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Students turn to group discussions as strike bites

10 July 2013, 18:02

Nairobi - Without the presence of a teacher, the little boys sit at a table on a verandah of a house in Nairobi, engaging each other animatedly.

The one, who seems to be their leader, asks a question and a colleague responds. When he finishes, he points at another who also attempts to answer the question. The group then seeks clarifications from various books before writing answers.

The primary school pupils numbering six are holding a science group discussion as they cover for lost time due to ongoing teachers' strike in the country.

It is over a week since the Class Eight pupils in different public primary schools in Nairobi started the discussions as a stalemate between teachers and government remains unsolved.

The strike has affected over 10 million students in public primary and secondary schools, who are at home waiting for the government to settle its differences with teachers.

"We cannot wait for schools to reopen yet we will sit for end of primary school exams in November this year. The strike may drag for months. It is already in its second week and there is no solution in sight," Boniface Muchira, the leader of the group said on Tuesday.

Each day, the six boys meet at 9 a.m. to discuss various subjects that they study in schools.

"All of us come with revision papers, which we go through as a group and find answers. We have a timetable that we strictly follow," he said. The boys discuss three subjects each day. At about noon on Tuesday, they were discussing science.

"We have allocated each subject two hours. Once we begin at nine, we strictly follow our timetable so that we do not get distracted," said Muchira. On this day, the boys had started with mathematics at 9 a.m. and they were to finish with English.

"The discussion is paying off. We are teaching and learning from each other since we all attend various schools. Some of us have not finished the syllabus, but there are members of the group who have. They are helping us understand what we do not know," said the 14-year-old. The boys noted that they could not sit and wait for teachers to resume work.

"It is not the first time teachers are striking and I do not believe this will be the last, especially if the government does not find a lasting solution to their demands. So we came up with the group discussion to help us avoid wasting time," said Cyrus Musya, another member of the group.

He noted that as students in public schools, they are disadvantaged compared to their counterparts in private institutions.

"Our colleagues in private schools are ahead of us. While we stay at home because of the strike, they are continuing with learning yet we will sit for the same exams. We have to do something for ourselves," observed Musya, who added they have been victims of strike since 2011.

Away from the primary school pupils, a group of four students, who are in Form Four, hold a similar group discussion at a house in Komarock estate.

The two boys and girls, as the primary school students, hold discussions each day as they await the teachers' strike to end.

"All of us are in different schools. Two study in schools in Nairobi, one in central region and another in western. We are all neighbors. We thought that we better hold discussions instead of spending time watching TV," said George Karara, member of the group.

The teachers' strike, according to Karara, has become a blessing to them.

"If it were not for the strike, we would never have had group discussions. All of us have finished the syllabus. Coming from various backgrounds, we are assisting each other to understand what we learn in school. The discussions are very enlightening," he said.

Beryl Akunda, a member of the group, said by the time the strike ends, they will have learned a lot. While majority of students, especially those readying for exit exams are holding discussions, the lucky ones have had their parents engage striking teachers to privately tutor their sons and daughters.

"I have an arrangement with two parents who I have been teaching their students since day three of the strike. They pay me per day," said Fred, a primary school teacher in Nairobi.

The teachers' strike has crippled learning in all public schools in the East African nation, with talks to end the stalemate collapsing several times.

On Monday, teachers rejected 200 million U.S. dollars that the government had offered them to end the industrial action.

"We cannot forget the reason why we have this strike. We want the 1997 agreement first cleared before discussing any new deal," Wycliffe Omuchei, a Kenya National Union of Teachers official said, adding they want their pay increase effected once, not in phases as proposed by government.

- Xinhua



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