From where I sit, Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed stands indicted for gross dereliction of duty. If it offers any comfort, her predecessor stands indicted too. My grouse is on ‘official school reporting hours’.
In the special issue of the Kenya Gazette supplement No 37 of April 8, 2015 (which has not been overridden to date), there is, under PART VIII - OFFICIAL SCHOOL HOURS, the stipulation under subsection 84. (1) that the official opening hours for all day and private schools shall be Monday to Friday-(a) 8.00a.m to 3.30 p.m. for class hours and (b) 3.30 p.m. to 4.45 p.m. for co-curriculum activities. Section 84. (2) States; No day institution of basic education and training shall require learners to report earlier than 7:15 am.
Given the early morning hours that children leave for school, the question arises; why is it so difficult to enforce this regulation? Two weeks ago I brought this issue to the attention of the powers that be through this column, and again today, I feel constrained to revisit it by an incident I witnessed Monday this week.
Over the weekend, I was in Kakamega and travelled back to Nairobi Monday morning. On a lonely stretch of road between River Yala and the Chavakali/ Kapsabet junction, just as the vehicle I was in was going uphill, I saw a hand flagging us down; the way we do to hail public service vehicles. On getting closer, I saw it was a little girl of about ten years in a pink tracksuit, all by herself. The time was 5.35am and there was no adult in sight. That got me angry for two reasons. First, the girl’s parents or guardians clearly think nothing about her safety. Second, she was innocently exposing herself to danger because of an insensate education system that places too much premium on simply passing exams.
The vehicle the girl was trying to stop could have been a matatu, in which case all would be okay. It could have been a private vehicle whose occupant has a human heart, or it could have been one driven by a pedophile. In the latter case, the delinquent would have stopped at that dark hour and picked the little girl without anybody taking note. Is the quest for education worth the risk of losing a child? Several incidents in Kakamega came to mind. Over the last three years, at least four little girls were abducted in the ‘ungodly’ dark morning hours while going to school, only to be found dead, having been murdered, a few hours later.
And while such issues should be highlighted by parents and the National Parents/ Teachers Association, both find comfort in proposing ridiculous ideas like a standard school uniform for all schools in Kenya. School boards, mostly occupied by parents considered ‘well to do’, the type that abdicate their parental responsibilities to teachers, do not help. In many schools, they shoot down proposals by concerned parents to modify school hours; petrified of taking care of their broods for longer than is convenient for them.
Going to school that early does not improve learners’ abilities. It simply burdens teachers with having to coax half sleepy, tired and withdrawn children to be attentive. The strain on teachers is too much; a fact reflected in the end product that employers in Kenya have been roundly condemning. Many university graduates have been observed to lack basic skills in the supposed areas of their competencies. Some studies conducted on school going children have returned the verdict that class 5 pupils are unable to solve class two sums.
Other studies have shown that some Standard Eight pupils cannot write intelligibly even as some are completely unable to read or write. What then do the early hours achieve towards bettering education standards in schools across the country? Studies by reputable institutions like the Twaweza Trust have over time demonstrated that education standards in the country are going everywhere, except up. The ministry of education, parents and their associations are complicit in this ignominy and must wake up to reality.
Reversion to the Basic Education Act 2013 that factored in a number of pertinent issues is an imperative. An attentive child who does not have to battle pneumonia brought on by the early morning chill is a better proposition for this country. It may sound preposterous, but a change in reporting times could bring down the healthcare costs for many parents whose kids literally survive on medication for colds, flu, coughing fits and pneumonia, among other respiratory diseases. Fatigue, stress and mental illnesses that trigger suicidal thoughts could also be taken care of.
Too much time in school is partly responsible for the disconnect between parents and their children. That contributes to the decline in moral and societal values that held communities together while also instilling discipline in the youth from an early stage.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]