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How to tame indiscipline in Kenyan schools

By XN Iraki | February 14th 2021
Children at Loreto Convent School, Msongari. [XN Iraki]

Economic growth is largely driven by disciplined national thinkers. They come up with new ideas and follow them through, creating new enterprises and expanding the existing ones.

The ordinary but disciplined workers take over, working every day, successfully completing tasks and going beyond the call of duty.

While we love complaining about joblessness, rarely do we blame the low productivity resulting from indiscipline. Think loudly, we want higher salaries but attempts to link such salaries with productivity, which is built on discipline, are resisted.

Few want to say it loudly, but the popularity of higher degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree certificate is driven by the same philosophy; I will work less for more pay if I get that next certificate. One wonders who is supposed to work in this country.

Last week we analysed the genesis of indiscipline in schools. How do we confront it? We soberly looked at a few practical approaches. The cane is the lazy option.

Children will only become disciplined outward but deep inside they will be bitter and vengeful. If it has to be used, only as the last resort, but should be in the background. Don’t police carry guns though they rarely shoot anyone? Why has the world-leading democracy, USA retained the death penalty?

Lots of countries have nuclear weapons, but they have not used them for 75 years. They are a deterrent. Can the cane be the nuclear option?

Expulsion from school is the other part of the nuclear option. And…what happened to approved schools? One of the most effective means of maintaining discipline in schools is to keep students busy. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop, even for the non-religious.

That is the approach used by the disciplined forces. Police and soldiers’ discipline comes from being busy all the time. My three months at the National Youth Service (NYS) gave me insights into how keeping someone busy can lead to discipline.

Those who came from top schools like Alliance or Starehe might have noted the similarity in their routine to Gilgil camp. My lasting memory at NYS camp at Gilgil was watering flowers in the rain, to be kept busy.

Does it surprise you that one of the most disciplined schools, Starehe Boys Centre was founded by a former soldier Geoffrey Griffins? Another successful educator, Christopher Khaemba, now of Nova Schools and formerly of Alliance was a former soldier.

Keep learners busy and indiscipline will be put under control. What are students doing from the rising to the setting of the sun? Does the school have a routine that is easily followed, irrespective of the weather and time of the year? Beyond the classroom, what keeps the students busy?

Students’ minds are growing and they need to be occupied. Co-curricular activities keep students busy.

The more the activities the better. Schools that perform well in academics also perform well in co-curricular activities from games to music or drama? One explanation is that being busy leaves them with no room for mischief while demanding creativity.

Games are at the core of co-curricular activities. They not only keep students busy but are also fun and a break from class monotony. Truth be told, classrooms can be boring to students used to internet and WhatsApp.

What of inter-school activities which students love? One neglected area is activities that involve boys and girls. I recall in high school inviting girls from the neighbouring school for movies, picnics and debates.

That interaction reduces stress and anxiety, grass is no longer greener on the other side of the fence.

They now focus on studies. I was once punished for not having a pen pal from the neighbouring girls’ school and letting Kambui Girls walk around like sheep in the field, to quote our principal because they were not of our “standard.” Traditions help keep discipline. New students get into the rhythm and easily maintain discipline.

That is why old schools often perform better, they have a tradition.

Outsiders often misunderstand the traditions. Remember the drama at Alliance High School once?

What of inviting guest speakers who can inspire learners. Most professionals would love to talk to students for free. But schools prefer quasi-religious motivational speakers.

Once students see good role models, they will aspire to be like them and are likely to be more disciplined.

We must also accept that the influence of religion has waned in our society. What of counselling and guidance? That should be part of every lesson, with teachers spending time to guide and counsel learners.

My feeling is that guidance and counselling have taken over as the only means to discipline. It has been overused. Ever wondered how missionaries maintained discipline?

They had moral authority. Our teachers, too, should lead by example. Let’s be blunt; students easily follow examples and should be held responsible for their activities and decisions.

What of the use of intelligence? The US controls the world because of its intelligence networks. Check the CIA website and you will be agape on how much they know about Kenya.

How much do the school administrators know about the students?

Back to Griffins and Carey Francis of Alliance: Both knew enough about their students from interviewing them as they joined or visiting their homes.

Prefects hold the link to this intelligence, but their powers are being contested. Finally, parents hold the key to student discipline. They must start early. As late Geoffrey Griffins put it, parents should treat their children with the same seriousness they treat their jobs or professions.

That is why day schooling is taunted as the solution to indiscipline. But the social interaction, sense of responsibility and the independence students acquire in a boarding school is a lifelong asset. If parents did their work, teachers’ burden would be lighter.

Society is in a state of flux with new rules, new students, new governments, new religions and other changes. Discipline is often contingent upon the circumstances. It is evolving with no algorithm. That calls for creativity and ingenuity. How do private schools maintain discipline?

If we fail to address indiscipline in schools, it is harder outside the school. Police have more serious issues to focus on, not student indiscipline.

-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi

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