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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Politics, incitement and students' peer pressure sparked school fires – report

Education CS Fred Matiang'i receiving a task force report on school fires from Dr Gracie Mulei at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development on Friday, May 19, 2017. /EMMANUEL WANJALA
Education CS Fred Matiang'i receiving a task force report on school fires from Dr Gracie Mulei at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development on Friday, May 19, 2017. /EMMANUEL WANJALA

Political interference, peer pressure, indiscipline and mounting pressure on students to score good grades sparked last year's dormitory fires.

A task force investigating the incidents cited lack of intelligence gathering mechanisms and mismanagement of school resources as another cause.

They also pointed out that too many exams also pushed students in most of the affected schools to burn down learning facilities.

Dr Gracie Mulei, a member of the task force, said widespread use of mobile phones amongst students and congested dormitories is also to blame.

She said, when the team handed over the report to Education CS Fred Matiang'i at the KICD, that sensational media reporting also promoted the vice.

"Too many powers vested in school prefects, through titles such as president, were other factors. Students also exchanged information on social media."

The experts also cited low morale, employment of unqualified teachers, congested school routines, radicalisation, criminal gangs, and inadequate resources.

"The lack of implementation of reports by previous task forces also contributed to the behaviour," Mulei said on Friday.

"Absence of head teachers in schools to monitor student activities also allowed learners free time to plan and execute their plans to torch schools."

She said teacher strikes and demonstrations at that time also served as a motivation for students to "fight for their rights but in a wrong way".

The task force, after visiting 98 schools in 38 counties, also observed that some teachers' unions incited students to burn schools.

Mulei said lack of proper curriculum implementation and supervision also motivated students to cause havoc.

Officials from diverse government ministries including the Interior Ministry were in the team.

They also visited schools that were not affected for comparison. More than 100 institutions reported arson cases at the height of the crisis.

Read: List of more than 100 schools affected in June, July arson attacks

Localisation of staff popularly known as "mtu wetu", parents siding with students facing indiscipline cases and unpredictable school calendars were also observed.

"We also had cases where indisciplined students transferred to other schools continued with their bad behaviour," Mulei said.

The task force made 29 recommendations which it said will transform the education sector if well implemented.

They include adequate staffing, provision of sufficient resources as well as the establishment of a monitoring section to enforce policy compliance.

It also recommended the establishment of minimum qualification for school board members.

The team also proposed lifestyle audits for school bursars and principals.

"The requirement that school heads and their deputies reside in schools should also be enforced," the team said in their report.

Also read: Matiang'i drastic reforms against exam cheating to blame for school fires - Sossion

Matiang’i said the ministry has already started implementing 11 of the recommendations citing last year’s roll out of a predictable school calendar.

He added that relations between TSC and ministry officials have improved further citing that the state has established an education leadership structure.

"As we speak, we have 47 substantive county directors of education. We got rid of positions of acting directors," Matiang'i said.

He also said a strong team of quality assurance officers comprising over 900 officers was already in place.

"All they need to do now is work hard and make sure that ministry policies are implemented accordingly," he said.

The CS said school boards have also been reviewed and a requirement of a maximum membership set at nine.

"Some schools used to have 17 board members all drawing allowances and such."

Matiang'i also said a new policy on student transfers is in force to minimise cases of indisciplined students moving from one school to the other.

He said the ministry will ensure prudent management of national examinations as witnessed in last year's KCPE and KCSE.

Other measures in place, Matiang'i said, was for liaisons between school heads and security apparatus.

Matiang'i further said the ministry has set aside Sh6 billion for expansion of school infrastructure to address congestion.

"We are also looking at having two deputy principals to help in the running of schools."

More on this: Matiang'i bans school prayer, visiting days in third term, extends second term

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