We must deal with the root causes of school unrest
According to Education Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Fred
Matiangi, 317 incidents of school fires have been reported since 2007. In 2015
98 school facilities were set ablaze. Since January 2016 nearly 70 school
buildings in 28 counties have gone up in flames.
What is implicit in the statistics and how long this
has been going on is that orgies of violence and even arson are nothing new in
Kenyan schools. Somehow this is the nature of our children and our society. As
a society we resolve our differences in ways that include violent
Examples of the use of violence to resolve
differences abound. We see violence in the name of mob justice on our streets
and battering of children and spouses in our homes. Outright rabid rage and
aggressive verbal exchange on our roads is not uncommon. We saw politically
motivated violence of catastrophic proportions in 1992 and 2007. We often see
civil protests degenerate into sorties of violence between police and citizens,
with fatal consequences.
Somehow in this country, authority or seniority is
inextricably bound with being mean.People in authority, such as the police, senior public officials and
even teachers have a license to behave in ways that abuse, demean or harm
fellow citizens. The only way we know you are important is if you are nasty and
abrasive to others you deem less important or powerful than you are.Like chimpanzees, we are knotted in an
incessant duel to be the alpha party.
While the anarchy and arson in our schools is
neither new nor unprecedented, the recent orgy of school burning across the
country is barbaric and abominable. Such evil acts of deliberate arson by the student
– our future, the hope of this nation – diminish all of us.
As always, following events of crisis proportion, a
task force has been constituted and has less than 30 days complete thorough
investigations.As one newspaper
editorial put it, “the task force should give preliminary reports early enough,
preferably, within the next two weeks to help tame the chaos”.We are bleeding and in dire need of a bandage.
We need to do more than stopping the bleeding. We
need to grapple with the complex situational factors that create an enabling
environment for student unrest. The situational factors include lack of
adequate food, incitement by teachers, peer pressure, high-handed head
teachers, school routine and pressure to deliver high mean scores, living
conditions in boarding schools and lack of dialogue between students and
There can be no easy solutions to these issues,
especially the regimental school routine, which runs from 4 am to 10:30 pm that
is necessary to support rote learning and feed a national obsession with
grades. We must also be mindful that we have raised our children in a culture
where disdain for dialogue, tolerance for lawlessness and use of violence as a
tool to resolve dispute or express grievances is acceptable.
Modifying the situational factors or eliminating
them can have greater impact on reducing or eliminating undesirable student
behavior. In my view remedial actions designed to discipline students and reign
rogue teachers is like applying bandage.
While unrest in our schools is not new, the recent
orgy of school burning across the country is barbaric and abominable. Such evil
acts of deliberate arson by the youth – the future of this country – diminish
all of us.
It is time to fix our education system. The school
must not be a grade factory. Learning must be allowed to happen by stimulating
and sustaining playful curiosity and discovery. School must be about communing
with peers learning to live together, to share and to know that your friends
will also have your back. Life in school must be about a journey in discovery
of self and other. Only a small part of school must be about grades. If
everything about education is passing standardized tests then we must draw
attention to what is definitely a fundamental flaw in our collective
understanding of teaching and learning in a complex and uncertain world.
And it is time to re-think boarding schools as a
dominant model of schooling. I know this is controversial and many smart
behavioral psychologists won’t even agree on the merits or de-merits of
boarding schools. But sending young children to what in a majority of cases are
squalid living conditions with little adult care is to say the least troubling.
And to expect that education can even happen in those stifling prison like hovels
we call public boarding schools is to ask for too much.
Again, where you sit on this boarding school debate
must have a lot to do with how you think about education and how children
learn, and most of all the how much school grades determine consequential life
The orgy of violence and arson in our schools is
merely a syndrome of a grave social condition. Ours is a culture of impunity
and lawlessness. Ours is a culture that privileges violence as a mechanism for
solving grievance. Spouses are battered in our homes. Suspects are lynched buy
bloodthirsty mobs on our streets. Our politics is about ethnic mobilization for
war, not a platform for competing models for building a great nation.
Why would we then expect our children who are
bombarded with images of violence and the glamor of impunity to be civil about
expressing their grievance? Do we expect students who live in squalid
conditions and know that the head teacher steals both their fees and public
funds from taxpayers? What about a punishing school schedule that starts at 4
am and ends at 10 pm, which only serves to demean and subjugate the student and
boil out the joy and playfulness that learning is?
Only we, the citizens as parents and students can
and must deal with the root causes of school unrest.