Grave concerns have been raised about xylene, a chemical used by candidates in the chemistry practicals of the ongoing Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations.
Some students and teachers who took part in the practicals have complained of health complications after inhaling the poisonous gas used for lighting.
Victor Kiptoo, a student at Barina Secondary School in Rongai, developed complications after doing the chemistry practicals and later died from what his teachers say were complications that arose from inhaling xylene.
In Trans Nzoia, a teacher was hospitalised after inhaling the gas. Across the country, some of the chemistry teachers have also complained of other adverse effects.
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Circumstances leading to the procurement of the chemical a few weeks to the start of the exams have raised questions. First, there appeared to be a shortage of the original xylene meant for the practicals and when headteachers went to procure the recommended one, they bought it at between Sh9,000 and Sh10,000 instead of the retail price of Sh2,600 per litre.
In a country where cartels and corruption hold sway, this is not surprising.
While Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has dismissed the claims without the benefit of investigations, his Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang has stated that the ministry has not received any formal complaint.
Clearly, that is escapist because of the lack of a formal complaint does not invalidate the claims. It is necessary to initiate thorough investigations so that the lives of candidates and teachers are not put at risk by hastily procured chemicals for exams.