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Revealed: Why public schools are no longer safe for your children

School going children cross a dangerous footbridge that connects Kambui and Konoka villages in Kisumu West Constituency Kisumu County on January 28, 2020. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Children learning in Kenyan public schools are increasingly facing new threats that lead to harm, disruption of their education and high school dropout.

The findings of an education taskforce also reveal the emergence of new threats to learners in schools that put the children's lives and future at risk.

In their draft report, the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER) mentions the emergence of criminal gangs, extreme ethnic violence in schools, religious-based radicalisation, cyberbullying and extremism as new ways that affect your child’s safety in schools.

The team observes that school children and youth are increasingly being targeted due to their vulnerability, poverty, and other cultural and religious factors.

The revelations shine a spotlight on the Ministry of Education officials led by Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu over the safety of learners and the enforcement of children's rights in public institutions.

The taskforce notes that recurrent violence in schools, drug abuse, gender-based violence, high levels of teenage pregnancies, harmful cultural practices, child labour and mental health are some of the key reasons your child may not complete their basic education.

The team also lists threats occasioned by the lack of disaster preparedness and poor management of education institutions as posing great danger to your child at school.

And with weak structures to support and protect the children from emerging risks, the education task force paints a picture of a system that needs urgent fixing to protect the children.

“It is evident that there is inadequate coordination, monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the existing policies, programmes and guidelines within the education sector,” the team observed.

The report says a majority of stakeholders raised concerns about the weak implementation of learner support that includes mentorship, sensitisation of fundamental human and children rights, career guidance and counselling, and mental health among others.

The new findings mean that CS Machogu must now craft ways of fixing the weak systems in his ministry and push for compliance with various laws and policies to protect the child.

“Stakeholders decried the rising case of early pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, school unrest and bullying. It was also reported that there existed weak structures for psychosocial support services such as guidance and counselling, peer counselling and career guidance in schools,” the education reforms team noted in the draft report.

About 18 per cent of the adolescents aged 15-17 reported using drugs and substances; while 11 per cent reported using alcohol.

School violence

In its recommendations, the team proposes that the Ministry of Education collaborates with the Ministry of Interior and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to carry out periodic surveys on the rising and persistent cases of school violence.

The multispectral team must also launch a nationwide mass campaign and action against alcohol, drugs and substance abuse in basic and higher education institutions.

In addition to these, Machogu’s team must strengthen the provision of guiding and counselling services and mentorship for learners, teachers, trainers and lecturers in all educational institutions.

This is after the team found that schools did not have professional guidance and counselling staff and that peer counselling was very low.

The team also found that schools lacked structured programmes for guidance and counselling, mentorship and peer counselling.

In its detailed findings, the task force said schools have experienced several forms of violence including student unrest, school fires and strikes which have been perennial occurrences leading to loss of life and closure of learning institutions.

The report terms a ‘worrying trend,’ the increasing cases of teenage pregnancies in schools - terming it a crisis. Data indicates that one in every five girls in school between 15-19 years has been exposed to sexual activities and begun childbearing.

“Early pregnancy is the main reason for school dropout of adolescent girls. It also exposes young girls to health-related challenges including mortality and morbidity due to birth-related complications and unsafe abortions.

The education taskforce also found increasing cases of harmful practices due to weak enforcement of Section 23(1) (a) of the Children’s Act 92022).

The law protects children from harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, virginity testing, girl child breading, organ change or removal in case of intersex and other practices that can negatively affect the child’s life.

The draft report findings also make reference to increasing cases of child labour as a great threat to school-going children. According to the task force, weak enforcement of the Children’s Act is in activities where those involved are for monetary gains.

They include transport (boda boda, touting), salt and sand harvesting, mining, agriculture (miraa, coffee, tea, flowers), livestock farming, fishing, hawking, domestic work, street begging, beach boys and girls, and commercial sex exploitation.

"According to surveys, child labour is still rife and rampant in Kenya today. Child labour negatively impacts their academic progression, health, achievements and physical development,” the reforms team observed.

What however seems ignored and is affecting many learners in schools is the question of mental illness, the task force says. 

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