I am the product of a boarding school. I went to Nairobi School from Form One to Six. Years after leaving school, I still carry the discipline the institution instilled in me. I have developed lifelong friendships that I hold dear. Nairobi School made me who I am today. Currently, I am debating with my wife whether we should send our daughters to boarding school – but frankly, I am scared.
Last week, I read with dismay the horrible bullying of a young boy in Nairobi School. The boy was not only physically hurt, but psychologically affected. I and other parents pray that the boy will recover. This is a terrible indictment on the reputation of the school that I am so proud of; a school that has produced many of Kenya’s leaders in every sector of the society.
Prefects are suspected of being behind this terrible bullying. Prefects are necessary for discipline in all schools. They assist the house master in running the dormitories and school houses. Prefect hood is training for leadership and many of Kenya’s political leaders were once prefects. From Nairobi school, we have Musalia Mudavadi, George Khaniri, Taib Ali Taib and my friend David Murathe, who bullies Jubilee members.
There are hundreds more who are now leaders all over Kenya. Prefects, given power and authority, often get out of control and become bullies. In a way, this is encouraged by school culture. If you disobeyed a prefect, you got caned first and then the house master would listen to your complaint. There was no court of appeal. You couldn’t appeal to other prefects as they would support their fellow prefect.
Being appointed a prefect is recognition of leadership skills and for a 17-year-old boy, this could go into your head and lead to illusions of grandeur. No wonder prefects tend to be the biggest bullies. Once appointed prefects, they are left to their own judgment. What judgment do you expect from a 17-year-old with no life experience – or perhaps whose only experience is how he got bullied and believes this is the only way to deal with issues?
Higher authority only comes into play when things get out of control as they have now. It’s too late by then. This is where we are now. Most of us who went to boarding school were bullied. I made a pledge that if we became prefects, we would not allow bullying.
Fortunately, my Head of House was a gentleman called Musalia Mudavadi who supported us. The following year I took over as Head of House and we did not allow any prefects or senior students to bully younger students. We imposed discipline by appealing to a sense of pride in ourselves and our house. It worked miracles. We stumbled into a formula by accident rather than by planning or training. So what are the lessons for the future?
First, prefects are necessary. You cannot reasonably expect teachers to manage hundreds of students without help. All students must go through induction when they join school and be informed of their rights. We must create open avenues of complaint to a higher authority without fear of retribution. There should be anonymous ways of lodging complaints over issues that would be otherwise ignored.
Second, all prefects should get some training. They need to be told about the limits of their authority and that their main value is being positive role models. They shouldn’t be tyrants in making.
Third, all head teachers should be trained on how to deal with emerging issues. This training should extend to teachers and to house masters. The cane alone can’t work. Life has become more complicated. The most serious drugs in my days was marijuana. Many of us tried it and walked away unscathed. Today bhang is not even considered a serious drug. New dangerous and addictive drugs are wrecking our children.
How well prepared are our teachers to recognise drug problems before they become serious? Sexual harassment is another recurrent problem and particularly amongst female students, leading to pregnancies. Recently, a mother wrote to me worried about homosexuality in schools. She wanted my advice.
What advise can I give on homosexuality when our children watch movies and television series in which gay life is glamourised by Hollywood on a daily basis? Our culture and faiths are being challenged on a daily basis by social media, movies and television. Define and inculcate your children with your values before they go to boarding school.
We owe it to our children to ensure that these issues are addressed in a professional manner and to give parents the peace of mind that our children are safe in school.
Mr Shahbal is Chairman of Gulf Group of [email protected]
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