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Where is CS George Magoha: Ministry on the spot over school fires

EDUCATION
By Augustine Oduor | November 16th 2021
Education Cabinet Secretary Prof. George Magoha. [File, Standard]

The Ministry of Education has come under sharp focus as stakeholders accuse top officials of not doing enough to manage the crisis that has gripped the sector due to student unrest that has resulted in the burning of schools.

It is also emerging that the Cabinet Secretary, Prof George Magoha, is presiding over a weak system that has made it impossible for field officers to make quick decisions to avert crises.

The education stakeholders and some ministry officials who spoke to The Standard on Tuesday said some of the causes of student unrest were brought to the attention of the ministry's leadership in time but no action was taken.

"The issue of missing the mid-term break was an oversight that was identified when the revised timetable was released and the ministry's leadership was advised accordingly. However, no action was taken until the crisis erupted,” said a senior Education Ministry official familiar with the details told The Standard.

The official said proposals to open up sports and school games were also floated but remain untouched.

“We advised that children needed some time off the tight schedule to meet their peers as it happens during sports, drama, and other activities,” said the official who sought anonymity.

It also emerged the Ministry was advised to close the school that experienced the first fire incident to allow for investigations that would have hopefully helped contain further cases.

“This would have allowed the ministry to investigate the matter and forestall potential cases that might have occurred after that. But this advise was also not taken. In the end, more cases were recorded ballooning into a crisis,” said another ministry official.

And now, the ministry's fields officers say their hands are tied as they are unable to make quick decisions that could save a situation even when they find errors in schools.

“We have to rely on direction from the ministry's headquarters in Nairobi and this takes long at times, precipitating crises,” said one of the field officers.

The revelations came as Magoha jetted out to attend a meeting in Paris, France, leaving behind a trail of destruction in schools, and stakeholders engaging in blame game over indiscipline among students.

Some stakeholders have questioned Magoha's commitment to ending the crisis.

Jamuhuri High School reported the latest case of school fires, just days to the anticipated mid-term break due this weekend.

Some teachers lamented that they are yet to see Magoha visit any of the affected schools. “He has issued statements regarding school fires but he has not visited any of the affected institutions. Teachers feel abandoned,” said a school principal who did not wish to be named.

The manner in which school fires are being addressed has thrust the Ministry into sharp focus with stakeholders accusing top officials of not acting quicklyt enough to avert the crisis.

Insiders said the ministry was also advised to resume sporting activities and limit the transfer of students. The ministry is also said to have been advised to ask teachers to review their school programmes to ease pressure on the learners.

And even as grumblings over school fires continue, parents said have identified some solutions they say will end student unrest.

Nicholas Maiyo, the National Parents Association chairman, said they have done an audit of the recently reported cases of fire in schools and prescribed solutions top among them being the immediate transfer of principals of the affected boarding schools, who should be redeployed to day schools.

Maiyo said heads of boarding schools, in most cases, are not keen to note the signs and act before a crisis erupts.

The association also wants headteachers, classroom staff, and prefects trained on how to detect early signs of indiscipline.

“We have noted that school fires did not just happen. In most cases, there were signs which were not detected. This means those responsible were not keen enough to forestall the destruction,” said Maiyo.

A burning dormitory at Kakamega High School that hosts over 500 students on November 6, 2021. [Benard Lusigi, Standard]

Parents also are also calling on the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to create a good working environment for teachers as it emerged that most of the staff are demoralised.

“We have learnt that teachers spend more time discussing their welfare at the expense of teaching and ensuring children’s discipline. Therefore, TSC needs to ensure teachers are not burdened because it raises their stress levels,” said Maiyo.

It also emerged that there is a huge disconnect between school administration and parents resulting in a communication gap that breeds indiscipline.

“Headteachers must also engage the classroom teachers as a form of intelligence gathering because most cases of school fires were hatched at class level,” said Maiyo.

And to keep learners busy, parents say that spots and school activities must be resumed. "Children need time to ease tension and this can be done in the fields, during games. By the time they retreat to dormitories after games, they are too tired and all they want is to rest. This helps reduce cases of arson,” said Maiyo.

He also said that some staffroom wars spill over to students leading to indiscipline. “The issues of money in school accounts and how contracts are awarded are being used in some schools by teachers to set up their seniors against children,” said Maiyo.

But a recent report on school fires accused parents of covering up for the mistakes of their children.

The Ministry of Education report of a Special Investigation Team chaired by Claire Omollo revealed that some parents defended the lies peddled by their children and even appeal cases filed in courts against students.

“There were cases of parents who moved to court to challenge school management's decisions on a student's discipline,” reads the report.

The report returned a harsh verdict on parents and the society, which it said, lacked the moral authority to guide adolescents struggling with self-awareness, self-esteem, the need for acceptance and recognition.

“Members of the society including leaders, teachers, and parents were expected to be role models to the children. Unfortunately, most of these people had not lived up to the ideals,” said the report.

The report also found that in the absence of guidance, the children were left to learn from their peers or any other persons they interacted with.

“Some stakeholders reported that indiscipline in schools was mainly as a result of poor parenting.”

In addition to these, some families were dysfunctional and parents had abdicated their responsibilities leaving schools to nurture the character of their children.”

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