Why do Secondary School Students Go on Strike in Kenya?

Teaching is a profession that requires a trusting relationship between teachers and students

By Eva Nchogu

I am a teacher in the current education system in a school that always had strikes in the second term. We did not have a strike last year and we are not going to have one this year.

As per my informed observation, students, especially those in public schools strike for various reasons.


On top of the list is congestion.

Let us talk about personal space. In a classroom that should host 45 students now hosting up to 55 and in some cases 70, personal space is non-existent. You can imagine the situation in the dorms.

Try taking someone’s personal space for a few minutes and they become uncomfortable. Do this for months on end. In the dorm, in the classroom, in the dining hall, in the field, and uncomfortable turns into combative.


Teaching is a profession that requires a trusting relationship between teachers and students. We need the feeling that we are in this together. The teacher is a friend. The teacher is a supporter.

In congested classrooms where one cannot even get to the back or middle of the classroom, the possibility of a teacher not knowing all her students leave alone build relationships is very high.

Add this to the constant berating of teachers by parents in the presence of children and you have a demoralised, defeated teacher who within loses interest in wanting to build that relationship.


If you want to study the extent and effects of corruption in Kenya, look no further than the education system.

Allegedly, for a school to get a Teacher’s Service Commission (TSC) slot, they must bribe. Corruption filtrates positions, transfers and sometimes interdictions. Most school boards feel that they own the schools.

See the case of Kiambu institute where the board of management styled themselves as the board of trustees and now own most of the land on which the institute stands on.

In high schools, it is worse since principals rarely have leeway to do the right thing especially if the right thing is interfering with the milk flow from the cash cow which is the school.

You find some school changing principals every year, yet the board members have sat there for over 20 years. Such members will seek to supply even mundane things like fruits and vegetables.

Often, these supplies are going to be either poor of quality or quantity or both. The student, therefore, is going to have dissatisfaction with the school once more.

Eat while you can

Some principals’ policy is “eat while you can”, so they will join in on the milking by creating pseudo companies and will focus on how to milk.

In such systems, parents with truant children find refuge for their children because they can bribe authorities to look the other way.

Ministry officials are in the mix because they will give “directives” to certain principals to find space for more students from whose parents they may receive kitu kidogo (kickbacks). Some will even revoke suspensions.

Drug abuse has not been in schools as it is now. Sometimes subordinate staff may be puppets to incite unrest to speed the ousting of a “foreign” principal or one that is cutting off the ‘milk’ supply.

In some instances, principals and board members will underwrite the number of students in their schools to the ministry. Who knows where the monies reunited by the other unquoted numbers go to?

Other schools are extremely understaffed. There is a five-stream school that I know of that once had one geography teacher. Do the math. How many students are idle during those lessons? An idle mind…


Schools with favourable learning and living conditions will not have those problems. I promise you the quoted reasons by the students (for strikes and unrests) are just symptoms. A scratch.

Once The living and learning conditions of our students improved in 2017 they have not been on strike. They used to always quote poor diet. Right now, they are not even provided with the ten o’clock quarrel like they used to. But the quality of their meals is so much better and there is no more congestion.

Children are no longer the main clients. They are a means to an end. “To get me awards and trips as a teacher, to get me a promotion, to put money in my pocket” etc. In such schools, the teacher is so afraid that s/he believes the best option is to teach and go home.

Sometimes, that is the only viable option especially when most teachers are doing 27 to 35 lessons a week!

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Meet The Author

George Githinji
Githinji comments on the current political and social issues in Kenya. He's passionate about devolved governance and public finance. He also manages the @UgatuziKenya twitter platform.

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