The Moi Girls School Nairobi fire tragedy that claimed the lives of nine students has conjured up sad memories amongst Kenyans who attended boarding secondary schools.
Those who went through similar schools have been forced to relive the early days of learning that many would rather forget.
Reports that the dormitory in question at Moi Girls was a rather congested and was exclusively set aside for only Form One students with a few prefects around spurred reactions from Kenyans, particularly on social media, who told of their own horrific experiences in high school.
From congested and filthy dormitories to unfriendly administration regimes to blocked sewer systems, Kenyans revived memories of a tough four years in the country’s secondary school education system.
What began as breaking news alerts about the dormitory fire soon spiralled into angry and concerned social media messages that got the country talking about schools and some rethinking the rationale behind boarding school.
The Moi Girls fire also caused Kenyans both online and offline to critically think about the current state of secondary schools in the country and the safety of their children.
Social media became a venting ground for many frustrated users who had suffered in various secondary schools in one way or the other.
From arrogant and indifferent school principals to harassment of students and parents by teachers to negligent school administrators, it was an opportunity for Kenyan parents and former students to tell all.
“You don’t know the arrogance of the head teachers of the big schools,” wrote Zabeth Kemunto. “They belittle parents and harass students and even try to force them to transfer so that they can admit others who pay handsomely… Kenyans, we must stop categorisation of schools.”
Parents also took to social media to complain about the grilled windows in dormitories as well as congestion with many giving examples of secondary schools whose classes and hostels were full to the brim.
One of the social media posts that elicited numerous reactions was from human rights activist and former Starehe MP aspirant Boniface Mwangi who, in a lengthy update, told the story of a parent of one of the victims of the Moi Girls fire.
“The Moi Girls School fire wasn’t the first of its kind. Unfortunately, if we don’t act with urgency, it will not be the last either,” he wrote.
To which many social media users who read the Facebook post responded with a stream of comments and experiences.
Former students of Moi Girls came out in numbers to confirm what many had feared: that the said dormitory was a congested health hazard.
Cecilia Mutemi, an alumni of Moi Girls Nairobi said that in her days, only 100 students slept in the Kabarnet hostel and was shocked to find out that the hostel hosts almost four times the number without additional facilities.
“When my daughter was admitted there, the same dorm without even an additional a bathroom, housed 360 girls,” she said.
From the social media uproar, the issue of disaster preparedness took centre stage with many concluding that Kenyan secondary schools are not adequately prepared for disasters such as fires.
“Our school administrators and even parents seem to have their priorities all wrong,” says Morgan Gitonga, “Why cough millions to buy school buses whereas if they invested in simple solutions like smoke detection alarms, fire hydrants, sprinklers, extinguishers and training of student fire marshals such problems can be been averted.”
It also became clear that many secondary schools do not allow parents to visit their children’s hostels to assess the living conditions of students.
Many of those who complained on Facebook and Twitter are parents who admitted that they had never seen where their children sleep while in school.
According to a Facebook user who goes by the name Waa Njii Ruu, most boarding schools do not allow parents into the boarding areas because “things are a mess.”
She went on to say; “It is evident that few schools have invested in fire and safety disaster management strategies such as fire drills, and even few have fire fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and fire blankets."
“We never knew what fire drills were because it was never demonstrated to us...,” said Carole Lenny on Facebook.
It was also a time for some to reminisce on previous fatal high school fires such as the Kyanguli Secondary School fire tragedy that killed 63 students in 2001.
Alice Kiluu said; “It’s so sad this takes me back to 2001 the Kyanguli fire tragedy which stole my dear brother from us. I feel for the parents of the girls who didn’t make it out.”
“Kenyan high schools needs to have full time counsellors. Mental health in high school is largely bundled under ‘truancy’,” wrote a Twitter user MediaMK.
On the flipside, it it was not all doom and gloom.
A few had some positive memories about their former secondary schools; “I went to Kenya High School where we had drills at least twice a term."
"I thank God for that. When I look back, we took it for granted but it now makes sense,” said another Adero Mwango Ocholler on Facebook.