Ordinarily, a secondary school has students in Form One all the way up to Form Four, but this is not the case at Cheptulel Boys High School.
The institution, which straddles the conflict-ridden border between West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties, and which is occasionally turned into a battlefield for two neighbouring communities, has not a single Form One student.
“Actually, at the beginning of this year we only had 20 Form Four students and the other classes remained deserted until second term, when we found three students to occupy the empty Form Two class,” said John Rop, the school's deputy head teacher.
Mr Rop said the Form Three class had only one student until the teachers ‘convinced’ eight others to join, bringing the student population to 32.
He said despite picking Form One students during the nationwide schools’ selection process, they did not turn up because of insecurity in the region.
“We made phone calls and even delivered the admission letters to them through their respective chiefs but they might have feared for their lives and sought admission elsewhere, or abandoned high school altogether,” he said.
Their fears may be warranted because both teachers and learners have on several occasions had to run for their lives as gunshots rend the air.
When The Standard visited the school, which is situated next to Chesogon centre, just before students left for the August holidays, an eerie silence greeted us.
The Form One classroom, whose doors remained shut, had been turned into a store for building materials for renovations that are currently underway.
The roofs of the staff and classrooms are peppered with bullet holes and one does not have to look far to spot spent cartridges on the ground.
“Early this year, at the height of the conflict, one of the school workers was caught in the crossfire and fatally shot. He died in the school compound. This was one of the lowest moments for the school because we lost almost all our students,” Rop said.
The deputy head teacher revealed that more than 80 students and teachers from one community left the school for fear of being targeted in the conflict.
Cheptulel High School was established in 2005 and meant to foster cohesion between the two warring sides. Its population rose steadily to more than 200 students until two years ago, when cattle rustling raids resurfaced.
“The conflict has really affected our normal school programmes. The same is happening in Chesegon Primary School whose population has reduced drastically. Most of the learners moved to neighbouring schools like Sigor and Arpelo,” Rop said.
He noted that despite the insecurity challenge, the school had always registered candidates for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations.
“Our teachers and students are determined. They have demonstrated resilience and hard work, and despite the challenges they have resolved to be agents of change in the region. Each year, we have several of our students admitted to the university.”
Festus Kiprotich, the school captain and a KCSE exam candidate, said despite the students' thirst for education, insecurity was the biggest impediment.
“Whenever there is a gunfight, learning for the day is suspended because we fear the bullets might get us,” he said.
Kiprotich regretted that the interruptions badly affected syllabus coverage and revision, and ultimately their performance in the KCSE exams.