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Abolish boarding schools, they have outlived their usefulness

By Wilson Sossion | November 15th 2021

A dormitory at Bahati PCEA Girls Secondary School in Bahati Sub County, Nakuru on January 18, 2020. One Student died. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

The history of boarding schools in Kenya dates back to 1902 when Nairobi School, formerly The Prince of Wales, was established. It was followed by Maseno Government School in 1906, Tumutumu Mission School and Kenya High (1908), Thogoto School, now Thogoto Teacher Training College (1910), Kabaa Boys High School (1923), Alliance High School (1926), Yala High School (1927). These then opened a floodgate of similar institutions across the country in subsequent years.

According to the Ministry of Education records, these institutions were established by the colonial government in partnership with church missionary societies with the cardinal aim of 'enlightening and polishing' or assimilating African children into European. Boarding schools were established in the country for indigenous people as part of a wider scheme to eradicate, defeat or evade negative effects that came as a result of engaging in retrogressive cultures like Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage, nomadism, pastoralism, early family responsibilities (child labour) and other related vices and cultural barriers to access education.

Residential schools were primarily styled by the colonial government to introduce the locals to contemporary thinking and reasoning; adapt modern healthcare; and more importantly, how to value and nurture personal and community security. Fundamentally, boarding institutions were used as a medium to introduce and entrench the African child into supposedly modern lifestyle through education.

For over a century now, Kenya has met all the objectives and targets of which boarding schools were designed to address. The Constitution through various Acts of Parliament has effectively and successfully established rules and regulations to address, and permanently fix emerging challenges – hence, there is no further need for boarding schools to be used to facilitate acquisition of education and civilisation.

The disturbances we are currently witnessing in boarding schools has nothing to do with curriculum delivery. It is true there is a lot of pressure to cover the syllabus within the prescribed period. However, it should be remembered that students in boarding schools cover exactly the same content as those in day schools. So, why are there no arson cases, walk-outs, sit-ins and breakages in day schools? The truth of the matter is that majority of our children abhor boarding schools. Residential schools of today are not the same as those of 1980s and before. The situation has changed a great deal that today, many homes have what children need to enjoy; mobile phones, computers, laptops, printers, videos, TV sets, radios and other electronic gadgets for entertainment.

Some of us watched TV in school. There were none in the villages and for this reason, schools were more attractive than home. Today, most kids are brought up in urban settings, and school holidays entail sitting in front of TV sets for the better part of the day, and using mobile phones. Imagine a situation where children are conditioned not to use mobile phones in school, and only watch TV for two hours during weekends. The present generation feels residential schools are mere concentration camps or prisons of sorts.

This is the genesis of unrest in schools – students have to run away from “prison” and go home or cause unrest to be sent home. A teacher once said on social media: “In 1993 with my colleagues, we visited Starehe Boys Centre for a familiarisation tour, and we were told by the institution’s director, Geoffrey Griffin, that the problem with Kenyan boarding schools is that they are run on a ‘jail model’, adding that Starehe Boys Centre was run on a ‘home model’. He advised us to try as much as possible to convert our schools into ‘home models’ as opposed to ‘jails’. “If they are ‘hell’, your students will run away, but if they are ‘homes’, learners will always stick around and remain in the ‘home’”, Griffin told us.

“Griffin, however cautioned us against hurrying to create a replica of Starehe Boys Centre because we would get frustrated due to lack of resources. But he said every school should try its level best to move away from ‘jail models’. The 100 per cent transition policy coupled with over-enrollment, have turned boarding facilities into prisons. The quality of boarding services in most schools is miserable. It is for this reason that majority of Kenyans are now advocating for non-residential schooling. Day school students, as a matter of fact, enjoy extremely enriching education and strong relations with their parents who can effectively support their academic success. Parents get to play a hands-on role in helping with homework and projects which can contribute to their children’s academic success. Day schooling makes parents feel connected to their children’s education.

It should be noted that over 70 per cent of schools that have had unrests, have new principals as a result of Teacher Delocalisation Policy – following interviews with students and teachers from schools that have been closed due to disturbances, it has been established that much of the disruptions stem from change of rules by the new principals.

Local teachers, including head of institutions, who happen to serve in their localities tend to connect well with schools and local communities. UNESCO recommends that measures should always be taken to permit teachers obtain teaching posts in the locality of their tribes. This is one way of defeating or evading school unrest. According to UNICEF, parents have a great responsibility in the upbringing of their children. The role of parents in a child’s formative years cannot be taken over by a teacher, hence the need for the child to remain within the family set up devoid of breaks.

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