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A Kenyan school without a playground

BUSINESS
By | October 19th 2011
By | October 19th 2011
BUSINESS

By Jeckonia Otieno

Games time at Kakamega Primary School in western Kenya is something to behold as many of the more than 2,600 pupils flock to the adjacent fallow grounds to play.

HAPPY FACES: Despite losing a chunk of their land to private developers, pupils of Kakamega Primary School use the little available space to play. The public school performs well in national exams and posted impressive results in last year’s KCPE. Photos: Jeckonia Otieno/Standard

The grounds used to be part of their playing field. That was before someone grabbed it.

Now, because of the school’s large population and no playing field, the students are forced to go for break in shifts.

Head teacher David Ikunza says: "This consequently disrupts normal learning."

During lessons, the children are crammed into their classes because there is no room for building more classrooms.

The school has 46 classrooms with some classrooms holding as many as 80 pupils. On this particular afternoon, when The Standard visited, a teacher was shouting himself hoarse in a stuffy classroom with over 150 pupils.

In the field, there were women selling foodstuff, which no one inspects, hence the food is likely to jeopardise the children’s health. Just next to the food sellers there is a public dumpsite.

As children play outside, there is frequent disturbance from passers-by and those who graze their cattle in the open field.

A teacher points out that local youth play soccer on the grounds in the morning and evening. And this, says the teacher, puts learners at risk because nobody knows what the youth have to boot – drugs, cheap gifts or even some loose change – which they could use to lure pupils, especially girls.

On the far end, there is no fence to control the movement of the public and children into and out of the school compound.

Perhaps if the playground were still part of the school, control would be easier.

According to the school maps, Kakamega Primary School was surrounded by roads, which defined its boundary. Beside the school, stands Muslim Primary School that stretches from road to road unscathed – a similar length to what was Kakamega Primary School before the partitioning.

The school, which opened in 1948, found itself in this awkward situation after parts of its seven-acre parcel of land was hived off in unclear deals in the 1990s.

Getting hurt

On what used to be part of the school compound now stand desolate buildings and bushy grounds. Attempts to reclaim the land have at times been violent with demonstrating schoolchildren getting hurt.

Security guards do not allow anybody into one of the incomplete buildings, which has a perimeter wall and heavy metallic gate.

On the same disputed area, there is a derelict building which was the pre-primary section. Deputy head teacher, Rosemary Omondi says the children had to be moved because of the incessant ownership squabbles that have persisted over many years.

Fighting for the school land has seen Ikunza, a long serving head teacher, arrested and incarcerated before being released without charges.

Ikunza, who has been in the school since 2002, has only one wish — that the school gets its land back.

"I have written to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands to help find a quick solution to this problem because it is the pupils who are being denied their rights."

He also pleads with the Ministry of Education to intervene. It is odd that such a big school can have no land for expansion or extra-curricular activities.

Since the land was grabbed, media reports show many declarations by senior government officials that the school’s land would be restored.

This, however, has turned out to be empty promises as the children continue to suffer.

Ikunza says the rule that a school should have enough space for expansion and recreation has somehow been ignored regarding his school.

Even with all these woes, the school has managed to keep afloat and perform well. Last year, it was the top public school in Western Province in KCPE exams with a mean grade of 313.76. It presented 242 candidates for examination.

The Ministry of Lands in July this year stopped any further transactions on the disputed parcels after it emerged that the ‘owners’ wanted to dispose them off due to an impending inquiry into the irregular allocations.

The Public Complaints Resolution Committee placed a caveat after it became apparent that unsuspecting buyers would lose money in the transfers.

Investigations The Standard revealed that the plots originally belonged to the Kakamega County Council before transfers to individuals started about 1994.

For now, the school community can only hope that the matter will be resolved fast to enable the school reclaim its land.

 

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