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State doles out mid-term break, players protest it’s not enough

By Augustine Oduor | Nov 3rd 2021 | 6 min read

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha (L) chats with Dr. Julius Jwan (R) is the Principal Secretary of, State Department for Early Learning and Basic Education when he was speaking at Joseph Kangethe Primary School in Kibra. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The government yesterday backed down and offered secondary schools a five-day mid-term break even as stakeholders blamed policy-makers in Jogoo House of failing to anticipate the crisis in good time.

In a circular to regional and county directors of education, Principal Secretary in the ministry Julius Jwan announced secondary students will take a break on Friday, November 19 and resume on Tuesday, November 23.

“You are required to bring this information to the attention of all principals of secondary schools within your area of jurisdiction,” the circular copied to CS George Magoha reads.

Before the move, secondary school heads had claimed that the 11-week learning period, under the revised term dates, was putting pressure on children leading to ‘wayward’ behaviour.

Schools opened on October 11 and will close on December 23. In the last the few weeks, riots have broken up in various secondary schools across the country.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Association national chairman Kahi Indimuli said second term is often a busy learning period as most teachers work to cover the syllabus.

He said efforts by teachers to cover learning areas must have also put pressure on children.

But mid-term is not all. The failure to resume school games and other activities is said to have closed avenues for children to ventilate, putting pressure on learners.

“If we have resumed sporting activities across all fields why have we continued to close for schools. We need these games and activities to also help children,” Indimuli said.

Other issues being raised include the failure by the government to send all capitation money to schools and parents inability to settle outstanding fees, starving institutions of the much-needed cash.

“We need to provide some items to children but we are unable to because we do not have the money,” said Indimuli.

The principals case aside, the government has been faulted for failing to implement the recommendations of task forces to end the unrest.

Shocking clips of Buruburu Girls Secondary School students jumping out of the windows of their dormitory after a fire broke out has put the government on the spot for failing to implement safety measures.

A task force report commissioned in 2016 laid bare causes of school fires, especially during second term, but a spot check in schools revealed that the findings largely remain on paper.

The recommendations of another government document, titled Safety Standards Manual for Schools, produced in 2008 also remains largely remain on paper.

School heads are also on the spot for failing to implement directives issued by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to enhance students’ safety and improved vigilance in institutions.

The student unrest debate remains a topic discussed in hushed tones in staff rooms and in the Ministry of Education offices.

However, in its findings, the Claire Omolo report unearthed major administrative flaws and criminal practices, and oversights that spark off student unrest.

The team also exposed poor living conditions, blatant disregard of government policies and collusion between students and teachers that lead to discord among learners.

Other reasons for the unrest are school administrators’ highhandedness, bad school rules and lack of proper communication channels. These fanned the fires that paralysed learning during third term of 2016.

Consequently, the children resorted to burning of school buildings, especially dormitories, administration blocks, classrooms and food stores.

According to the Omolo report, some teachers said they know the causes of the student unrest.

The report also said that students revealed the reason why they burn schools and even prescribed solutions, which still remain unaddressed.

In their own submissions, the students listed sudden change of school rules, not being listened to, rampant caning which led to injuries and peer pressure as some of the reasons that pushed them to burn schools.

The students also listed what they felt would cure the problem. In their recommendations, the students said the administration must embrace dialogue with them.

They also proposed that guidance and counselling should be embraced and firmly implemented in schools.

The students also proposed that school menu be improved and that the infrastructure and facilities in schools should be upgraded.

Overall, the students also proposed that the society must come up with better ways of expressing themselves since they are the role models for students.

This was in response to violent scenes witnessed by adults in agitating for their freedoms and rights.

Teachers revealed that differences among them spilled over to students.

Teachers also confessed that too many examinations administered to students instilled fear and anxiety among students, pushing them to riot.

Cases of drug abuse, lack of proper communication channels, revenge by indiscipline students and political interference in education matters in some cases led to arson.

Interviews with principals and school teachers reveal that most of these proposals remain on paper, with only a few schools working to implement them.

In their report, the Claire Omolo-led task force also found that students believed that dormitories were their most valuable buildings, which could make tem listened to.

In their submission to the task force, students said most dormitories were not safe for the learners, observing the facilities were never clean.

“Most of the schools visited had filthy dormitories as evidenced by the presence of bedbugs and foul smell. There were graffiti on some walls whose paint had peeled off yet schools are expected to regularly paint buildings,” reads the report.

This was against the government requirement that spelt out how a dormitory should look like.

The Safety Standards Manual for Schools (2008) demands dormitories have double doors, opening outwards and windows without grills were largely ignored.

However, students interviewed said burning dormitories was the easiest way of having new ones constructed.

“Students felt that it was the easiest way to have them sent home,” reads the report.

The task force said that dormitories must be cleaned to make them habitable.

“Most of the schools visited had overcrowded and congested dormitories with some students sleeping on triple-decker beds in order to accommodate large numbers and in some cases students were forced to share beds.”

The 2008 safety manual also required that spaces between beds must be wide enough to allow for manoeuvre and escape during emergency.

However, the task force found that some of the schools visited, had dormitories that did not have any emergency exits or had blocked emergency exits.

The report also found that some dormitories had narrow doors that compromised the safety of students in cases of emergency.

“It was observed that in some schools, dormitories were not locked all the time when learners were out which could have encouraged easy access by intruders,” reads the task force report.

The team also found that some dormitories were sometimes locked from outside when students were asleep to deter them from sneaking out of the school compounds at night.

And in other cases, the keys to the dormitories were kept by students or watchmen contrary to the safety regulations, which stipulated that keys be in the custody of dormitory masters/mistresses or dormitory prefects.

“In some schools, the students who had the keys were the suspects in the arson cases,” reads the report.

Some principals and education officers, however, attributed the congestion in school dormitories to increased demand for spaces in boarding secondary schools and pressure from ministry to enroll more students during Form One placement.

However, the team found that in other cases, schools rushed to admit boarders without adequate boarding facilities.

The team carried out investigations in all the counties and visited 97 schools in 38 counties.

In the affected counties, it was established that in most cases, students were behind the fire incidents and destruction of property.

Teachers, support staff and outsiders were also linked to some cases.

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