Friday, 24 January 2014

A Song for 'Madam'

She sat among the smiling faces awaiting the governor’s hiring pen. A big occasion it was for her and several other recruits into this program. The county government of Homa Bay had hired about nine hundred Early Childhood Education (ECDE) teachers and he was personally presenting the appointment letters on this event.

But as she sat there, among teachers some younger than her own sons and daughters, she experienced a mixture of emotions. 

I remember the conversation we had on the day she got the interview notification.
“You know I have been called to interview for a job at county headquarters?”  She mentioned in passing as if she would never go there anyway.  

“But you have the experience, the papers. They have no reason to deny you a job,” I told her.
“But I am turning fifty next year, how many years will I work?”
I did not need to answer that because it wasn’t meant to be answered. 

Here she was, with about five years left to teach (legal retirement age is 55). The elusive government job that she had been waiting for had finally arrived but a little bit too late. She wasn’t sure whether to be happy or indifferent. 

About twenty years of teaching had gone by. Eaten away by aggressive employers in various private schools around the country. In the capital city, in small towns around Kenya and in the village, where she had since somewhat ‘retired.’ 

The best years of her life had been sapped up nursing young children, teaching them how to hold a pen, leading them through their ABCs and rejoicing when the young ones eventually started their journeys of academic discovery. 

But more than that, she had achieved much success in the National music festivals with children barely seven years old. She has to her credit several certificates of merit, several trophies which she collected in her illustrious tenure but at 50 and her best years beyond her, she has got a job with the government, finally. 

This is my song to the selfless efforts of all the ECDE teachers. Like my mother whose story is briefly told ECDE teachers have been neglected by successive governments in employment. 

They are eachers who toil in the shadows but are never credited with success of children in a country that glorifies success in National exams. 

While there has been much talk about employment by the Teacher’s Service Commission over the years, this has never happened.  

I remember countless times when calls were made, seeing my mum rush to District Education offices but nothing ever came out such. It was always a story, and another. 

Every teacher looks up to absorption by the government, and so do most of the ECD teachers I know. They would do anything to get a job, with all the benefits it comes with; both real and perceived. 

Nobody will doubt the importance of ECDE teachers to the school system but the type of treatment they have received from powers that be, has been worst at best. 

And so I was incensed when the Knut chairman recently dismissed the efforts made by county governments to hire these teachers. Knut does not represent ECDE teachers and has never fought for them. If they did fight for them, things would have been different. 

And if performance in public schools can be attributed to poor foundations, then we all know where the shoe has been pinching from. County governments will offer hope, to several people with certificates and diplomas who have the passion to work with children. 

As the 50year-old gets to work, it is with pleasure, I can bet. She will shape more lives and inspire more children, setting them up for the best that will come after. 

Five years may not be a long time, but it will definitely be a dream come true for her. The fortunes are changing and Kenyans will wait a few more years to reap the benefits of this noble initiative.

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