When learning activities resumed in the country after an unusually long break occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was expected that learners would take time to transition from the holiday mood back into the classroom environment.
Learners had been away from the mentorship and monitoring of teachers for a long period of time and cases of indiscipline were expected somehow.
Since the reopening of schools, the country has been treated to some not so good news of school unrests across the country. Some of the student unrest cases have led to destruction of property worth tens if not hundreds of millions where dormitories are being targeted for arson in most of the reported cases.
The excuses students have been giving as reasons for the unrest can be termed trivial and only points to the worrying trend of indiscipline among Kenyan learners.
Between January and February, learning was paralyzed in some schools in Eastern, Rift valley, Nyanza and Western regions after students went on rampage and destroyed school property.
Strictness from teachers, poorly cooked meals and lack of entertainment time are some of the reasons being cited as causes of the unrest in schools.
Various stakeholders within the education sector have proposed several interventions that they think can help arrest the trend of students destroying school property in the name of striking.
Poisonous boarding environment
The Kenya national union of teachers (KNUT) has proposed the phasing out of all boarding schools in the country and converting them into day schools.
KNUT’s Secretary General, Wilson Sosion, says that parents have neglected their parenting role and are burdening teachers with the responsibility of mentoring children.
“COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is a huge gap between parents and their children,” says Sosion.
According to Sosion, doing away with boarding schools will give parents more time with their children, something he says will give them ample and enough time to monitor and mentor their children regularly.
“The work of the teacher should be to empower and impart knowledge into the children.”
Sosion says that the biggest reform that should have been undertaken in the education sector is the phasing out of boarding schools in the country as opposed to the introduction of the competence based curriculum
Threat to teachers
Sosion equips that the strikes being witnessed in boarding schools were putting teachers at risk since their houses and cars were being targeted during unrest.
The country has over 4000 boarding secondary schools according to data from the education ministry.
Some 3 million learners are enrolled in boarding schools across the country.
Drug abuse among learners has been cited as a factor contributing to the cases of school unrest with peer influence among students being another probable cause of strikes.
Although KNUT fears that some private investors within the education sector might oppose phasing out of boarding, the union wants the government to seriously take it as an option.
Bring back the cane
In a bid to scare learners from engaging in strikes, Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof George Magoha, directed that students expelled for engaging in strikes shouldn’t be accepted in other schools.
On the other hand, the Directorate of criminal investigations (DCI) warned that those found culpable will have the crimes reflecting in their good conduct certificates.
Prof Magoha had proposed the return of corporal punishment in schools to tame the rising indiscipline but teachers unions have opposed the idea.
KNUT says that the return of corporal punishment will likely create conflicts between learners and teachers
Sosion who is also a nominated Member of Parliament (MP) says the return of corporal punishment will put the lives of teachers at risk and the country would likely witness what he terms as the massacre of teacher by retaliating students.
“We have seen incidents of teachers being attacked by students emerging; what will happen if we return corporal punishment?” He posed.
Instead of asking teachers to punish students, KNUT wants the government to deploy police officers in all schools and bestow them with the responsibility of punishing students.
On its part, the Kenya post primary education teachers union (KUPPET) says that corporal punishment was introduced by the Europeans as a way of punishing Africans.
KUPPET Chairman, OmbokoMilemba, says it will be illegal to return the cane to schools saying that the Children’s act will need an amendment if the cane was to be returned to schools
“Corporal punishment was a form of violence and those thinking of it have a hangover of colonization,” says Omboko,
Omboko who is also the Emuhaya Member of parliament says that teachers were never trained to cane students
Instead, Omboko is proposing a societal approach in solving the cases of rising indiscipline among learners.
“To solve this problem, it will require continuous communication between teachers, students and parents and having strong student councils within schools,” says Omboko.
Kuppet is also blaming the government for the unending strikes in boarding accusing it of failing to implement at least three taskforce reports that had proposed the best solution to the problem of school unrest.
Kuppet acting secretary general Moses Nthurima cites the 1994 Kirima Task Force report, the 2001 task force on student discipline and unrest in secondary schools as well as the 2016 Claire Omollo task force which had recommendations that would have greatly helped solve the problem.
The reports had recommended the streamlining of boarding schools and establishment of strong and functional guidance and counseling departments within schools.
The reports also had recommendations of reducing boarding schools in the country and reducing the number of tests prior to national examinations, something which has also been a catalyst for strikes.
The task forces also proposed the inclusion of students in school decision making processes.
Kenyan parents however seem to have a divided opinion on the proposal of phasing out of secondary schools with some in support while others are opposing
Clare Ndirangu is a parent with two daughters in boarding schools but she is opposed to the idea of doing way with boarding schools, saying that it will expose her daughter to sex predators within the society
“Boarding schools provide a safe haven for our girls and especially for parents like us who are held up by work. My job involves a lot of travelling and having my girls in a boarding school works for me,” says Claire.
Claire says that the cases of school unrest are limited compared to the total number of boarding schools in the country and closing down boarding schools won’t be a solution.
She advises that schools should establish mechanisms that will help in monitoring students’ behavior to help arrest the planned strikes before they are executed.
But Gregory Awonda disagrees with Claire saying that boarding schools have turned into breeding grounds for criminals.
He observes that in boarding schools, students spend so much time together something he says exposes them to undue influence from bad company.
Awonda notes that having children in day schools will allow parents time to interact with their children and notice any weird behavior or changes in them.
“In a boarding setup, you cannot expect a teacher to have time to talk to individual students. Teachers are overwhelmed with teaching and that is why the duty of child monitoring, guidance and even punishment should be left to the parent,” he says.
On his part, Andrew Njoroge, the proprietor of Good Shepherd Academy in Nakuru, says that the major cause of unrest in schools is lack of discipline among learners and not the boarding environment.
He says that the government should be asking why unrests are not being witnessed in private boarding schools.
Njoroge advises the government to change the way of handling student concerns in public schools and encourage constant engagements between students and school management as one way of solving the problem of unrest in public schools.