State should put safety in schools above all else


Kakamega primary school parents and pupils follow proceedings on February, 10, 2020 when Kakamega county interdenominational churches conducted prayers at the school. (Benjamin Sakwa, Standard)

Our lack of capacity and ineptitude in keeping our learners safe in schools were, for the umpteenth time, laid bare at Kakamega Primary School a fortnight ago, following a chilling stampede that left 15 pupils dead. I have always averred that we have such low regard for human life in this country, especially the down trodden, seeing how easily and repeatedly we lose lives to preventable causes. But it is a new low how we seem grossly ill-prepared to keep our children safe in schools.

Just the other day, it was Precious Talent School. In a typical fashion, suits from the policy-making table came and talked tough. They promised stern action then we went back to sleep. We are masters at knee-jerk reactions. All we do is react to tragedy, as opposed to proactively enforce measures that will guarantee safety of learners in schools.

Both Unesco and Unicef give premium to the safety of the child, emphasising that all children have the right to protection. They have the right to survive, to be safe, to belong, to be heard, to receive adequate care, and to grow up in a protective environment. Whereas the family is the first line of protection for children, schools are responsible for providing a safe and child-friendly environment away from home. To this end therefore, teachers are secondary care-givers.  

The concept of child protection in a school setup encompasses both physical and emotional well-being of the learner. Since capitalism has turned us into a society obsessed with competition and calcified by results, where the end justifies the means, we have relegated safety and well-being to the back-burner. We have thrown good sense and judgment through the window. What transpired at Kakamega Primary School, going by unverified media reports that the learners were running away from a teacher out to punish them, is a stark pointer of the gaps in our schools in as far as child protection is concerned.

Sexual predation

To most people, child protection oscillates between sexual predation/pedophilia and corporal punishment. This is a skewed, lopsided truth because there is more to it. According to Erin Pugh in her journal, Creating a Safe Learning Environment, volume 4, she outlines a number of safety areas, which include physical safety, emotional safety and intellectual safety. Child protection straddles both classroom management and learner-centered approach in pedagogy, where a learner can inquire without fear of retribution, profiling and labeling borne out of their beliefs, cultural practices or social status. In terms of classroom management, a teacher must ensure the learning environment is not only conducive, but that safety standards are up to scratch; sufficient lighting and circulation of air, safe furniture, enough space to allow for ease of movement for both the teacher and learners, especially in times of emergency.

There must be clearly labelled fire exit points, fire extinguisher points around the school, monthly fire drills, sufficient book storage area space, fire assembly points et cetera.

A school must have an easily accessible child protection policy, and teachers must be constantly refreshed on child protection – for their own good, and for the good of the learner.

It is quite obvious that with ballooning numbers of learners in schools occasioned by free primary education and the 100 per cent transition policies, resources are strained, consequently compromising the physical well-being of our children. For a stampede of such a magnitude to occur at Kakamega Primary, the number of children per class must have been really high, and the corridors or staircase narrow. According to independent news for international students, an ideal class should have 15-40 students per class.

Parents should be equipped with information on child protection, to enlighten their children. Sadly, parents and teachers have left the role of children safety to school inspectors who put unnecessary premium to teachers’ punctuality, scheme of work and lesson plans as opposed to the wider aspects of a safe learning environment. The safety and wel-lbeing of the child should be given priority. 

- The writer is an IB Educator