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Why Kenyan students are burning schools and beating their teachers

Many school heads and parents are coming to terms with the current wave of indiscipline since learning resumed following a prolonged disruption by the corona pandemic. It appears most students are struggling to re-adapt to school life after a nine-month long sabbatical and freedom of waking up to nothing.

And with a rigid and compressed timetable, life is not easy. It even gets tougher coping with back-to-back lessons from morning to evening without resting or engaging in extra curriculum activities. The old maxim ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ aptly captures the situation learners find themselves in.

It is a toxic environment whose outcome is a negative attitude among some pupils and students. Within just a month into the first term, the scale of this negativity is evident in their violent behaviour. They have attacked teachers and we are starting to lose count on the number of burnt schools.

“This is just a tip of the iceberg, February might be worse,” warns Nicholas Maiyo, chair, National Parents Association (NPS). 
Maiyo claims students are venting out their anger over strict school regime they are yet to accustom to after being away for long. Secondary and primary schools were shut to protect learners from corona virus in March 2020.
The official who is on a fact-finding mission, says they have established the students are stressed as they struggle to adjust and face exams they are ill-prepared to sit.

“Some are also fighting withdrawal symptoms having been introduced to drugs while at home,” says Maiyo after touring schools in Kisii County.

He blames Teachers Service Commission (TSC) for not adequately preparing teachers to handle learners with mental health problems.  TSC boss Nancy Macharia had not responded to our questions by the time of going to press.
Exams are another issue causing anxiety. The decision to shift Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KSCE) to March and April instead of October and December is piling pressure on candidates trying to re-adjust their mindset, according to an education expert who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from senior government officials.

The expert thinks it is wrong for teachers and parents to finger point at each other over the current unrest especially in boarding schools, which he equates to prisons where life revolves around a boring routine.

“We are putting a lot of pressure on our children such that we think it is a good idea for them to sit in a classroom from Monday to Monday without giving them time to relax and release tension. In some private boarding schools, learners are allowed to go home during weekends,” observes the man.

Lack of entertainment, according to Maiyo, is making students become restless to the point of turning violent. The parents’ head says in the few schools he has visited, students resorted to anarchy after entertainment was banned or the session, which students use to partly re-energize, was switched to day from night time.

“The students are on a rigorous class time table without being allowed to rest and get entertained,” says Maiyo faulting teachers for not being able to deal with new traits and behavious learners acquired while on the long recess.
The Nairobian has learnt principals have been warned by their employer, TSC, against commenting about the lawlessness. Indimuli Kahi, chairman, Kenya Secondary’s Heads Associations (KSSHA) declined to be interviewed.
The frequency of unrest is high in Nyanza and Western where a section of parents and teachers want return of corporal punishment to instill discipline.

Kenya banned corporal punishment in 2001, which effectively ended colonial era practice. However, the government failed to spell out alternatives to caning. Instead, the Children’s Act, which entitles children to protection from all forms of abuse and violence, was introduced.

In outlawing the discipline management procedure, teachers were blamed for blatantly abusing it. But parents like Kennedy Odhiambo from Rangwe Sub-county want the cane returned. He argues that in the absence of corporal punishment, learners have become big-headed.

“The government erred by barring teachers from caning pupils, some have openly show disrespect to teachers knowing very well nothing will happen to them,” observes Odhiambo.
The parent says it is morally wrong for teachers to watch helpless as students misbehave. Apart from being violent, the learners abuse alcohol and drugs.

Some of the schools in Nyanza and Western that have suffered turmoil include Kisii Boys, Chesamisi Boys, Kimilili Boys and Father Simon Secondary. John Nyangoje thinks the long exposure children had led them to bad behaviour, which they acquired through watching ‘dirty’ programmes on television. There has been concern some fell into crime and engaged in sexual relationships.

“Peer pressure is also to blame and the students could be perpetuating what they acquired while out of school,” says Nyangoje, a parent supporting corporal punishment. He recalls how he helped one of his wayward son excel through use of cane.

“One day I was summoned to school after my son showed disrespect to a female teacher. We caned the boy jointly, and I believe that is what shaped his character and enabled him to acquire university education,” reveals the man.
Dr Emmanuel Manyasa is against corporal punishment, which he says does not guarantee good behaviour. Instead, he would prefer, the rejuvenation of the approved school system that deals with indiscipline children.

“We had worst strikes in the country when caning was legal and I don’t think it is a solution to this problem, which we fore warned but nobody bothered to listen,” argues Manyasa, executive director, Usawa Agenda that does research on education matters.

According to Manyasa, the fires are caused by a few students who no longer value education after staying out for long. 

“It is a small group that doesn’t want to be in class; some of them were doing business and making money and feel it is a waste of time being in school. They will do anything to be send home,” he says.
The Usawa Agenda boss believes parents and teachers did not prepare learners psychologically ahead of opening schools.

“The tensions are building up because these children are not mentally prepared. Besides, there is need for the government to make education valuable like in the old days when it promised a better life. Today education doesn’t aspire; what would inspire a learner whose sibling is a boda boda rider after completing secondary to work hard,” notes Manyasa.

Fred Onganga, a teacher at Oridi primary school in Ndhiwa Sub-county, feels the Children’s Act has given so much liberty to learners.

“The children have been given too many rights they don’t deserve, they think it is okay to argue with their teachers even when they are on the wrong,” says Oganga.
Some students, who spoke to The Nairobian, cited adolescence and peer pressure as reasons contributing to the unrest.

“It is wrong to fight with a teacher but some of us believe that doing so makes us feel great and equal,” said a boy from a secondary school in Homa Bay town.

Bungoma Parents Association, chairman, Nyongesa Watulo, says it is high time parents and teachers worked together to bring back discipline in schools.


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