Social media was abuzz with discussion last week when the Teachers Service Commission said its employees in public schools would enjoy full monthly pay until learning resumes next year.
But as these happy tutors eye fatter pay cheques when TSC implements phase four of their collective bargaining agreement at the end of this month, their private school peers are staring at penury and hunger.
More than 120,000 of the 155,000 private school teachers in Kenya are struggling to get by, with some unable to meet their basic needs.
Their non-teaching staff colleagues, estimated to be 300,000, are in a worse situation since many cannot apply their skills elsewhere.
The future is bleak as they brace themselves for a fourth consecutive month without pay.
Ms Mercy Chepkwony, a teacher at a private school in Marigat, is now a labourer at Perkerra Irrigation Scheme. She has to feed her two children and an ageing mother.
Matters turned ugly for Ms Chepkwony when she missed her April salary. She makes Sh230 at the scheme daily.
HOW THINGS CHANGED
“I have worked as a teacher for more than three years. What I made every month sustained us, though it was not much. Things changed when schools closed indefinitely in March,” she said.
“My mother is a cook at a private school, meaning she is not being paid too. I need to pay rent and feed my family.”
Some have had to live with pay cuts of up to 40 per cent.
Kenya Private Schools Association Mombasa branch chairman Elisha Mwango told the Nation that teachers have been evicted from their rental houses after being sent on unpaid leave.
“It is a terrible situation. Since the suspension of schooling in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a majority of workers have gone without salaries,” Mr Mwango said.
“Most schools last paid their teachers in March. They have not met their obligations from April as there is no money.”
He said some schools were surviving on meagre resources even before Kenya announced its first Covid-19 case.
“Once the President announced the closure, school directors sent teachers and the auxiliary employees home. From early childhood education centres to secondary school, the number is astronomical,” Mr Mwango said.
He added that some schools that operate from rented premises have been ejected. “We fear many private schools will not reopen in January,” Mr Mwango said.
Ms Lilian Oguta, the director of Lyane Prestige Brain School in Mombasa, admitted that the future is grim.
“The schools were closed when we were organising our finances. This left us with no option but to release the workers,” Ms Oguta said. “The situation is dire for our teachers, some of whom are their families’ sole breadwinners.”
SCHOOLS NOT MAKING MONEY
Ms Oguta said the teachers have gone without salaries for the past two months because schools are not making money.
“It is not easy for everybody. Coronavirus came without a notice. We are thinking of petitioning the government to cushion our teachers from the effects of the virus,” she added.
Mr Joseph Ndubi Wamacha, the director of Shining Stars Junior School in Webuye, said it has been difficult for him to pay teachers and other workers because the institution solely depends on fees.
Last week, Education Cabinet Secretary Gorge Magoha urged private schools to pay their teachers “since they are generating e-learning materials for their students and pupils”.
“The government has recorded reduced revenue, making it difficult to support private schools,” Prof Magoha said.
Ms Oguta appealed to the government to consider giving private school teachers a meal or two for their families daily “since most have been forgotten and nobody is talking about their welfare”.
“We would appreciate the inclusion of the private school teachers in the government Covid-19 support scheme. We appeal to the government to look into the plight of these teachers, including supplying them with food,” she said.
Chwele Academy director Nekesa Wamukota said many private schools will not have the ability to pay their teachers even after the pandemic is contained.
“We hope the government will work with our union to help us overcome the disastrous economic effects of this disease,” she said.
Her school is in Kabuchai constituency, Bungoma County.
By Wachira Mwangi, Stanley Kimuge, Oscar Kaikai, Barnabas Bii, Florah Koech, Waikwa Maina, Francis Mureithi, John Njoroge, Stella Cherono and George Sayagie.