The first teacher’s strike in Kenya was before independence in 1962. Fifty three years later, we are experiencing yet another; with the president having weighed in on the issue. His main message being that he needs the teachers to take up their duties as parents and citizens.
The Employment and Labour Relations Court has ordered the ongoing teachers’ strike suspended for 90 days to facilitate negotiations; teachers have been asked to resume work. Justice Abuodha directed the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) not to victimize teachers and ordered that their September dues be paid. However, Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) has insisted that the strike is still on until they meet and agree on a way forward. So Can Game theory as a strategic decision-making tool explain the Teachers Crisis?
Game theory is the use of games to study behaviour and decision-making. The most famous game of all is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Imagine two prisoners have to choose between confessing and staying silent. If they both stay silent, they both go to jail for one year. If one confesses and the other stays silent, the first goes free and the second gets 20 years. If both confess, they both get five years. Neither can communicate with the other. So, rationally, what should each do? Sadly for the prisoners – but not the jailer – the answer is for both to confess.
Consider the situation facing the government; it urgently needs a deal with its Teachers to avert an Education system collapse. Will the outcome be as unfortunate as the Prisoners’ Dilemma? Treasury has decorated intellectuals that must have studied game theory. For instance, Dr. Kamau Thugge is a distinguished economist with a PhD in Economics from Johns Hopkins University. He worked in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before his appointment, as Principal Secretary to the Treasury. President Kenyatta is a Political Science and Economics graduate of Amherst College, Massachusetts, United States. This further shows that the government has enough expertise in game theory.
Game theory usually applies in situations similar to this; where the outcomes for each player depend on the actions of both, that is, teachers represented by their union and the government represented by TSC. Nevertheless, the world being an uncertain place, random chance may also play a role- game theory takes account of this, too.
So how might the government have visualised negotiations with the teachers panning out? The government may well have drawn a decision-tree, with TSC and teachers as key players. It would also have included random outside factors, referred to in game theory jargon as “nature”, which may also affect the outcome. The outcomes, known as payoffs, of each player when the game ends are (1, 0) would be a good payoff for TSC and a bad one for teachers, whereas (1,1) would be good for both and (0,0) would be bad for everyone.
So what is the implication of this? Imagine TSC moves first to avert the collapse of the education system by putting a plan on the table. This plan involves not 50-60% salary increment, something not really ideal, but tolerated by teachers. If the teachers accept this plan, then TSC is content. Let’s give its payoff a score of 1. To understand how the teachers would respond, one has to see what they stand to gain by accepting TSC’s plan, or by rejecting it. If the teachers accepted this deal, the learning will resume, salaries paid, but that could diminish their chances for any further negotiations for salary increment. Let’s give the teacher’s payoff a score of ¾. So the overall payoff is (1, ¾). What if the teachers rejected the deal? Then government, unable to keep the education process going, would be in what is called “technically dysfunctional”.
So what is the bottom line? Faced with the messy prospect of letting the Education system collapse, its more reasonable for Teachers to accept the Government, Teachers pay-off of (1, ¾) to avert the strike and accept the TSC plan – or a watered-down version of it – after all, the Game theory has solved more complex business problems; come on Government of economists.