School fires rage as reports on safety rot

Fire fighters put out off fire in a dormitory at Kisumu Boys High School on Tuesday. The police are yet to establish the cause of the fire. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Task forces called for streamlining of boarding schools and establishing guidance and counselling departments.

The government is in a spot for failing to fully implement task force reports that proposed solutions to end student’s unrest.

In a detailed account, Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) exposed government’s laxity to act on perennial fires that have led to loss of property and learning time.

Kuppet listed three latest reports that it argued came up with far reaching proposals critical in addressing student’s unrest.

“Regrettably, none of these recommendations have been sufficiently implemented. It should come as no surprise that the crisis has not merely festered, but is biting harder than it did in 1994 or even 2016,” said acting Kuppet secretary general Moses Nthurima.

Decision Making

Nthurima was accompanied by Kuppet national chair Omboko Milemba, secretary in charge of secondary schools Edward Obwocha and national secretary tertiary schools Sammy Chelanga.

The union officials cited the reports since 1994, when the government appointed the Kirima Task Force, which studied students strike and arson in schools.

Nthurima said in 2001, the government appointed the Task Force on Student Discipline and Unrest in Secondary Schools, whose verdict mirrored findings of the Kirima team.

And in 2016, the government appointed the Claire Omollo task force, which detailed the recommendations of the last two teams.

The task forces key recommendations were streamlining boarding schools and establishing functional guidance and counselling departments.

Other recommendations were increased involvement of students and their leaders in decision making, reducing tests ahead of national examinations and training members of school boards on education management.

The team also called for a review of the curriculum to introduce lower secondary and reducing the number of boarding schools.

The Omollo team recommended that all boarding schools meet standards set by the Ministry of Education before they are registered and students admitted.

The 11-member task force urged the government to constitutes a multi-sectoral team, within one year, to assess boarding schools to ensure they meet minimum basic standards.

“Schools that fail to meet minimum boarding standards should be converted to day schools,” reads the report.

Kuppet wants the government to fully implement the reports if students unrest is to be stemmed. “Progressively reduce the number of boarding schools, with the goal of phasing them out in the near future,” said Nthurima.

Data from the Ministry of Education shows that there are some 9,000 public secondary schools. Nearly half of these are either pure boarding schools or have a boarding section.

Dormitories are always the main targets, although there have been cases of classrooms, administration blocks, teachers’ houses, stores and dining halls being torched.

Fire fighter putting off fire which gutted down a 64 capacity dormitory at Kisumu Boys High school on January 26th 2021. The cause of the fire is yet to be established. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Past reports indicated that dormitories were often targeted because mattresses easily caught and spread fire.?

And students also perceive dormitories as the most valuable buildings.

Nthurima said that with delayed action from the government, students unrest was now taking deadly forms that must be addressed.

“Students are increasingly attacking teachers with fists, knives, stones and other weapons,” he said.

Kuppet noted that learning has been paralysed in a number of schools in Eastern, Nyanza and Western, after students torched dormitories or other facilities.

The regretted that students unrest is now common in secondary schools ahead of national examinations.

Kuppet wants professional counsellors employed to deal with student affairs and inform administrative procedures within institutions.

It further wants risk allowance introduced for all teachers working in extreme life-threatening environments.

“We demand as a matter of urgency provision of risk allowance for all teachers in post-primary institutions who face the most risk from their learners,” Nthurima said.

Kuppet also proposed that teachers working in high-risk areas such as Kapedo be armed. “We, therefore, demand of the government as a matter of urgency targeted arming of teachers in areas prone to insecurity, such as Kapedo,” he said.