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To cane or not? Teachers, parents are reading from different scripts

By Augustine Oduor | Dec 17th 2021 | 5 min read

School heads push for change in law to bring back corporal punishment and make students accountable. [Courtesy]

Teachers are now pushing for changes to two laws to address indiscipline among students and make them accountable for their actions while in school.

On the other hand, parents want more special correctional schools, also known as borstal institutions, to set up and the existing ones expanded to take in errant students, including those who destroy property and harm others.

Teachers say that there are gaps in the Children's Act and the Basic Education Act that must be addressed if indiscipline among learners is to be checked. They also want the review of the Children's Act to ensure students take responsibility for their actions while in school.

Their push has been informed by weaknesses in the two pieces of legislation blamed for increasing cases of student unrest and general indiscipline.

Secondary school heads have argued that the Children’s Act protects minors but does not state their duties and responsibilities while in a learning environment.

Parents support the proposed changes on condition that the power to discipline children is not transferred to teachers.

“If it is about having children to respect and obey authority and to protect school property, then we are in agreement. However, if teachers are being given the powers, then we shall not accept,” said Nicholas Maiyo, the National Parents Association chairman.

The law says children have a duty and responsibility to work for the cohesion of the family and to respect parents, superiors and elders at all times and assist them in case of need. They also have an obligation to serve their national community by placing their physical and intellectual abilities at its service and also by preserving and strengthening social and national solidarity.

According to Kenya Secondary School Heads Association chairman Kahi Indimuli, the law is silent on the duties and responsibilities of students to schools, hence the cases of destruction of school property.

“The law only talks about children’s responsibility to the parents and the State. It does not talk about their responsibility to the institution,” said Indimuli.

He supports amendment to the law to stipulate children’s obligation and duty to protect school property, fellow learners and school workers.

The government, banned corporal punishment, or caning, in schools in 2001. [Courtesy]

The government, banned corporal punishment, or caning, in schools in 2001 when it enacted the Children's Act, which entitles minors to protection from all forms of abuse and violence. Kenya is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that discipline involving violence is unacceptable.

The children’s law is domiciled under the Ministry of Public Service, Gender, Senior Citizens Affairs & Special Programmes, which is yet to take a position on the debate.

However, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha and his Interior counterpart, Dr Fred Matiang’i, recently hinted at the reintroduction of caning in schools. The two said caning of errant students could be the answer to cases of indiscipline that have been witnessed in schools, leading to cases of arson attacks by students.

Beatrice Elachi, the Public Service and Gender Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary, admitted that indeed there are weaknesses in the Children’s Act.

"I agree with teachers that the law has a huge gap, but parents are facing another crisis with their children. Parents have decided to leave the responsibility of instilling values in children to teachers," she said.

The proposal to amend the two laws is also captured in the 2016 special education investigations report on school fires. The team that prepared the report was headed by Claire Omollo. The report proposed that the law be amended to provide for children’s rights but with corresponding responsibilities.

“Students, parents and other stakeholders, including human rights activists, should be sensitised on the need to maintain discipline and exercise responsibility even where rights were guaranteed,” reads the report.

Similar recommendations were made by the National Assembly Education Committee in a 2019 report in which MPs called for a review of the Basic Education Act together with regulations to address indiscipline among learners.

As teachers call for re-introduction of caning, parents are arguing that expanding existing correctional facilities for children will go a long way in improving discipline.

"In addition to changes to the law, we need to mould misbehaving children in rehabilitation centres instead of keeping them at home where they are likely to slide into serious crime due to idling," Maiyo said. "Rehabilitation is an alternative correction method for children with disciplinary issues. Rather than expel learners who break the law, borstals and approved schools could rehabilitate and stop them from sinking into deeper trouble.”

Kenya is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that discipline involving violence is unacceptable. [Courtesy]

The parents' proposal is supported by a 2016 investigations team report that proposed the establishment of a “holding institution” to cater for accused students and those in court or under investigations for criminal acts.

This will mean students accused of burning schools or leading unrests are not be allowed to study with their innocent colleagues.

However, it emerged that the government is not keen on sending children to rehabilitation centres as research shows that such a move would have long-term effects on minors.

The Children’s Act, in Section 47, envisages the establishment of rehabilitation schools and remand homes. Under Section 50, the Act says the minister may establish such children’s remand homes as he considers necessary.

Directorate of Children Services officials say there are about 30 statutory institutions for children. They include two national reception assessment and classification centres, nine rehabilitation schools, and 14 remand homes.

At the reception centers, children are held for three months before they are taken to the rehabilitation centres. The maximum duration of stay in children's homes is three years.

Children whose cases are still continuing are held at the remand homes.

Although a lot of correctional services are undertaken at these centers, the government is adopting a policy where the use of these facilities is a last resort. However, Maiyo wants the number of rehabilitation schools increased so that children with deviant behaviour can be shaped into responsible and useful members of society.

Over the years, many cases of strikes, arson, and misdemeanours have been noted among learners as teachers’ hands remain tied. Parents have also been accused of abdicating their roles in raising their children, including failure to instill discipline. 

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