MY WEEKEND: We can make our schools safer for boarding students

Sunday September 10 2017

A dormitory at Bahati Girls Primary School in

A dormitory at Bahati Girls Primary School in Nakuru County where property worth of unknown value was destroyed in a fire. The incident occurred when the students were taking their lunch, on September 4, 2017. PHOTO| AYUB MUIYURO 

By CAROLINE NJUNG'E
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I still remember what the dorm I slept in, in high school, looked like. There were two doors, each on the extreme ends of the dorm, which was one big hallway fitted with two cubicles for the prefects.

One of the doors was made of sturdy metal (or is it iron?) and was always locked with a padlock at night. I don’t remember who kept the keys, but I hope it wasn’t the matron because she didn’t sleep in the dorms; her house was located a distance away from our sleeping quarters. The other door was made of wood, but it was rarely open, and most of the time, was barricaded with a large piece of wood. I guess this was the emergency door, but I have no idea who kept the keys either.

As for the windows, they were fitted with heavy wire mesh, so I doubt anyone of us would have managed to escape from the dorm through them, nor would anyone from the outside been able to make their way in to help during an emergency. There were several dorms in the school, but I don’t remember seeing a fire extinguisher in any of them; the only fire extinguisher in the entire school was located on the entranceway of the administration block.

With the recent tragic incident at Moi Girls where seven students died and many others admitted to hospital, as well as other fire incidents in our schools in the past, one cannot help concluding that most of our boarding schools are built with the sole intention of keeping students in; they are like mini prisons, hence the grilled windows and locked down doors that would efficiently prevent escape should the need arise.

True, when a parent drops off their child at school, this child is under the protection of the school administration, which should do everything possible to keep that child safe, and within the compound for that matter. But perhaps schools are going about it the wrong way. Instead of making dormitories fortresses, why not invest this money on say, building higher walls, and if they fear that the students, or outsiders, can scale it, fit an electrified perimeter at the top? They could even go a step further and fit surveillance cameras, which would be a deterrent for most trouble makers, those within the compound, and the ones outside.

With such measures, our dormitories would be more user-friendly and safe. And easy to escape from incase of an emergency, such as a fire.
That said, is it just me who finds it maddening how we all rush to the rooftop to reveal inadequacies we knew about all along when a tragedy of this magnitude happens? In one body, we awake from our slumber with fury and indignation and begin to accuse each other of having played a role in enabling the tragedy.

And in what has become an exasperating broken record, the concerned ministry within the government calls a press conference and issues ultimatums and threats of punishment for those found guilty of having had a hand in the tragedy.

With the Moi Girls tragedy in mind, as the script often goes, there will be a flurry of activity for a few days from all quarters – the ministry of Education will conduct impromptu inspections in schools around the country in search of grilled windows. Knowing that this is bound to happen, the schools whose dorms have prison-like windows will, (should I say have?) knock them down and install those that the ministry would approve of. A month or so later, these frantic activities will die off, and, forgive my pessimism, you can be sure that at some point in the future, the grills will be up again in some schools. Until the next tragedy.

I however believe that we need not have to witness another such catastrophe if parents and schools worked closely together, hand-in-hand. I, for instance, would very much like, as a parent, to be able to freely take a walk around my child’s school at least once a term and have the liberty to suggest ways that could improve his stay there and his learning experience as well.

As it is, in many schools around the country, the parent has no say. I have often heard parents complain that the watchman, and I mean no disrespect here, has more power than they – if he or she decides you won’t get into the school compound to see your child, you won’t. Isn’t this plain ridiculous?

It is time to urgently review this detached, no, imperious, relationship between parents and schools.

[email protected]; Twitter: @cnjerius. The writer is the Editor, MyNetwork, in the Daily Nation