Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on Tuesday attributed the wave of arson attacks on schools to frustrations by students over failure to illegally access national examination papers.
He said he had information from police and headteachers that students had already paid for the papers but the teachers who abet cheating had been unable to procure the tests after the government dismantled the cartels which used to distribute them at the Kenya National Examinations Council.
“Students who have been arrested and are facing charges have told police that they were protesting because they had paid for the papers but they have not received them,” Dr Matiang’i said in his Jogoo House office in Nairobi on Tuesday.
“They said they had been promised they would get samples towards the end of the second term but that has not been the case.”
Although the minister said the students involved in the unrest had their own peculiar reasons for burning dormitories, laboratories and libraries, the key trigger was fear that they would fail the exams because they had not been shown the sample tests.
More than 100 schools have been affected by the protests in the past two months and more than 150 students charged in court with destruction of property and conspiracy to start fires.
However, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) blamed the protests on the changes made to the school calendar by Dr Matiang’i early this year.
CURB CHEATING IN EXAMS
The second term, initially set to end on August 5, was extended to August 12 with the opening day on August 29, shortening the holidays to only two weeks from the previous four. The third term will last nine weeks from the previous 12, beginning on August 29 and ending on October 28.
The changes were introduced as part of broader measures to curb cheating in exams.
The trade unions have called for the immediate closure of the schools to ease tension and avert further damage to property.
But on Tuesday, Dr Matiang’i ruled out ending the term prematurely, saying the arson attacks only affected “a small percentage of schools” and did not warrant a drastic decision because it would disrupt the majority of schools, which were operating normally.
“The number of schools affected is not even one per cent of the secondary schools in Kenya,” said Dr Matiang’i.
“There are 9,000 secondary schools in Kenya that are running normally and we are not going to make a policy change by fiat just because of a few misguided students.”
He said 45 per cent of the schools involved were “serial offenders”.
The minister rejected claims that he did not consult headteachers and unions on changes to the school calendar, saying they were represented at the May press conference where he announced the changes.
“If I involve the union leaders, parents and officials of the headteachers association, is that not enough?” asked Dr Matiang’i.
“Or should I have called all the teachers for a meeting at Uhuru Park to consult them?”
Asked if he was not worried the lives of students were at risk since the arson attacks were not abating, the minister said police had been tasked to watch over the schools more keenly, especially at night.
Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion, however, insisted on Tuesday that the term dates were the problem, saying: “The government should close schools for a while and release tension so that it spares parents the cost of infrastructure.
“The cause of this tension is the revision of term dates.”
THEFT OF FUNDS
Mr Sossion absolved teachers of blame, saying it was the students who were responsible.
Kuppet Secretary-General Akelo Misori differed with Mr Sossion, however, saying closing schools would not solve the problem.
He said exam cheating cartels were fighting back since they wanted a return on their investment.
The CS also talked of a cabal of headteachers who were bent on pushing him out of office because of the reforms he had introduced in the ministry.
“I know there are teachers who are very unhappy with the changes I have brought, especially on the conduct of national examinations and the overhaul of the book procurement system in order to give the government greater say in the supply process,” said Dr Matiang’i.
Adding that some principals were under investigation over theft of funds and irregular tendering, he said some headteachers were unhappy with his impromptu visits to schools but he would see all the reforms “to their logical conclusion” despite the resistance.
“Some teachers say I should not visit their schools unannounced,” he said. “What do they have to fear if they are doing things right?
“How can I be a minister of education who doesn’t go to the ground where the bulk of the work is being done? I’m I supposed to be reading novels in the office?” he posed and warned teachers to continue expecting him at their work stations.
He said more than 96 per cent of the schools involved in the unrest belonged to the county, sub-county and extra county categories where the students and the teachers were all from the local region and therefore at the mercy of clannism, local politics and petty disputes between the teachers and the local communities.