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Dr. Matiang'i, Stop Beating About The Bush… This Is What Is Ailing Your Schools.

Over 6,000 students from various schools in the country are idling at home over unexplained fires and school strikes with property worth over Sh200 million estimated to have been destroyed. Police have already seized 109 learners and charged 45 others are in court over school fires.

Education, Science and Technology Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has blamed the ongoing wave to headteachers, pointing out that investigations had revealed that schools affected by unrest lacked coherent and focused structures for engagement with management in schools as well as lack of harmony between some principals, their deputies and teachers. They too have a bone to pick with the parents who they accuse of absconding their responsibilities.

Teachers are blaming the government, especially the CS and the Teachers Service Commission on the mess, siting uncoordinated and not well thought about directives and policies. The children on the other hand are pointing fingers on their tutors who they blame of highhandedness and lack of dialogue.

The parents and the general public are divided in equal measure on who is to blame between the teachers, students, the government or the parents themselves.

Who is to blame?

The problem ahead of us is a collective responsibility and everyone has actually failed in one way or the other. We have attempted to diagnose this menace and came up with some conclusion that no one had the right to point any finger to another for we all were ‘guilty as charged’.

Let us look at some of the possible causes of these unrest as discussed in that meeting.

1. Students

It was noted that part of the reason why students went on strike was due to peer influence. Peer pressure is extremely strong and seductive at the moment and some kids are currently giving in to the pressure because they are worried that students from the schools that had gone on strike will make fun of them if they do not go along with the ‘in thing’. Others are just curious to try something new that the others are doing. The idea that "everyone is doing it" is in a way influencing these new crops of students to ignore better judgment and common sense.

There is also the fear of exams, especially among the weak students who fear the repercussions of bad results. The perception that students in day schools easily access exam leakages due to the kind of exposure outside makes boarders feel cheated as most of their movements are restricted and closely monitored by their teachers, thus the urge for a ‘Prison Break’.

It should also be noted that the habit of the society to glorify the high exam performers and ridiculing the weak ones puts pressure on the latter, a matter that contributed to them wanting to break away.

There is also the issue of some pathetic living conditions of the student in boarding schools especially their dormitories where they feel that are inhabitable compared to their ‘comforting homes’. The harsh school programmes and routine at times is driving the students to hate some of the facilities they use at school and end up associating them as the causes of their ‘torture’. This explains the reason why none of the schools that have gone on strike has burnt their school buses or the dining halls, facilities they hold with great value due to what they mean to them.

Then there is the problem of drug abuse which get their way into the compound through the students themselves, the staff (both teaching and non-teaching) as well as visitors who frequent the schools. Some of the drug abuse cases of date back to primary schools.

Some of these student are resistant to changes. It has been a tradition in most schools that students behaved in a certain manner or did things at a particular manner, time of the day or year. So, whenever the school administration introduces drastic changes to such routines or traditions, the older students immediately bring resistance and dismiss them as draconian.

2. Teachers.

One of the greatest and most common reason for students’ unrest can be pointed towards the high-handedness in the part of the teachers especially the principals. Some heads are so dictatorial to a point that they give no room to the students nor their staff to come up with a different opinion other than their own. 

Their administration give no room for dialogue, a factor that brings about silent revolts among the students, teachers, workers, parents and the community living around the school. These voices of dissent need just a spark to trigger the ire that is burning inside them.

It this group that is at times inciting the students to go on strike in the hope of forcing the transfer of the head to another school. This has also brought about a feeling of the ‘lack of ownership’ in the school by the stakeholders which in turn lead to wanton destruction of property in vengeance or with intent to ‘punish the principal’.  

There are also cases of principals who bear very weak communication skills. Communication breakdown is recipe to misunderstanding and chaos that eventually results in frictions among the people concerned as well as poor coordination in the sequence of events.

The principals also have contributed to the unrests through the fees and levies they introduced in schools. Some of these moneys and the dictatorial manner they are demanded are a reason for dissenting voices among the parents who in turn infect the same to their children. This is usually a timed bomb which will erupt from the slightest of provocation.

The regular teachers can be a problem too. Some, especially the younger generation of teachers, are said to be in the profession, not out of choice but by circumstances. This lot are a disgruntled group who are never contented with whatever they find in the school environment. If they are irritated in any way by the school administration or their employer, the ire is at times is directed to the easiest targets, the students. This may lead to student revolts. Some of these teachers are also known to incite the students against the school administration.

There are also cases of teachers being compromised by children from very able families to allow them do certain illegal activities.

The recent teachers’ strikes too were a very bad influence to the learners as they portrayed the perception that revolts were the only way to demand to be heard. Some of the scenes that the students saw of their teachers may have led to these extremes as the student strive to out-do their teachers in protests.

The students’ fear of examinations has everything to do with the teachers’ performances in class. A well prepared candidate has nothing to fear exams for. A survey in most of the schools that have already gone on strike shows that the students had a very big baggage of uncovered syllabus that ran back to Form 1. This make the students feel insecure and intimidated by the national exams and mocks. There has also been a rumour circulating in some quarters that the mock results were used to determine one’s KCSE results. This has scared so many student s to going for strike in order to avoid sitting for the mocks.

3. The School Non-Teaching Staff.

The biggest problem facing the schools are these people. They are the ones mostly used by the students to carry out clandestine activities, sneak out and even access drugs. This is due to their poor financial abilities that tempt them to accept students’ bribes for cover up.

They can also use their grudges with the principal to incite the students, parents and even the neighbouring community against the leadership of the school or leak vital information about the school to enemies.

4. The Board of Management (B.O.M), Suppliers And Local Politics.

The politics surrounding the school environment are another key area that can be tagged to the current wave of schools unrest. Some B.O.M. members tend to incite the community, and in extension, the students against a principal who ‘does not cooperate’ in swindling school finances. These group at times have preferred suppliers who give kickbacks whenever a particular supply is delivered. For this reason, they prevent any kind of open tendering process that would threaten their ‘catch’.

Any principal who doesn’t cooperate is usually faced with accusations of embezzlements and eventually ‘The Principal Must Go’ demos which can come either through the parents or the students themselves.

Politicians and sponsors have also been accused of inducing revolts in schools so as to influence deployment of their preferred principals or to have their way in decision making in these schools.

5. The Media and National Politics in Kenya.

The media has been identified as the biggest culprit in this whole schools unrest menace and the general moral decay in the youth and the students. It has been noted that the media has been glorifying negative news items to the detriment of the morals of these teenagers. They have made bad behaviour to look fashionable and in this case, the schools that have not gone on strike see themselves as the odd one out.

Our politicians are the worst role models if what the students watch in the news is anything to go by. Their behaviour on the streets and in parliament leaves a lot to be desired.

Their behaviour has everything to do with what is being witnessed in schools with the student leadership and students councils in schools. In most of these cases, the most popular candidates are usually the worst in character. The way such students handle their campaigns is a replica of the national politicians. Whenever the teaching staff intervene in the interest of the school, such students incite their supporters into revolts, arguing that the teachers are rigging them out.

6. Poor Parenthood.

Whenever students mete their anger on the school property, parents bear the biggest blunt for they are the ones who foot the bills emanating from the damages. That explains their reason for anger whenever schools go on strike. They are very quick to point fingers on the school administration as the cause of all this.

However, it has been noted that majority of them are fully to blame. Many parents have absconded the duty to discipline their teenage children and left everything to the teachers. Despite this, they are known to be too protective of their children and will always side with the minor whenever an issue of indiscipline has affected them. This has made these teenagers to develop ‘hard heads’ since they know that nothing much will be done to them even if anyone reported them to their parents.

The situation has been worsened by the fact that there is no longer corporal punishment in schools. The teachers’ hands are tied and have very limited options on how they can discipline these children.

Another great challenge amongst the parents is that majority of them have turn up to ‘worship’ their sons and daughters. These kids are ‘little gods’ and whatever they say is law. The parents are also introducing them to certain lifestyles that are exclusive to adults in the name of civilisation. It has become the norm in some families to take wine with the children after meals or may be watch adult-rated stuff with their kids.

Single parenthood has also played a big role in this mess. Some single parents especially moms are giving too much privileges to their sons to substitute for the absentee dads a factor that is eventually turning out to be counterproductive in terms of the moral upbringing of these kids.

Family disputes and breakups too have a negative impact on the child and may bring about some negative traits in them.

Parents who look down on teachers and discuss them negatively in front of their kids are to blame for the way their children view their teachers. Children will always mimic what they learn from their seniors.

7. The Government.

The Education Ministry, TSC and senior policy makers in the government bear the biggest blame in all this mess. Senior policy makers in the government have made it a habit of assuming the ‘Mr. Know It All’ in all aspects of policy making decisions. They come up with policy documents that are not well thought about and which bear no input from the people on the ground. They are notorious of coming up with ‘one size fits all’ kind of policies that in turn affect some sections of the republic negatively.

Teachers, parents and student in those remote and less privileged schools suffer so much whenever decisions are arrived at in the context of the urban school. This in turn results in silent revolts that at times may end up in drastic repercussions.

This therefore calls for the government to always practice what they preach. They have to fully utilise public participation in all their decision making before implementing any of their policy documents.

As for the issue of exam cheating, the problem has never been in the schools, it is always from the source i.e. The Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC). Teachers and parents feel victimised whenever exams of a particular school are cancelled. They believe that if the loopholes at KNEC are sealed, this vice will never be experienced at all.

So, over to you CS, do your homework and come up with real solutions to this menace once and for all.

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