We are all to blame for school tragedy

Education Cabinet Secretary George Maghoha inspects new classrooms at Ngong Forest Primary School after the Precious Talents Academy tragedy. [Samson Wire, Standard]
No one has issued a public mea culpa to satisfy our conscience as a grieving nation to the tragedy that befell Talent Academy in Dagoretti South Constituency, Nairobi, where eight innocent lives were lost while scores sustained injuries. The macabre incident is an indictment on our pell-mell approach to issues concerning the poor in society.

Immediately the disaster struck, the response was predictable. Every time disaster strikes, the line Cabinet Secretary and senior ministry officials in tow, dash to the scene, breathe fire and brimstone upon lesser mortals and recommend the arrest of a few people before organising a crackdown on related institutions or bodies.

This is often followed by politicians venting their anger on the Cabinet Secretary as they demand that he or she takes political responsibility. It’s worse if the secretary does not have a political godfather. But who is to blame for such tragedies?

We all must take blame. This is the reference point as we try to address the issue. Lawyers are fond of seeking recourse in law, and for this case, will quote for us the Rylands and Fletcher rule which states, “if someone holds something and that thing hurts an animate or inanimate thing that is within their control, they have to be liable in terms of civil and criminal liability”. On the basis of this principle, the proprietor and Ministry of Education officials should be culpable for the ‘crime ‘that occurred at Talent Academy. Nothing can be further from the truth. As a society, we are all culpable.

Society treats the poor and powerless casually. The only time they appear to matter is during elections when their votes are needed. Listen to the campaigns in Kibra Constituency today and you would to think the lofty promises being spewed are being made by politicians who are visitors to Kenya. On the state of schools in areas like Dagorreti South, the first question that we need to ask is where both national and county governments were.

Political points

Structures like the one we saw at Talent Academy need not have survived for even a day. Where were government officials all these years? Was the structure approved by the relevant authority? What of subsequent inspections by the Education  ministry and from the planning department of the county government? Too these officials, everything just looked just okay. Moreover, none of their children or relatives were enrolled at the school. And how many similar academies are found across the country?

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The truth is that if the Government can improve the quality of learning in public schools, we would say goodbye to the likes of Talent Academy. Unfortunately, ours is a government that doesn’t do enough to improve the quality of education at all levels of learning. Education is used mostly to score political points. We are concerned more with quantity at the expense of quality. You need not go far. Just visit a pre–school, primary, secondary or university today under public aegis and you will agree with my thesis.

Structures are dilapidated, teachers are demoralised as their terms and conditions of service are deplorable; parents are confused, indolent and subservient to the demi–gods that are the school leaderships. Deep learning can’t take place in such environments. This explains why desperate poor parents troop to schools like Talent Academy. If only the Government would invest in public schools, there would be no need for private schools. On the tragedy at Talent Academy, we have been told that the tell-tale signs were there much earlier but the school authorities took it casually.

As parents complained, the proprietor remained purblind and arrogant.

But why couldn’t parents take action? This is our weakness as a society. We enjoy being passive by-standers even where our lives are at risk. Our feeling is that it won’t affect me and where this is the case, why shout? We need to nurture the spirit of activeness in order to nip in the bud some man-made calamities.

We should not shy away from saying no to a bad thing. If the teachers and parents had borrowed a leaf from the children who kept on reporting about the poor state of the building, we would not have lost the eight lives.

Disaster education

We also need to look into our response to disasters. This demands that from a formative period in our curriculum, we mainstream disaster education in our curriculum. Luckily in the competency based curriculum, this is addressed in the pertinent and contemporary issue of education for sustainable development under disaster and risk reduction. What is needed is just getting continuous teacher professional development well.

Ultimately, we should halt knee-jerk reactions that have been our modus operandi. Let each one of us mandated by the state to serve the public give it their best. Laws and rules should be observed meticulously and religiously while as a public, we should be active by-standers to any criminal or nefarious activities. To the Ministry of Education, it is high time field officers took their work seriously. Any acts of omission or commission running counter to the rules should be punished severely.

Dr Ndaloh is a curriculum and teaching expert at Moi University. [email protected]

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