Get to the bottom of strikes, riots in secondary schools


Parents in a dorm gutted by fire in one of the cubicles at Ofafa Jericho High School in Nairobi on September 21, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Boarding school strikes are the new cause of moral panic in Kenya. Yet, instead of dealing with the root causes of the problem, many public officials remain wedded to old ideas that blame teenage indiscipline and lack of corporal punishment.

Like before, this approach will not work. The only we will effectively solve this problem is by having honest discussions about the myriad problems afflicting secondary schools throughout the country.

We must talk about how we run our boarding schools. Given the dizzying social changes we have witnessed over the last two decades, how should we run boarding schools?

Beyond academics (which must remain rigorous), how are we taking care of the whole student (including their social, spiritual, and psychological needs) in our schools? Why are teachers and school administrators unable to pick up on arsonist plots before they happen?

We must talk about the role of religious institutions and public officials in modeling good behaviour to our students. Most of our schools have religious affiliations which, for better or worse, are supposed to cater to the formation of the whole student. What explains the apparent failure at this role? 

We must talk about safety in our schools. The vast majority of boarding schools (including some famous national ones) have substandard and dehumanising facilities. Toilets are broken. Running water is a luxury. The food is unconscionably bad. And the classrooms and dormitories would not pass simple fire inspection tests.

It is time to stop the survivor bias delusion of “if I went through it, current students can, too.” Times have changed. Current students have higher expectations (as they should). If we want our schools to nurture conscientious and caring citizens who conduct themselves with decorum in public, we should build and maintain schools that treat them as such.

Our neglect of the physical state of our schools is literally killing students. Caning them, as bizarrely suggested by the CS for Education, will not solve the problem. 

-The writer is an assistant professor at Georgetown University   

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