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Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha/FILE

Fifth Estate

Parental Engagement: Key to Moulding Character

By Francis Njuguna, Zizi Afrique Foundation

“This boy gave his father a cup of tea laced with a lethal poisonous substance. The following day, the father started complaining of stomach upsets. He was rushed to the local County Level 5 hospital where medical tests confirmed food poisoning. The father was then admitted to the hospital immediately.”

This information was shared by the principal of a special school for the mentally handicapped in one of the Western Kenya counties. We visited the school while conducting a survey of parental empowerment and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, led by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) in partnership with United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI). The boy is a student at the school.

“The boy’s mother died sometimes back and the father married another wife.” The principal said. It is as if the father developed a hostile attitude towards his son. He would often beat and mistreat the boy while at home during the school holidays. When the schools reopened, the boy would narrate everything the father did to him.” These stories disturbed the principal, who later invited the father to school to discuss these issues. “I took the father through the basics of handling a child while at home such as; building trust, fostering relationships and being consistent among others so as to build the boy’s self-esteem. I told the father to make friends with the boy. However, the father ignored all this.”

After schools reopened, this boy approached the principal and told her that his father would no longer be beating and molesting him. This bold proclamation caught the principal off guard, and she inquired why. “While at home”, the boy started, “My uncle gave me something to put in my dad’s tea so he can stop molesting and beating me.” On the realization of what the boy may have done, the principal immediately phoned the father, but the stepmother picked up the call instead. She then inquired to know where the father was. 

“Admitted in hospital” was the response. 

“Ailing from what?” the principal asked.

“Stomach upset, the doctor says its food poisoning.”

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The principal requested the mother to come to the school immediately, only to hear that the boy’s dad had passed on.

“I shared the information the boy had given me with the stepmother in the presence of other family members.” The principal continued, “This was a big challenge for me. When schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the boy’s life became very miserable. No relative wanted to live with him. ‘He can be used to poison us,’ they would say”.

This is an unfortunate story in which a child unknowingly caused the death of his parent. It shows the importance of parental engagement in their children’s upbringing and learning. 

Cases of students attacking their caretakers in schools continue to be reported since schools reopened on January 4, 2021. A student at a school in Vihiga County violently attacked and killed a watchman; a student at a school in Kisii County attacked and injured two of his teachers and a student at a school in Nyamira County attacked the deputy principal. The question is, what is ailing our children after the 9-months stay home period?

There is a disconnect between children and parents. Parental engagement in children’s upbringing and in schools is lacking. It calls for parents and teachers to work together to improve the learning and development of learners. This development is both academic and healthy. 

Researches published in the Universal Journal of Educational shows that parent engagement in schools and children’s learning is closely linked to better learner behavior, high academic performance and enhanced social skills. Parental engagement also makes children avoid unhealthy behaviors such as violence and drug abuse.

Learning begins at home. Parents and guardians should take the lead in inculcating values to their children as a key ingredient in their growth. Religious groups should also come out to offer necessary guidance to families so they can support children appropriately. Teachers have been left to deal with ratchet behavior among learners, some even have an ‘I don’t care attitude’ since they know that their parents cannot discipline them. 

Mahatma Gandhi once observed that Education which does not mould character is absolutely worthless. If we take the route of producing undisciplined characters from our schools, we shall end up with total indiscipline in the society which comes with all sorts of anti-social behaviours such as stealing, prostitution, substance abuse and secret cults among others. 

Francis Njuguna is a researcher with the Zizi Afrique Foundation.
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