Why we need to move fast to address trend of unrest in schools

Why students are sometimes unsettled in school and the numerous arson attacks within has been the topic of repeated investigations by police, education officials, Government inquiries and journalists. Indeed, explanation – or is it blame – for this trend, has been levelled in every conceivable direction towards the students.

And the fact that school unrest happens within the second term of the school calendar, characterised by certain school activities; preparatory examinations bearing academic pressure among candidates, tells a story.

The students always feel overwhelmed for lack of proper preparation, and resort to strikes to ease pressure. Against this backdrop, the students will go to any lengths to “air their grievances”.

But that’s perhaps part of the bigger story. Parenting in Kenya has contributed to the sorry situation which we are all in. And when children are admitted to schools that are as dysfunctional as their homes, it leads to more confusion.

Additionally, the influence of family members on students is negligible today. Parents, elder brothers and sisters have become so busy that they have no time to attend to the studies of their children or siblings. The result is that the students wander about unbridled and end up indisciplined.

Financial situations

It is also a fact that most boarding schools have archaic infrastructure and because of over-enrollment, facilities end up hosting as many as three times or more the number of students they were designed for.

Yet the schools and the leaders can do little in this era of difficult financial situations. This then, becomes a serious challenge for children who went to private primary schools in their formative years where numbers and conditions are different. No wonder when there is unrest, the reasons are as unconvincing as they come.

There has also been the issue of the quality of teachers and school leadership. Most principals in Kenya do not have the capacity to lead in complex situations and are unprepared for their roles because Kenya does not have a formal leadership training or mentorship programme for principals.

The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) does not consider any specific leadership skills to promote teachers to the position of principal. Often, it is the teachers whose subjects score well in national examinations who get promoted. Many of them therefore leave the classroom armed with a college degree in education. And then they find themselves learning on the job.

This is compounded by inadequacy of school guiding and counseling programmes. Run by staff who are full-time teachers, if and when they exists, often without the time or skill to manage complex psychological issues that ‘problem students’ present, most schools resort to punishment, suspensions and expulsions which further fuel unrest.

To make it worse, since the introduction of free schooling, the number of students in every class has become so high that the students and teachers are unable to establish meaningful contact with each other, making the teachers unable to understand the difficulties of individual students. This, then means that, now, unlike before, the personality of the teacher has little impact on the students. Yet, the teachers are blamed most.

Risk period

Drug and substance abuse is also one of the causes of student unrest. This, even as research suggests that early-to late adolescence is a critical risk period for the initiation of substance use.

This is also true because educators recognize that drug and alcohol abuse among students are significant barriers to the achievement of educational objectives. Most parents believe that it is the responsibility of teachers to check drug abuse among school going children and still most of them delude themselves that their children are safe and secure.

The examination system we muse in Kenya is such that the teaching process has perfectly become dependent on it. The passing of national examinations has now become the sole aim of education.

Due to this examination system, the students have begun to think that there is no need of studying throughout the year and only a little study near the examination time will be sufficient. When, all of sudden it downs on them that they have no time to study for the examinations, tension, disruption and unrest becomes the norm, not the exception.

The elements of indiscipline and anarchy prevailing in society has been slowly permeating into behavior in schools, making some students aimless, dissatisfied and misguided. The culture of institutionalized impunity is the new norm in Kenya. The students are following the examples of their national leaders. Notoriety seems to be a new status symbol.

What all this means is that there is need for all stakeholders to work towards ensuring that schools institute programmes that deal with challenges they face to effectively ensure continuous learning.

Prof. Mogambi, a Development Communication and Social Change expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi:hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk

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