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Why the cane won’t stop school fires

OPINION
By Glory Chigogo | November 12th 2021

Reports about fires in schools have caused public alarm in the past few weeks. Many children are enrolled in boarding schools, sometimes far away from their families. Parents reading about the fires have rightfully been concerned about the safety of their children. In addition, the fires have sparked calls for the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools.

Education is a right for all children, and Kenya has committed to ensuring that all children can access school. The government has taken important steps to reduce fees in public schools so that more children can access education. But children require more support to successfully access education.

The ongoing arson has been blamed on indiscipline, and the public solution offered is corporal punishment. Studies have shown that beating children has a direct impact on their intellectual ability and confidence and causes emotional distress. Reports of mental health problems in society have often been linked to childhood violence.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a big economic strain on families. Children have witnessed their parents losing their livelihood. Children have witnessed domestic violence that has been widely reported in the media. Children have lost parents and loved ones to Covid-19. The stress related to the pandemic has affected our children as much as it affected us. The discussion about arson in schools is incomplete without the consideration of the high mental stress that everyone has experienced in the past year. On top of that, children are now expected to catch up with the lost school year with few breaks and little time to take part in games and other extracurricular activities.

Kenya, as a signatory to important UN conventions, has banned corporal punishment in schools. Indeed, reports of children dying after they are beaten by parents or teachers cause public outrage from time to time.

Many of us were caned as children, and in all honesty, the effects remain with us.

It is sad but not surprising that a public official recently admitted he was beaten in school. Corporal punishment has been so normalised that challenging this narrative seems like an upstream swim. But alternatives to beating children exist. It’s possible to raise emotionally healthy children who can engage in debate and discussion when they are upset without resorting to violence. Colonial legacies that dictate that African children can only grow if they experience beatings should end in this information age.

It is irresponsible and lazy to suggest violence on children who are already overburdened by the pandemic's effects, as well as their education. It is an attempt to avoid meaningful and sustainable engagement on the issue by the government. Instead of senior government officials suggesting violence on children, it should support teachers' positive engagement with children by investing in counselling or discussion projects so that children can process their emotions in healthy ways.

It is more important to develop programmes to help students discuss their problems with trusted adults instead of beating them. Violence begets violence.

Teaching children to speak about their problems is the long-term solution to curbing mental health issues, societal violence, as well as arson, which appears to be an outlet for the thousands of children frustrated by the various circumstances they are facing in school.

Ms Chigogo is a communication professional

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