Of all things in the world, there is nothing always excepting a good mother, so worthy of honour as a good school.
– Rudyard Kipling
Growing up in rural Yala in Siaya, my overwhelming ambition was to be admitted to St Mary’s School, Yala or Starehe Boys Centre. Neither came to pass. On January 27, 1987, my father took me to Maliera Secondary School.
It was never my dream to join Alliance High School. Not that I had any dislike for Alliance, I just wanted a school with affordable fees and that was near home. Ask any parent what happens when their children are sent away for fees and they have to look for a hefty amount in bus fare.
At Maliera 30 years ago, I realised that there was a benign bullying, which involved older boys asking you a set of not very difficult questions: what’s your name? What is your former school? How many points in the KCPE exam? What was your school’s overall score?
The only catch is that you would realise that one boy would ask you these questions, cut a corner, then come back for a fresh round. I felt this was tolerable. We are familiar with bullying, but nothing had prepared us for the Alliance torture described in the media. School takes quite a portion of our lifetime. It shapes us in considerable ways. One philosopher said that the only other person who will influence you more than your school is your mother.
Plato theorised that young people should ideally be brought up in “a land of good. Of fair sights and sounds. Enjoying the best of everything. This way, they would be led into a liking and sympathy for the art of reason.”
Enjoying the best of everything must include their very own mind. Their emotions must be well taken care of. Starehe Boys Centre has a philosophy called child-centred environment. It means that the institution exists for the good of the pupil. Every other person or limb of the school is geared towards the good of the pupil.
The school has the best culture of openness and a penchant for receiving visitors. The school’s history, as recorded in Anthem of Bugles states that in 1966, the tradition of welcoming new boys and making them feel at home was firmly set.
The secondary school wing having started barely a year earlier, the Form Twos of 1966 were the first cohort ever. They were inducted into a culture in which they would carry the luggage of a new boy to his room! Other boys would scramble for the honour of treating the new boy to a cup of tea/soda and snacks at the tuck shop. This came from the philosophy that a school is first and foremost a home, a community of children and adults.
Of course, there is hierarchy and a Starehe pupil must take advice from all the adults in school irrespective of their rank or station. Prefects are not law unto themselves. Before corporal punishment was outlawed, the only person who had the authority to administer it was the director. Caning or “Six of the Best” from Geoffrey Griffin, as they called it, was reserved for “high crimes” or after other avenues proved futile. It was not a regular on the menu.
If a boy feels hard done by a prefect, he had recourse, after carrying out the punishment (remember, no caning) to report the matter to the director or raise it any given Friday at an open plenary called Baraza.
So that apart from sheer force of culture, good nature, nurture and camaraderie, there exists a final safeguard against impunity. Every school must put in place systems to ensure the well-being, safety and happiness of pupils. It would appear that in some schools, the administration believes that bullying, nay, student-on-student violence serves a certain purpose. In jail the warders look away from convict-on-convict violence so as to keep the jail population tamed twice over..
I think administrators like those at Alliance tend to look at school more or less like a prison.
George Marenya is with Asante Media.