The government cannot afford to increase teachers’ salaries and fill vacancies in public schools, President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Tuesday.
Although the demands were justified, the economy cannot sustain them at the moment, the President said.
There was no point, he stated, for him to give teachers promises which the government could not meet.
Speaking at a conference of primary school heads in Mombasa, the Head of State explained that it would be unfair for him to offer them promises only for them to take to the streets if the government failed to meet the pledges.
“Kama kitu hakiwezekani, mwataka nifanyeje? Ama mnataka nitoe damu yangu nimpatie? (If something is not possible, what can I do? Or do you want me to give you my blood?”).
He went on: “Ninawaomba munionee huruma. Sitaki kuwadanganya kuwa tutatimiza mahitaji yenu kesho, alafu isifanyike (Please have mercy on me. I don’t want to cheat you that we shall meet your demands tomorrow, as it will not happen).
However, the President said the government would address the teachers’ welfare demands if the economy registers growth.
He asked them to support the government’s efforts to grow the economy, adding that they would be the first to benefit if the economy improves.
The President was responding to the Kenya National Union of Teachers, which demanded the employment of more teachers, saying there were 70,000 vacancies in public primary schools.
Knut acting secretary-general Mudzo Nzili also asked the government to sustain the promotion of teachers and that all graduate teachers be recognised and paid well. “We need more teachers for all public schools to help transform the education standards as well as make our institutions children-friendly,” he said.
Knut national chairman Wilson Sossion called on the government to offer teachers on contracts permanent jobs.
Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association (KEPSHA) national chairman Joseph Karuga asked the government to spend a minimum of Sh8,000 per pupil per annum to ensure quality education.
Mr Karuga said owing to the high cost of living, the current allocation of funds per pupil was too little, adding that it could not pay for the pupils’ expenses.
President Kenyatta said the government had embarked on an initiative to give children joining Standard One next year with free laptops.
He said the laptops would be procured in a cost-effective and accountable way, adding the laptops would usher in an era of interactive, student-centred teaching that would enable teachers to mentor pupils and perform their core educational roles.
“Statistics showing that less than 50 per cent of teachers have any actual contact with their pupils are worrying,” the President said.
He also warned parents who marry off their girls and perpetrators of female genital mutilation that they would be arrested and charged in court. “We cannot permit cultural practices that undermine the education of girls,” he warned.
Mr Karuga assured the President that headteachers across the country fully supported the laptop project. Pupils in Japan and South Korea had achieved a lot because the two countries embraced the laptop programmes, he said.
“We want our children to gain information technology knowledge at early ages just like Japanese and Korean children,” he said.
“We therefore fully support the Jubilee Government on this key matter to help improve education in our public schools,” he added.