Unlike in the outside world where, somehow, some rules do not apply, schools, specifically primary and secondary, are centers where young children are groomed on diverse areas, inclusive of character, discipline and the need to embrace diversity yet with unity.
The aim is to bridge the gap as far as the schools can, and paint an image of equal learners without favoritism or loopholes for some to show off what their families own and how much they are worth, which may vilify their colleagues from the other side of the road.
In their bid to buttress these regulations in schools and nurture a sense of uniformity, school heads have constantly faced backlash and criticisms.
Some have been sued in a court of law concerning their strategies to maintain sanity and uniformity within their institutions and position themselves for better academic results.
When the conversation about hair comes up in a school setting, it largely refers to the girl child having to shave her hair to, as some would say, ‘look neat’.
The boy child has significantly embraced it, not to forget that its underlying effects are not anything to go by among the male students as compared to their female colleagues.
In 2019, a Nairobi-based Rastafarian father took to the court in defence of his newly-admitted Form One daughter with dreadlocks at Olympic High School, Nairobi.
Arguing the dreadlocks mark their cultural and religious inclination, he sued the school’s Board of Management for picking the already-admitted girl from the classroom and sending her home for shaving to be accepted in the institution.
A few years later, parents are championing an unhindered acceptance of their long-haired and also dreadlocked children and unrestrained access to education as a right, pushing away the idea of uniformity in the school setting.
In a heated debate earlier this week on ScholarMedia Digital, a vibrant WhatsApp forum which houses different scholars, professionals, secondary school principals and other education stakeholders and thinkers from across the country, they dissected the question of sticking to old-age school regulations or pave way for change and ignore the rules we obeyed in our time.
They examined the topic against the backdrop of discipline, uniformity, parental decisions, alternative choices and other parameters.
“If I want my daughter’s hair long and she wants it long, I should be able to maintain it. Get salonists to come dress the hairs. This is 21st century,” argued Dr. Nurwin Fozia of Kaimosi University.
This, however, was considered time-consuming by some of the members, who are also parents and most of whom are in the education circles.
“We should be a society that respects rules and regulations; a school must have its culture. I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Charles Ochiego, Principal, Igonga Secondary School, noted, adding that these are young girls who need guidance and allowing them much turns it into a competition, opening loopholes for those who don’t have much to show off to be psychologically affected.
Uniformity and discipline
According to Isaac Karoga, Branch Manager Unaitas Sacco Kisii, a principal cannot put all their energy into creating a great brand then a parent wants to dictate to them how the child must have dreadlocks in the school.
Mose Ariga, an Administrator at Lukenya University, commenting on the situation, says, “The question is not being able to maintain the hair or not; it’s question of uniformity because we already know some parents are rich while some students are struggling to even pay fees in the same school. So, for equality purposes, every student should shave, including that of the rich neighbor.”
Allowing children to do what they want might be a leeway to a lawless school and society at large. It would also widen the crack and pave the way for more demands from other students with regard to their preferences.
“Suppose your daughter wants to be in a mini skirt or trouser, should she as well be allowed in? Your son wants it in a Rasta form with ear rings, should he be allowed in? Too much useless democracy; my dress my choice is the main undoing to our beautiful country. Some laws, rules and regulations may appear unreasonable. But they have to be followed for the sake of order in society,” argues Dr. Tom Kabage of Kisii National Polytechnic.
Some say that taking care of the girls’ hair would mean spending so much time on it, which would have otherwise been spent in the classroom.
However, is it not beneficial to spend the time and go to class confident? Can being in the classroom help much when the learner feels caged, low self-esteemed, infringed and not listened to?
“With or without hair girls can be well schooled. Combing long hair and holding it using hair band takes similar time with scratching short hair to neatness! The difference is whether or not the students understand why they keep their hair long or short! …the business of hair, long or short, is purely a family issue!” Debrah Osoro, Principal Gionseri Girls, says.
But finding the silver lining between hair and studies is also another snag.
Prof. Augustino Onkware, a don at the University of Eldoret, says, “We should be willing to give some control to schools. Otherwise we blame them for indiscipline when we abet it. What has hair or lack of it got to do with learning; unless it is the literal ‘akili ni nywele‘?”
He adds that the young brains require guidance throughout the process.
Though shaving does not bridge the real gap in society touching on the social differences among the students, Jack Onyango, Principal St. Patricks Mosocho Secondary, says that “The disparities will not be outwardly visible at a glance; all students will appear the same. The other basics will only be known by her close associates.”
Freedom of choice
“…there are those schools which encourage keeping of hair, and there are those that don’t. You can make a choice,” said Elijah Nyaanga, the Founder and CEO, Scholar Media Group Africa (SMEGA).
What if parents choose to facilitate the purchase of a salon and barber shop?
“If parents are willing to pay extra to have a saloon, or kinyozi (barber shop) in school for haircare, there shouldn’t be a problem,” says Morris Aron, an economist on real estate.
Or else, instead of deciding for them, “The girls should then be allowed to choose whether to keep long hair or not,” says Vincent Sagwe, a former Kisii County Government Executive.
Clement Nyangacha is the Chief Principal Ugenya High School.
“If you don’t agree with the policies of a school, simply get an alternative school, as we have so many in the republic. If the school’s policy is that every students shaves. Let it be accepted,” he asserted.
Does there exist a significant difference between the performances of the schools with the two divergent choices?
“Keeping short hair is understandable, but a clean shave is a ‘no’ for me. Statistically, do the schools with clean-shaven girls perform better and produce more morally upright girls?
Schools should produce all-rounded students; for some girls, clean shaving kills their esteem and confidence,” Jeddy Ochuodho, an educator at Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), feels.
It’s a shaky balance, though, calling to mind that if everyone is subjected to the same rule, chances of one feeling caged remain minimal.
Benard Misati, an electoral body official, recalls a recent visit to a school, where some of the shaven students, despite the principal terming them as ‘very clean and well-shaven’, challenged him in the Kiswahili proverb ‘akili ni nywele, kila mtu ana zake’ (hair is like brains, each person has their own).
It speaks of how robbed of their ‘brains’ they feel and the confidence to speak it out at the principal’s presence means the effects go deeper.
“I had to humble in persuading them of the well intended policy and how much it was less time consuming, less expensive and how it uniformed them as a community,” he explains.
“It’s going to make them feel less-feminine. It will take another 5 years after school for them to embrace their femininity, which is usually built during the high school years. They miss that phase, and we shall have problems,” noted Bernadette Karanja, the Managing Director, E-Hub Africa.
It robs them of their confidence as ladies and snatches part of what they can use for identification with poise as ladies, their hair.
As Dr. Fozia puts it, “We need to upgrade them to extremely high ceilings and cheer them. Body shaming is a taboo and a no. Shaving someone’s head to suit your thoughts is body shaming them,” adding that they should be left to grow their hair and appreciate their God-given beauty.
She further questions the belief that hair styles, earrings and other outwards define a child’s mannerisms.
Children rights and the law
Some feel that the children, who are the recipients of these decisions, have their rights infringed when decisions are made based on uniformity and other related parameters.
They should be allowed to be who they want, which would also prepare them for the outside world.
“Let each child be; and in any case, lack of uniformity prepares the child for the life after school,” says Ombui Ratemo, an advocate.
Basic education is a right to every child in Kenya, as provisioned by the constitution. Any form of discrimination stands locked-out.
Petition 10 of 2019, which is the judgement given on the case study we started with, Judge E. C. Mwita ordered that the school should immediately recall the student back to school, pay the petition costs and never to interfere with the girl’s learning within the institution.
He judged that to exclude the schoolgirl “…from school on the basis of her keeping Rastas which manifests her religious beliefs is a violation of her rights guaranteed under Articles 32, 43 and 53 of the constitution and is therefore unconstitutional, null and void,” as the Kenya’s High Court ruling reads in part.
While this discussion comes alongside the tackling of myriad other issues such as student behavior in school, abolishing boarding primary (and secondary) schools, embracing culture and diversity, as well as Kenya’s lingering challenges with regard to school infrastructure, teacher-training for 21st-century skills and the visible challenges facing the Junior Secondary School experience among other issues, child welfare remains of the essence.
What the parents, schools, Education Ministry and society at large build in the children is what defines who they will become and how they will approach life in the near future.
It may be a source of self-hate or an uplifting experience with gusto and cheer.
Should they, therefore, be forced to comply or be guided on the need to embrace rules in schools, or should the whole thing be made optional for the parents, schools and students to choose what they want and how they want it?
Is it time for schools to establish ‘saloning’ and ‘barbering’ as clubs in schools, just like any other clubs to impart important skills and allow for socializing among the students?
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Would exposing the young minds to such lofty and sensitive choices build or crush them?
Should the students be consulted and listened to, or should they be told what to do without a choice?
The social welfare of students must be approached with care, and both sides of the coin must be considered if an impartial solution is to be found.
However, according to Osoro, “…our varied positions on the shaving of hair can never be the same; right or wrong depends on the child and parent, then the school.”
What are your thoughts?