
Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion’s main objection is that teachers have not been involved in the development of the appraisal tools and wants members to steer clear of the contracts until an agreement with the employer is arrived at.
While there are obvious differences between the union and the TSC on the appraisals, another strike is hardly the solution. Although Knut and other unions have in the past used work boycotts to achieve their ends, particularly on remuneration disputes, they should also consider less confrontational ways of making their voice heard.
Bargaining methods of trade unions in this country need to evolve for the better and as the biggest and most powerful union, Knut should lead the way in styling up. Wildcat strikes should ideally give way to better-structured talks that are less destructive and lead to a win-win outcomes for both parties.
Teachers should also keep in mind that every time they down tools over a dispute with their employer, it is the students, who are the main stakeholders in the education sector, who suffer the most. Every decision by Knut should, therefore, have the students welfare in mind, not just that of its members.
A work boycott should in fact be the last thing on the teachers’ agenda considering the raging crisis in schools across the country. The student unrest and the attendant destruction of schools should be exercising the minds of all education stakeholders.
Instead of the ongoing blame game, teachers, parents, students and government officials should be looking for a lasting solution to the recurrent problem. The place to begin would be to find out the root cause of the unrest which has now become an annual ritual.
One factor that should be considered is how the confrontational relationship between teachers and their employer could be setting a bad example to the young and impressionable minds. We cannot expect the youth to be civil in approach to disputes when they regularly see their elders shouting and fighting to pass a message across.
These young people may have been conditioned to believe that the only way to express displeasure or to make once voice heard is to be behave in a disorderly and confrontational manner.
It is unfortunate that this extends to other areas of public life such as politics. The current generation of students has been born and brought up under a high-octane political environment where nearly every election cycle is accompanied by violent disputes. This could explain their current behaviour and outlook.