Over 6,000 students out of Kenyan school as ministry seeks end to school fires

A dormitory at St Angelic Girls’ Secondary School goes up in flames on Sunday. Two dormitories, a store and laboratory were burnt. Police said they are yet to know the cause of the fire. [PHOTO: PETER MUTHOMI/STANDARD]
NAIROBI: More than 6,000 students have been sent home as their parents worry about how to rebuild the institutions they burned.

This comes as the Government contemplates introducing new measures to contain the unrest.

Yesterday, Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i announced that 15 secondary school heads are being investigated and would be prosecuted in connection to unrest in schools.

However, a preliminary report prepared by the ministry indicates the problem is bigger than this as 68 schools have so far been affected across 15 counties.

Affected counties are Kericho, Meru, Kisii, Machakos, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Uasin Gishu, Nyamira, Kitui, Nakuru, Migori, Siaya, Muranga, Bungoma and Kiambu.

Mr Matiang'i was at the same time put to task by MPs who were forced to adjourn proceedings in Parliament to debate the wave of unrest which has left a trail of destruction across the country.

Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa  who moved the motion of adjournment, claimed that  Matiang'i had turned a blind eye to the menace.

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Mr Wamalwa alleged that the CS had not given the matter serious attention. "Matiangi is sleeping on the job. We have only known him for roadside pronouncements pertaining the running of schools," he said.

National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale also weighed in: "As leaders, we have a responsibility. If we preach violence, our children will preach violence. If we preach peace, our children will preach peace."

There was uproar in the House as members faulted Matiang'i for doing too little.

"As a committee we have summoned the CS, Principal Secretary and the Teachers Service Commission (TSC). This is affecting everyone in this country. We have sat down severally and pointed out to the CS some of these issues that need to be put in place,"National Assembly Education Committee Vice Chairman and Tindiret MP Julius Melly.

According to the lawmakers, the root cause of the problem runs deeper and resolving the problem involves the role of parents, teachers and the community.

"We need to address the issue of fear in our schools. We need to create peace in our schools, not fear. We need to have teachers begin to discuss with themselves and students what it is that students are against instead of just meting punishment.

"There is no amount of punishment that can deter one who is already frustrated. We need to give students a listening ear," said Bishop Robert Mutemi (Nominated).

Some MPs felt that parents had left discipline to teachers and schools while they pampered their children at home. But teachers, school staff and drug cartels were also blamed for inciting students to demonstrate.

Joel Onyancha (Bomachoge Borabu) came to the defense of the Education CS, arguing that such a move was pedestrian.

"Burning of schools is gross indiscipline. This crime must be punished severely. This buck-passing to the CS is a bit pedestrian. If anybody is claiming that Matiang'i has done anything wrong, then what he has done is becoming tough.

"It is because he is insisting on quality of education. It behooves us as leaders and parents to assist the Ministry of Education, not castigate the minister," added Mr Onyancha.

But a tough-talking Matiangi said unlike previous years, once investigations were complete, culpable persons –including students – would be prosecuted.

Speaking when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Education, the CS dded that both the Education and Interior ministries had set up a joint probe team to look into all reported cases of school fires.

Senators had demanded to know the possible causes of schools fires, the number of schools affected and steps taken by the ministry to contain the menace.

"In cases where school heads, deputies and students have been involved and even deaths reported, none have been punished," he noted.

He said between 2007 to date, some 317 cases of arson had been reported in schools but only a few cases had been dealt with.

"We don't even have 20 successful prosecutions in serious cases. Arson is a serious crime that must be punished," reiterated Matiang'i.

He said the special joint investigation team would ensure many prosecutions are done.

The CS further said the Teachers Service Commission was ready to act on cases where teachers are involved in incitement.

He said preliminary reports indicated some heads in affected schools had stayed for over 10 years at their stations.

Matiang'i cited 11 possible causes of schools unrest but noted there was a likelihood some cases were tied to clan politics.

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