I watched the story of a distraught mother whose son died shortly after she picked him up from school. According to the late boy’s family, the school told them that he had been sick for four days, prior to being picked up by his mother. The family, however, alleges that the boy had been sick for way longer than that. This incident reminded me of another one that received wide media coverage with allegations of neglect on the part of a school leading to the death of a young girl. Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases.
As a parent, two phone calls scare me the most, especially when I do not expect them: A call from my house help and one from my child’s school in the middle of the day. I always panic as I pick up because almost every time such a call is made, it is never good news. I can therefore imagine how devastating it must be for a parent to receive news of their child’s illness or even worse, death. It must be even more horrifying when the child is miles away from home. The helplessness of knowing that you cannot be there with your child when they need you the most must be the worst feeling for any parent.
When we send our children to school, we expect them to behave well, respect the school authority and do their very best in their studies. We are expected to pay school fees on time and support the teachers in giving our children the best future possible. In return, we expect school to be a safe place for our children.
Whether they are in boarding or day schools, our children spend a lot of time in school. They therefore deserve to feel protected. Teachers should learn to listen to students and not brush off every claim of ill health. Granted, some students may feign illness for other reasons, but it is important to err on the side of caution, especially when a student persistently complains of an illness.
Learning institutions should invest in proper health facilities with a qualified medical officer(s) and proper medical supplies. Many schools do not take healthcare with the seriousness it deserves. Most lack the capacity to diagnose and administer basic care for common illnesses. It is common to hear allegations of students being forced to take painkillers for every condition, with little attempt to conduct necessary tests before administering the drugs.
Students learn to deal with their pain in silent and go about their duties. Those who attempt to sleep away their sicknesses are castigated and punished. Consequently, conditions that could otherwise be treated if caught early, deteriorate to critical stages and, in some unfortunate situations, result in death.
More importantly, school administrators should involve parents/guardians whenever a student complains of persistent pain. It is inhuman to continuously dismiss a child’s complaint, only to call their parents/guardians when it is too late. If a child’s condition does not get better after treatment, the logical thing should be to refer them to a better health facility and contact their parents/guardians immediately. Parents need the confidence that comes with knowing that in case of ill health, their children are well taken care of.
Dr Kiambati is a communications trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University