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January 17, 2019

Kids take flak for failed system

Maranda High School students leave following its closure over unrest, July 4, 2018. /LAMECK BARAZA
Maranda High School students leave following its closure over unrest, July 4, 2018. /LAMECK BARAZA

The common denominator in the fiery fury in secondary schools is the absurdity of the mindless destruction of public property. The arsonists are the beneficiaries of these facilities.

Arson is a criminal offence. But prosecutions may not deter juvenile impunity. Accumulated grievances in schools need to be addressed.

Then there is the vague official attempt to decode the spiralling insanity. This is an attempt by government to duck responsibility for failure to implement the findings of official task forces. Task forces have been set up whenever schoolchildren run mad, but nothing has been done about their reports. The Claire Omolo Report of 2016, the Kirima Commission of 1994, the Wangai Task Force of 2001, and the Koech Committee of 2008 were set up against the backdrop of student unrest. The Omolo Report, for example, had implementation timelines, which have not been respected.

We are told students are destroying their books, plates, and mattresses because they are scared of national examinations. The excuse is showcased as the cause of the explosive pent-up emotions. Fear of exams cannot entirely explain the madness. These schools have four classes of which only one — Form Fours — are candidates of the dreaded exams. It is claimed the students are angry because their teachers have refused to collude in exam cheating.

Fourth formers are the minority. They may be influential because of their seniority, but not all of them suffer exam phobia. A few of them may be truants, some even on drugs, but they cannot, arguably, shepherd the entire school into such violence. Form Ones, Form Twos, and Form Threes do not have exams this season, so one excuse fitting all cannot decode the insanity. There should be better excuses and reasons. A rescue plan is necessary to reclaim education.

It is like pupils in familiar, better performing institutions, and others in nondescript schools, have agreed the way to release pent-up emotions is to burn schools. Is it possible schools in Mandera, Homa Bay, Kwale, and Siaya can react uniformly to grievances? If that were possible, then it would require central coordination to explain the spontaneity. Where is the secretariat that, for example, agreed students of Kisumu Girls’ High School would vandalise their classrooms, while a village school, Kandiege Mixed Secondary School, would burn a dormitory? Or Chalbi would kill foreign teachers?

Consider the paradox: Parents and Teachers Association of Kandiege Mixed, Homa Bay county, held a fundraising on July 29 for a boys’ dorm. Now the students have burnt the only girls’ dorm. The target for the fundraising was Sh3 million but the rascals have destroyed a Sh3.5 million investment their poor parents struggled to put up. Most students come from Kibiri ward, Karachuonyo, where parents struggle to put up such structures. The parents will pay for the damage.

Students are always soft targets for blame, but there are two elephants in the room: One, education has been weaponised for populist, political mileage that ignores the impact of roadside declarations on quality.

Two, the huge appetite for education does not come with equal investment to accommodate rising demand. Teachers have a load they are struggling to carry. Schools are congested, and students are packed into dingy classes like sardines, without considering the personal touch required for learning and discipline.

There are students passing through the system without personal interaction with teachers. Most public schools, especially the former premier institutions, are running on autopilot. The systems that once sustained good performance have collapsed. This is due to the policy of admit, admit, but without additional, crucial facilities such as dormitories, dining halls, classrooms, libraries and labs. Shortfall of teachers completes the free fall.

National schools are pale images of their former selves. They have been degraded, with rising numbers but without proportionate investment. Dormitories are concentration camps holding hardened ruffians. These are the students burning their dormitories.

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