Beware of long-term economic impact of indiscipline in schools

Pupils from Cheleta Primary School in Runda walking home. [XN Iraki]

Burning of schools has made indiscipline in the institutions of learning compete with the Building of Bridges Initiative (BBI), and 2022 succession for national attention.

Any keen observer will notice that in most cases, students burn their dormitories, rarely classes. This is a coded message that they would like to go home. Some would quickly suggest they are missing home after nine months of Covid-19 forced closure.

But they were burning dorms even before that. There is a connection between boarding and indiscipline or arson.

Not so surprising, our homes are nowadays better than schools. In our days, it was the opposite. It was in school where we saw and watched TV for the first time and ate bread and showered regularly. We must improve on our boarding facilities and make them homely.

I am not advocating for five-star dorms. Will parents pay? Will the government pay?

Someone might point out that sleeping is not important, but if we sleep eight out of 24 hours a day, it means we spend 30 per cent of our lives sleeping! But it is more than sleep.

With no games either, because of Covid-19 or because crowded schools have no playgrounds, students are likely to be stressed.

Interaction with other schools was another stress reliever. Seen all the yellow school buses? We should have planned for the aftermath of a nine-month Covid-19 break.

How are we helping children cope with the fear of Covid-19? Blaming drugs is a lazy option.

How did we get where we are with indiscipline? Our non-governmental organisations (NGOs) used to be powerful till after the 2010 Constitution when many of their members got big posts in the government and kept quiet. They were at the forefront fighting for the end of corporal punishment, better-called caning. They succeeded. It even got into law.

The replacement was guidance and counselling and I must add quietly prayers. Students saw that as appeasement.

They realised they can get away with anything.

Portraying teachers as brutal and likely to kill students through corporal punishment did not make matters any better. Students got their freedom.

But was it coupled with responsibility? Why are we complaining?

Banning corporal punishment created a vacuum. Parents expect schools to instil discipline in their children.

They are too busy to counsel their children. Small families mean that parents are less inclined to punish their much-loved children. Yet, teachers expect parents to discipline their children. What does the law say about the role of each in punishing students or children?

This vacuum has sucked in police as students escalate indiscipline into arson. This portrays our teachers as failures in disciplining students. But which teacher wants to go to jail or lose a scarce job?

And students know that; don’t we publicise it?

Worse, some parents side with their children citing the law. Education officials will rarely defend teachers.

It’s romantic to talk about child rights as if teachers have no right to a conducive working environment. But our policymakers are not taking seriously the long-term consequences of indisciplined students or liberated students - to appear cool.

Without ruffling many feathers, I compare students liberated from corporal punishment to women liberated from presumed men dominance; they are finding it hard to get husbands. In the same way, students will miss jobs.

How do I expect an undisciplined student to start the next Apple or Google? Some will add that such liberated students are more creative. Even creativity requires discipline. Remember indisciplined students eventually become citizens.

The argument that corporal punishment led to a generation that must be policed even in the workplace is not true, people mature and see the folly of their indiscipline when young.

Indiscipline in schools has taken a turn that should keep us awake at night. In the past, the indisciplined children came from affluent homes.

The children felt with their affluent parents, they could get away with anything and shielded them life’s adversities.

Today, students from poor backgrounds have been sucked into the swirling vortex of indiscipline as part of misplaced heroism. Ever heard of private or international schools on fire?

The disadvantaged children are pushing themselves deeper into disadvantage through indiscipline. We could soberly suggest they are crying for help, they probably see their paths to upward mobility blocked by graft and joblessness, as reported by the media.

Parents, can you hear me? In my earlier life, I briefly taught in high school (Physics and Maths) and know the indiscipline problem teachers face every day. Paradoxically, when westerners visit our schools, they are impressed by the discipline of our children. I once taught in America’s Deep South and fully understand why they find our children disciplined.

Recently, I taught a group of Chinese students on an exchange programme and was impressed by their discipline.

Shout communism if you wish but who is building your highways. Visit China and you will realise one of the secrets behind its rise into an economic power is discipline. How would you run a country of 1.4 billion people without discipline?

How do we expect our children to become leaders, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and take on the world without discipline? It takes discipline to start an enterprise and nurture it into a multinational firm with jobs created thereof.

It takes discipline to be innovative and spawn the next big thing. Remember the siblings of discipline are patience, perseverance and persistence. The famous Asian values are nothing but traditional discipline.

Indiscipline has an unintended consequence; it will drive good teachers to other professions. That is why in developed countries, there is a shortage of teachers in the inner cities, where indiscipline is rife. Unfortunately, among the poor.

Private investors in education are preferring building girls’ instead of boys’ secondary schools. Boys are seen as too risky and prone to indiscipline. Let’s cry for the boy-child. Parents will shift their children to “disciplined” private schools.

The poor could be discriminated in the job market after graduating from indisciplined schools. Did I hear that indiscipline cases will get into one’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) certificate of good conduct?

Will a new industry emerge to “clean” such records?

Indiscipline will have economic consequences.

Economic productivity is tied to discipline. Ask any employer. We should have made discipline one of the pillars of Vision 2030. Modernising Kenya will require more focus on disciplining the next generation.

After all, we do not have the luxury of importing workers like Dubai or US. Next week, we explore how to maintain discipline in our schools.

-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi

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