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Mock exams blamed as 20 schools burnt in Kenya’s Coast

A student of Lutsangani Secondary school in Kilifi County salvages his box from the dormitory after an explosion that occurred when the students were taking their morning tea. At least seven schools in Kilifi County were burnt and the cause is yet to be known.

(PHOTO: GIDEON MAUNDU/STANDARD)

MOMBASA: At least 20 schools in the Coast region have been burnt in the last one month and dozens of students charged with offences relating to arson in Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties.

In the two counties, several students were arrested in possession of petrol, which they intended to use to torch their schools.

The worrying trend that has unearthed gaps in the way schools are managed was one of the main issues that were discussed during the just concluded Kenya Primary School Head Teachers Association delegates' conference in Mombasa, where Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang accused parents of neglecting their parenting duty.

"Parents need to take up their roles. They should not assume children are well taken care of in schools and should not leave their children under the care of teachers," he said.

The wave of arson, which some principals attribute to students' fear of mock exams in second term, has forced schools to introduce stringent security measures.

School heads said they were forced to take the measures to not only stop the arson cases but also ward off terrorists.

Shimo La Tewa School Chief Principal Joseph Mwadime said the school is currently under 24-hour guard by armed prison officers from the nearby Shimo La Tewa Prison.

"After the Garissa University Terrorist attack, we raised the security concerns and the county commissioner responded by facilitating the deployment of the officers," said Mr Mwadime.

On April 2 this year, Al Shabaab gunmen descended on Garissa University and killed 148 people, majority of them students.

In addition, Shimo La Tewa, which was hit by arson in early 2000s, has since constructed new dormitories with easy door and window exits in case of fire or any emergency.

Mwadime said school unrest, which usually comes up in second term when Form Four students take mock exams, are "contagious".

"Once students hear that a nearby school has gone on strike, they also want to do something that will see them sent home in a bid to not appear weak," says Mwadime.

The students are also regularly informed about the measures to take in case of a dormitory inferno. The school has water hoses, buckets and fire extinguishers to deal with any fire outbreaks.

Students who fail to attended classes are required to explain their absence to rule out cases of mischief.

Mwadime, who observes that some cases of indiscipline arise due to poor communication between the administration and the students, said the school informs students of any new developments.

"When we started the security programme that saw armed officers deployed in the school, some boys became apprehensive and even tried to influence others to go on strike to oppose the new security measures. But we quickly called a parade and informed the students thus stopping the unrest," says Mwadime.

The national boarding school has a population of close to 800 boys.

The principal said teachers and prefects also conduct impromptu searches during which students' boxes are inspected for drugs, water heaters, pornographic materials and other items that could have been sneaked into school.

He says the school has adopted a tradition of opening a day earlier to allow enough time to conduct a thorough search.

Private schools in the county have also been forced to improve security with parents offering to pay any extra cost that may come with implementation of the security measures.

"Parents are very concerned and everyone coming to the school has to be screened before being let in," says Istiqama Academy and Tuition Centre Director Omar Shariff.

Mr Shariff says apart from thorough security checks at the gate, the school does not allow boys in the girl's boarding section. He says having a rigorous study schedule with extra-curricular activities keeps the students off dangerous ideas that could lead to unrest.

Further, the school has a guidance and counseling team that handles any students who show signs of depression.

"We regularly invite people from a nearby fire station to train the students on what measures to take in case of a fire breakout. During a recent drill, the firemen advised that the dorms should have at least three doors," says Jemimah Mapea the head teacher of a girls' school in Likoni.

The doors of the dormitories also allow easy opening to allow for easy exit in case of a fire. The windows have no metallic grills to allow for easy exit in case of an emergency.

"Drugs and fear of mock exams are a big contributor to unrest in schools as both precipitate anxiety in students, which could easily culminate in violence and unrest," said David Gachathi who heads the school's boarding wing.

The wave of indiscipline in schools has been worrying with education stakeholders blaming parents for failure to instil good morals in their children.

Those incidents saw the security agents teaming up with school committees to come up with a way forward and address the wave of unrest in schools.

Kilifi County Commander Douglas Kanja has warned that all students involved in arson will be charged, terming them "criminals"

"A criminal is a criminal; it does not matter who they are. Those students were charged and will be treated like any other criminal," said Mr Kanja.

He added that police officers should visit schools to ensure that security is maintained.

"We visited several schools in Kilifi County where we have been able to talk to students and asked them to keep calm and concentrate on their education instead of involving themselves in criminal activities because the law will not spare them just because they are students," he added.

Kanja added that school administrations have also been asked to adopt the Nyumba Kumi initiative.

"We also requested the school administrations to adopt the Nyumba Kumi initiative to help in maintaining security in the schools. Through the small groups of ten, students will be able to reveal issues that are of concern to them and once the issues reach the school administration, they will be addressed in a simple manner to stem unrest," he said.

Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi also warned that his government will not protect parents of any student suspected to have participated in the burning of school property.

Mr Kingi asked the police to move with speed and ensure all those involved in the burning of dormitories in five secondary schools in Kilifi are arrested and charged.

Kenya Red Cross (KRC) County Manager Hassan Musa said they will train boarding schools students in Kilifi County on how to deal with fires.

"There is a general need to target all boarding schools on preparedness. We are planning to work with Red Cross clubs in our schools and train them. But now that schools are closed and next term students will be concentrating on examinations, the training process might take a bit longer," said Mr Musa.

He said KRC is also encouraging schools to buy fire extinguishers.

"We are advocating that schools purchase firefighting equipment," he said.

Musa said that they are also counselling students affected by fire incidents.

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