Classes of death: Schools crackdown to leave thousands of pupils stranded

Education CS George Magoha at Greenfield Primary School in Changamwe, Mombasa County. He closed the school and ordered that pupils be transferred to nearby Umoja Primary School. (Omondi Onyango, Standard)
Thousands of learners are likely to be affected by the Ministry of Education directive to close down all schools that have not complied with safety guidelines.

All unregistered schools; those with dilapidated structures and institutions that have exceeded their enrollment capacities without approval will be re-assessed with possible withdrawal of their licences.

Schools that have changed their status and those that run without teachers registered by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) will also be shut down.

A terse circular released by Basic Education PS Belio Kipsang further instructed parents to check registration status of their respective schools and advised to pull out their children if the institutions are not licenced.

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A spot check by Saturday Standard revealed how many schools fall short of the basic minimum standards, setting the stage for a major crisis across basic education institutions.

Assessment

Yesterday, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said the crackdown will continue and requested public support to keep children safe in schools.

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The decisions to shut schools will be made when schools close for December holidays.

“All field officers together with other government agencies to carry out assessment of schools and make appropriate decisions before schools close on October 25, 2019,” said Kipsang.

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The details emerged as panic gripped Ministry of Education field officers in charge of quality assurance over looming disciplinary measures on those who slept on the job.

Saturday Standard established that the 500 regional staff expected to inspect schools and give proper feedback are now on the spot.

Sources familiar with the internal discussions revealed that the top Ministry of Education officials will not take responsibility over inaction of field officers.

“Everyone wakes up every morning to work. And this means that no one is going to shoulder the mistakes and incompetence of anyone,” said the official.

The circular released yesterday and dated September 26 hinted at the looming reforms, with field officers who will have lapsed in their duties put on notice.

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“All officers are instructed to carry out the exercise with diligence and failure to do so will result in disciplinary action being taken against the officers concerned,” said Kipsang.

He said the ministry has established that many schools have been established without due process. “A number of institutions exist without registration certificates while others have failed to reapply for re-registration when their circumstances change,” said Kipsang.

The PS said the schools exist illegally, most of them operating in sheer breach of set minimum safety standards with poor infrastructure.

In Mombasa yesterday, Magoha gave an hint on the dose to be served on hundreds of schools across the country when he stormed Green Field School in Migadini, Changamwe, and clamped it.

The school, which has 445 pupils, has two floors was declared not suitable for habitation. Magoha ordered that the 33 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) candidates be transferred to nearby Umoja Primary School, a public institution.

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“I have toured the school and found that it has a storey structure that is unstable. The school has been closed down until the problem is addressed. We have taken the decision in the interest of the children,” he said.

The CS said four schools have so far been closed down across Kenya following safety concerns after the collapse of a building at Precious Talent Primary School in Nairobi on Monday. Seven pupils and several others were injured.

The latest offensive, launched in light of the Precious Talent shame, brought back chilling memories of past incidents which have in the past attracted knee jerk reactions from administrators.

On August 22, 2012 eight students lost their lives in Asumbi Girls Boarding School dormitory inferno, a fire that left them trapped inside their tiny abode that had no escape route. The door was locked from outside and windows had grills, making it difficult for the little girls to escape.

At the time, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) recommended an inquest into the incident to ascertain the cause of the fire and deaths. The inquest nailed the school administrators.

Negligent heads

“The school administration namely the head teacher Antonia Musula was in a position of responsibility and had a duty of care to secure the safety, well-being and interests of the eight deceased pupils as provided by law and was negligent in her duty,” Homa Bay Resident Magistrate Nelly Kariuki stated.

Aggrieved by the inquest report, the headteacher appealed the order before High Court Judge David Majanja revoked them.

In another incident where four students died at Le Pic Secondary School in Riruta, Nairobi, on the night of October 14, 2012 a student was accused of starting the fire. In a judgment delivered on September 12 this year, a court dismissed the charge against the student on the grounds that the investigation and prosecution was poorly done.

But the judge also slammed the school for failing to put in place basic safety measures, describing the dormitory as “a death trap”.

Long before these incidents, Kenyans had in March 2001 woken up to the sad demise of 67 boys at Kyanguli Secondary School in Machakos. The incident came hot on the heels of yet another at Bombolulu Girls where over 20 school girls perished.

In the Kyanguli fire incident, the head teacher and his deputy were jointly charged with the offence of failing to prevent a felony. They were sentenced to eight months imprisonment but were set free on appeal.

“To find the appellants guilty of failing to prevent a felony in the circumstances of this case would be taken akin to finding the Mayor of Nairobi guilty of failing to prevent a felony when the City Hall was recently destroyed by fire....ruction of the said City Hall,” he said.

The parents of the slain students later on formed Kyanguli Bereaved Parents Association led by Benjamin Mutune and filed a case for compensation.

They sued then head teacher David Mutiso Kiilu, his deputy Kasyoka Makau, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), the school’s Board of Governors and the Attorney General for failing to prevent a felony.

In 2016, Justice Joseph Sergon ruled that the school management, as the Government’s agent, was negligent as it failed to prevent the fire and awarded them Sh54 million.

“There were two attempts to burn down the school before that day. The head teacher and his deputy failed to take measures to avert the fire,” the judge said on March 3, 2016.

[Reports by Augustine Oduor, Grace Ng’ang’a, Patrick Beja and Beldeen Waliaula]

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EducationTeachers Service CommissionBelio KipsangGeorge MagohaPrecious Talent School