NAIROBI, July 27 – Despite ‘stringent measures’ taken by Education Minister Sam Ongeri last Tuesday to curb the wave of student’s unrest, more schools have gone on strike leaving the government and stakeholders almost helpless.
Close to one hundred more schools joined the mayhem this week setting ablaze property worth millions of shillings besides causing malicious damages.
Though Ongeri’s assertions in Parliament mainly implicated the students, blaming drug and substance abuse and fear of mock exams for the chaos, Kenyans are reading more to it.
Stakeholders have dismissed the government’s conclusions and put the Inspectorate department of the Education Ministry, school administrators, parents and the curriculum developers on the spotlight for failing in their respective roles.
Many feel that the government is evading obvious problems in the schools that year after year lead to the chaos.
“For you to strike and burn property because of exams, there must be other underlying causes, we need to urgently go on the ground and find out,” Education Consultant Emma Wachira asserted.
Indeed some of the issues raised by some schools appear petty. Students of Upper Hill School, for example, gutted a dormitory killing one student all because of a dispute over the school canteen. Parklands Secondary and Ngara Girls schools were closed after students were ‘incited’ by their counterparts in neighbouring Jamhuri High school.
The Education Ministry is known for setting targets to the teachers but on the other hand failing to give them the necessary support. The institutions remain understaffed and with the implementation of the free education program, the numbers are overwhelming. Some schools have been forced to go without facilities due to a delay in disbursement of funds.
Speaking to Capital News on Monday, Nairobi University Sociologist Dr. Pius Mutie, faulted the government for ignoring previous recommendations and snubbing the real causes of the strikes with quick fixes.
“When students strike, they have a reason but we have ‘ready answers’ even before we find out what is happening,” Mutie said.
Many people feel that indiscipline is one of the main causes of the mayhem and have proposed the review of the Children’s Act to re-introduce caning as a way of reinforcing discipline. Already the Law Society of Kenya, National Council of Churches of Kenya, legislators and a cross section of Kenyans have backed the idea.
NCCK General Secretary Canon Peter Karanja however said caning should be done in moderation.
Karanja, in the meantime, urged the Ministry of Education to make Religious Education compulsory at all levels as a foundation of morals, ethics and value systems. Though emphasis has dwindled with years, most of the secondary schools are sponsored by various churches and as such religious guidance is key if not compulsory. Nevertheless in a rather interesting case Queen of Apostles School, which trains future priests, closed down under mysterious circumstances leaving to question the role of the religion in shaping students’ morals.
School administrators have been faulted for mishandling students and mismanaging school resources thereby creating unnecessary collision with the students. Admitting to this, the Education Ministry has charged the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) to come up with a management manual to build the capacity of school heads.
During his weekly address on Thursday, Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua insisted that management training, together with the safety and peace building manuals would be crucial in forestalling future strikes.
The move to suspend, expel or take students who participated in the unrests to court has received equal support and condemnation.
Maendeleo ya Wanawake Chairperson, Rukia Subow downplayed it and noted that the students were not the only ones to blame. She believes the mess in the society, coupled with the post election violence, had a stake in fanning the chaos.
“Some of our legislators who are now seriously debating the school unrests, are the same ones who rebelled police orders and went matching on the streets just the other day, why make laws that you yourselves cannot follow?” she asked.
The National Association of Parents, on the other hand, wants an independent probe into the management of the learning institutions.
“We don’t want to rush and condemn; expelling is not a solution. Can we ask ourselves what made the students do what they did? Secondly who is doing the suspension, the same people who are guilty?” Secretary General Musau Ndunda posed.
However a section of MPs had urged the Education ministry to institute charges against the students to avert recurrence. In a statement Permanent Secretary Karega Mutahi said that the prosecution would go ahead. Already over one hundred students have been arraigned in courts across the country.
System of education
The viability of the 8-4-4 system of Education has also been questioned with many rooting for its review. Dr. Mutie faulted the exam based system noting that it creates unnecessary pressure on the students resulting to the mayhem as a way to ventilate.
Though the curriculum has been reviewed a number of times, its implementation is controversial and the students have expressed displeasure with this. Even with the reduction of examinable subjects to eight, students in boarding schools are forced to wake up as early as 4am and stay in school to as late as 10pm. Some of their counterparts in day schools are required to report at 6am and leave as late as 7pm. Holiday tuition has become part of the schools’ programs. With this the students have little time, if any, to recuperate.
“Can the minister tell us whether the lack of play time for children has contributed in this?” Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto questioned Ongeri in parliament.
The government has many times supported the scrapping of the District Mock exams which have been a key trigger of the strikes but the proposal has always been shelved.
Parents and changing lifestyle
Parents have also been on the receiving end for abdicating their role of guiding their children and instead expecting the teachers to take it up. Ndunda has already admitted this and noted that his organization would be rolling out training programs for its members. He, in the meantime, urged the government to minimise the number of boarding schools so that parents can be in direct contact with their children.
Change in lifestyles in the country too cannot be ignored in this crisis. These are the times that students demand that TVs and DVDs to be fitted on their school buses besides demanding for HI-FI Music systems for their entertainment in addition to permission to use mobile phones. Though the Education Minister has banned this ‘unnecessary luxury’ some think he is missing the point. The Catholic Church and Nairobi University Students Organization have already dismissed the idea that the phones have a stake in the unrest. However sources have indicated that the phones were used to communicate with students from neighboring schools contributing to the spontaneous effect of the strikes.