Teachers sound alarm over violent strikes

Monday July 14 2008

A dormitory that was torched by students at

A dormitory that was torched by students at Oinomoi Secondary School in Baringo District. Headteachers have raised the red flag over runaway cases of indiscipline in secondary schools. 

By PETER NGARE

Headteachers have raised the red flag over a wave of violent strikes that threatens to paralyse learning in many secondary schools countrywide.

A dormitory that was torched by students at

A dormitory that was torched by students at Oinomoi Secondary School in Baringo District. Headteachers have raised the red flag over runaway cases of indiscipline in secondary schools. Photo/KIBIWOTT KOROSS
Last month alone, 300 secondary schools were hit by the unrest that saw students disrupt learning, besides destroying property worth millions of shillings, according to the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association.

“In June we had an average of 10 cases of unrest daily compared to about two last year. The trend is worrying as incidents of burning down school property are now the preferred choice of many students in expressing grievances,” said the association’s chairman, Mr Cleophas Tirop.

Indiscipline in schools has reached unmanageable levels, said Mr Tirop, who also warned that teachers were unable to enforce discipline as their hands were tied by the law.

The Children’s Act, which was passed in 2001, outlawed caning.

Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary-general Francis Ng’ang’a said last year’s court rulings against disciplinary measures marked the beginning of lawlessness in schools.

“Parents have given too much freedom to their children. They are accompanying them to entertainment joints, where they are exposed to all sorts of behaviour. They must come back to their senses and realise that they are ruining their children,” he said.

Experts say that liberal parents, the ban on caning, some provisions in the Children’s Act, and lack of role models of high moral integrity are some of the factors that have robbed teachers of the power to correct wayward students.

“Teachers dare not punish a student lest they be dragged to court. Neither can they cane nor use other forms of punishment as this amounts to abuse according to the law,” said Mr Tirop. According to him, parents had become too liberal and were pampering their children.

But parents said they were preoccupied with the quest to feed their families and had little time to monitor their children.

“It is true that as parents we have failed in our responsibility. We are too busy looking for money and we prefer to put our children in boarding schools the moment we notice signs of indiscipline,” said Mr Musau Ndunda, the secretary-general of the Association of Kenya Parents.

The apathy expressed by teachers and parents paints a grim picture of the country’s future and that of millions of youths currently in school, who are now running wild, burning schools, engaging in sex and sinking deep into drug and alcohol abuse.

“We are raising the red flag. Things are not right in our schools. There is no point in producing a bright but morally corrupt and indisciplined youth,” Mr Tirop said.

Drug abuse

A recent study by Africa Mental Health Foundation gave credence to concerns over runaway indiscipline. The findings revealed that school children as young as 11 were falling prey to drug abuse.

The study warned of major economic costs and loss of the country’s workforce if urgent measures are not taken to reverse the trend. It also backed teachers’ assertions that parents were “dumping” their children in schools, never making any follow up on disciplinary cases.

Other studies have shown that children whose parents were highly educated were most at risk. About 43 per cent of students whose parents had a university degree abused alcohol compared to 23.6 per cent whose parents had a high school education.

The researchers concluded that highly educated parents were too busy with their careers to give attention to their children. They also give them a lot of pocket money and allow them to go out without supervision.

Another report released by the Centre for the Study of Adolescents earlier in the year revealed that more than 56 per cent of secondary school girls engaged in sex.

Experts are now calling for renewed efforts by parents, the Government and players in the alcohol industry to tackle the alarming trend.

Among the measures they have proposed are introducing alcohol and drug abuse studies as a compulsory subject from primary school, restricting sale of alcohol to children and raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21.

Teachers say that difficulties in enforcing discipline increased as students progressed up the learning ladder, with students in Form Four reporting major problems related to drugs, alcohol abuse, bullying and sneaking out of school.

But even in the middle of the current trends, the Government is in denial mode  with Education minister Sam Ongeri saying things are under control and measures were being put in place to address the runaway indiscipline.

The minister said the Government was working to ensure that there were enough counsellors in schools to help in shaping the students behaviour.

But Mr Tirop, also the principal of Kapsabet Boys High School, said: “Education without morals and values is useless. It is time we stopped apportioning blame and came together to save a generation at risk of sinking into lawlessness.”

According to him, not much was done to debrief and counsel students who witnessed horrific incidents of violence that rocked the country after the disputed presidential elections. “We are dealing with students who have embraced the notion that violence can be a means of achieving goals,” Mr Tirop said.

Drug abuse

And Ms Magdalene Kandie, principal of Kapropita Girls said: “Drug abuse is a major cause of unrest in schools. Strict measures need to be put in place to ensure that students don’t have access to drugs during school outings and holidays.”

Ms Christine Kwaro, principal of Kioge Girls Secondary School, said that mobile phones had led to a new form of indiscipline where students can communicate with their counterparts in other schools when planning strikes or other crimes.

“A policy on phones in schools should be formulated,” she said.

Recent school strikes

July 13: A fire suspected to have been started by Form Four students guts a dormitory at Ambothuguci Boys in Meru North.

July 10: More than 500 students of Mitaboni ABC Girls High School in Machakos District are sent home and the school closed indefinitely after fire guts a dormitory.

July 9: Form Four students from six schools in Coast Province boycott the ongoing mock exams. Diani, Lunga Lunga and Kikoneni secondary schools  in Msambweni District were affected while Waa Girls, Kwale Boys and Kwale Girls faced a similar situation in Kwale District.

July 8: Four students of Nyamusi Secondary School in Nyamira are arraigned in court  to face charges over torching of a dormitory.

July 7: Antumbui Mixed School in Igembe District is closed for two weeks after students go on strike over bed shortage. Property of an unknown value was destroyed by the striking students.

July 6: Over 700 students of Kanyakine Boys High in Meru go on the rampage, destroying property. They were demanding that their school bus be fitted with a hi-fi music system.

June 29: Sunshine Secondary School students in Nairobi go on strike and destroy property worth thousands of shillings. They were protesting over allegations of torture and homosexuality in the institution.

June 16: Form One and Two students at Nyansabakwa Secondary School in Nyamira District are sent home following a fire that gutted their dormitory. The fire is suspected to have been started by students.

June16: Four students of Shanderema Secondary School in Kakamega are charged in court with arson.

June 16: A fire guts a dormitory at Ichuni Secondary School in Western Kenya following student protests.

June 10: Mukuunu Secondary School students in Eastern Province attempt to burn their school.

June 8: Ikuu Boys High School is closed down indefinitely after students attempt to burn it down. Police are forced to move in and put out fires in the laboratory and staff room.

June 8: Gakoe Girls Secondary School students in Gatundu District is closed after students go on strike to protest against poor diet and unhygienic latrines.