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Student unrest fuelled by recent reforms

By Wilson Sossion | July 15th 2016


If the recent move by the Ministry of Education to adjust school term dates and restrict parents and guardians to visit their children to stem examination cheating is part of the wide-ranging reforms in the Education sector, we can correctly say it is bound to fan tension, leading to strikes and other forms of student unrest.

The new changes now referred to as Matiang’i Rules’ are bound to impact negatively on the future of the Kenyan child as they have shattered their hopes and aspirations in many ways and at every level of basic education.

The abrupt and haphazard manner in which the Cabinet secretary pushed through the contentious term dates without seeking consultations is suspect, and a major cause of concern.

The new rules on the revised term dates, revised examinations schedule and banning prayers in third term in the name of fighting exam cheating, is a fraud to the Kenyan child. The students’ unrest we are witnessing today is as a result of tension caused by the abrupt changes.

The Cabinet secretary, while changing the dates, forgot to consider the repercussion of having long (two months) December holidays which are bound to expose learners to vices. The Cabinet secretary talks of rules aimed at ensuring unnecessary contact between candidates and outsiders during examination period, forgetting that 63 per cent of learners are day scholars, and majority of teachers and the support staff live outside the school compound. The CS’s argument that outsiders would assist candidates to cheat in the exam is therefore misplaced.

The most logical argument supported by renowned educationalists, Prof Michael Fullan of Canada, is that Kenya needs a ‘Balanced School Calendar’ which has no adverse effects on learners and their teachers, as has been in the case in the past before the introduction of the new rules.

Indeed, it’s against this backdrop that we call for a review of the new term dates.

‘Balanced School Calendar’ as practised in Britain, US, India, Japan, China and other nations creates direct bearing on good performance of learners, more so, assist teachers to adequately cover the syllabus.

As argues Prof Ernest R Jackson of Georgia University (2007), ‘Balanced School Calendar’ creates harmony between learners, teachers, school management, parents and guardians.

Then, to what extent does a ‘Balanced School Calendar’ affect student academic achievement? Professor Jackson says year-round education, also referred to as the “Balanced School Calendar’, recognises the school year to provide more continuous learning by spacing learning periods and vacations appropriately. Professors Alcorn – 1992 and McMillan – 2001 argue that ‘Balanced School Calendar’ is an alternative scheduled for learning that minimises learning loss that occurs during a typical learning period throughout the year.

Prof Kneese – 1996, Winters – 1995, Worthen and Zsirey – 1999 argue that ‘Balanced School Calendar’ addresses issues associated with the goals of increasing student achievement and lowering the drop-out rates.

More so, the system which shares a lot with the Kenyan system has a direct impact on crime rates. Idle children will tend to engage in vices that would distract them from meaningful education.

Change of school calendar would disrupt the strategic plans of many schools and budgets. We are advocating for a system that would accelerate school improvement, and foster each students’ unique potential.

It’s worth noting at this level that child labour would be encouraged if the children stay at home for too long as impoverished parents would be compelled to send them to the labour market for survival of the family. Schooling is considered the only alternative to child labour.With these reforms, Kenya would lose all gains recorded so far in basic education. School performance gravitates around sound leadership driven by well-crafted policies.

We don’t improve school systems by framing rules and regulations that stifle learners.

According to Geoffrey Griffin, founding Director of Starehe Boys Centre, for principals to effectively execute their functions as instructional leaders, they must be dealing with students who are at ease and devoid of tension and fear.

The Cabinet secretary has already created fear in learners. Students now know that all is not well, and to let out their anger and express their dissatisfaction, they resort to strikes and other forms of unrest. Ololunga Boys High School in Narok County has joined the long list of schools that have come out against Matiang’i Rules’.

We therefore call on the Cabinet secretary to reverse the directive on the new term dates, and instead embrace dialogue with the stakeholders on how best to stem examination cheating. It is embarrassing to lose schools infrastructure worth millions of shillings through arson.

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