Three troubling storylines have dominated the public response to the media reports about bullying of Form One students at Alliance High School.
The first was that Alliance is not the place where bullying should take place: Not in Alliance High School, the nation’s epitome of excellence in secondary school education. Bullying is the preserve of students in some other schools.
The second was that the school administration cannot possibly be held responsible for actions that student leaders may take that can hurt fellow students. The third was that those alleged to have been hurt were not Form Ones but Form Four students.
The inference here is that only Form One students are subject to bullying and that in any case, injury was self-inflicted as the student got hurt while running away from “legitimate” punishment by (a) prefect(s).
All the students are entitled to similar protection. Schools have a statutory duty to protect children in their care. The Constitution; the Basic Education Act, 2012; Children Act, 2001; the Convention on the Rights of The Child; and other statutes and conventions, provide sufficient protections to children wherever they are, and, particularly, in school environments, from any harm whatsoever.
PROTECTED FROM ABUSE
Under Article 53 of the Constitution, every child has a right to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment.
The Basic Education Act, 2012, unequivocally outlaws physical punishment and mental harassment of the child. Section 36 reads: “No pupil shall be subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in any manner, whether physical or psychological.”
The law and educational policy forbid subjection of learners to any physical or psychological harm. It does not matter whether or not the school has sophisticated traditions. All children are equal and are entitled to similar educational opportunities and learning environment.
The child in a sub-county school, and his/her counterpart in an extra county and national one, enjoy equal protection.
It is an established principle of educational psychology that learning happens if a child is happy. That is an idea that Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has been marketing to teachers and school administrators in his inspection tours.
Part of the responsibility by dint of which leaders enjoy more privileges than other teachers is that they should create an environment fit for effective teaching and learning.
The key to effective learning is the constant presence and caring attention of teachers. The school environment must, for effective learning, be a safe place for children.
It follows that all schools must ensure that everybody who comes in contact with the learners does not pose a risk. And whoever does, be it a fellow student, teacher or anybody else in school must be dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly.
Society entrusts teachers with the task of transmitting the knowledge and skills in the learners. But this is dependent on the creation of an atmosphere free from fear and favour, and one that encourages, in the words of the Basic Education Act 2012: “Independent and critical thinking, promotion of peace, integration, cohesion, tolerance, and inclusion as an objective in the provision of basic education.”
The reports about bullying at Alliance should provide an opportunity for reflection among educators and other stakeholders about many things, including how much power prefects should be given to manage other students.
Mr Buhere is a communications officer, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. [email protected]