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Boarding schools to be audited and why many may be closed

By Augustine Oduor | Published Mon, May 29th 2017 at 00:00, Updated May 29th 2017 at 12:16 GMT +3
Residents of Suba sub-county fight a dormitory fire at Moi Girls Sindo High School on January 14, 2016. [Photo: James Omoro, Standard]

Boarding schools that do not meet the minimum basic standards should be converted into day schools, a special investigation team has proposed.

And all boarding schools to be set up henceforth must meet standards set by the Ministry of Education before they are registered and students admitted, according to a report by the team.

The report proposes that the government invest heavily in day schools to attract more students.

The 11 investigators want the government to constitute a multi-sectoral team, within a year, to assess all boarding schools.

"Schools that fail to meet minimum boarding standards should be converted into day schools," the report reads.

There are more than 4,000 boarding secondary schools.

Full boarding schools

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Data from the Ministry of Education shows that there are 8,592 public secondary schools. Nearly half of these are either full boarding schools or have a boarding section.

Cumulatively, the schools have an enrollment of about 2.5 million students.

The radical proposals come in the wake of last year's unrest in schools that left 239 dormitories destroyed.

School buildings, including dormitories, administration blocks, classrooms, and food stores were burned.

Last year alone, 483 cases of student unrest were reported. Of these, 429 were reported during the second term, with more than half the cases being arson.

The Clare Omolo-led team appointed by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i visited 97 schools in 38 counties during its investigation.

Only three counties - Mandera, Wajir, and Turkana - were not affected by the wave of unrest.

Meru, Makueni, Kisii, Kitui, and Machakos had the highest cases of the school fires reported last year.

The team established that in most cases, students were the main culprits in the destruction of property but in a few cases, teachers, support staff, and outsiders were involved.

The report finds that the unrest was experienced in all categories of schools, including some nine boys' national schools. A few primary schools and private schools were also affected.

"Dormitories were the main targets although there were cases of classrooms, administration blocks, teachers' houses, stores, and dining halls being torched," reads the report.

The investigation team wants the assessment of boarding schools to be carried out within 12 months.

"The government should focus on day schooling and make it more attractive through deliberate funding," the team said.

And to implement the recommendations, the investigators propose that a multi-disciplinary team be put in place to oversee and monitor the process.

The team also wants senior members of staff in charge of boarding facilities to reside in the institutions and also proposes that the management of boarding services be delinked from that of tuition.

The document says that students targeted dormitories because mattresses, which easily catch fire and spread flames.

The interviewed students – who said dormitories were the most valuable buildings in the school compound – confessed that some of the these were filthy and that burning them down was a sure way of having new ones constructed.

The team confirmed that most schools failed to keep the dormitories clean and most of them failed the requirements of the Safety Standards Manual for Schools (2008).

"Most of the schools visited had filthy dormitories, as evidenced by the presence of bedbugs and foul smell. There was graffiti on some walls whose paint had peeled off, yet schools were expected to regularly paint buildings," reads the report.

Safety standards requiring dormitories to have double doors opening outwards and windows without grills are largely ignored.

The team found that most schools had overcrowded and congested dormitories, with some students sleeping on triple-decker beds. In some extreme cases, students shared beds. The spacing between beds was not wide enough to allow a quick escape in case of an emergency.

And in some schools, dormitories did not have any emergency exits or had blocked emergency exits.

The report says principals and education officers attributed the congestion to increased demand for space in boarding schools and pressure from the ministry to enrol more students during Form One placement.

"Students felt that (burning dormitories) was the easiest way to have them sent home," the report adds.

Regular monitoring

A total of 1,304 students - 839 boys and 465 girls - were contacted during the study.

The report said there was no mechanism for regular monitoring and evaluation and standards assessment in schools to ensure compliance with education standards and policy guidelines.

"Most schools visited had not been assessed in the past three years. Where assessment had been done, the reports were of poor quality as they lacked basic details which did not in many cases focus on actions to be taken."

The team wants the requirement that quality assurance be undertaken at least once a year for secondary schools and once a term for primary schools be enforced.

On overall security, the report recommends that schools only employ adequately vetted security guards who have basic security skills and are not beyond the mandatory retirement age.

And also, heads of institutions should be required to seek authority from the Ministry of Education when employing teachers on the payroll of boards of management.

The team proposes lifestyle audits for principals and bursars at least once every two years to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of school resources.

The document proposes that all schools have functional, well maintained, and strategically place fire-fighting equipment.

"Fire drills for students/staff should be conducted at least twice a year."

And all schools should have a secure perimeter fence with a gate manned 24 hours a day. Use of security cameras and proper intelligence gathering has also been proposed.

"Schools should adopt appropriate security measures such as 24-hour CCTV surveillance, sniffer dog checks for drugs, metal detector checks, random dog security patrols, and adequate security lighting."


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