On May 22 this year, a prefect at one of the top national schools in the country brutally beat up a Form Two student.
The matter was reported to the school’s principal who promptly investigated the case, established the prefect’s culpability, and suspended him.
The matter did not end there. A day later, the school captain stormed the principal’s office at around 7.16am and threw ties belonging to all the other prefects at his desk in an act of solidarity with their suspended colleague, according to minutes of the school’s Board of Management (BOM) meeting leaked to the Sunday Nation by county education officials.
Prefects who spoke during the BOM meeting held three days later demonstrated open contempt for the school principal, calling him incompetent and undeserving to run the school, the minutes show.
"A part of the principal is still in (name withheld) school where he came from,” said one student.
“The principal is emotional and unprofessional. He does not conduct himself like a national school principal,” another is quoted.
At the end of the meeting, the renegade prefects were reinstated unconditionally.
The prefects’ actions mirror a growing trend in which prefects in some of the country’s best schools have been elevated to positions of demi-god through long held traditions which give them sweeping powers to ride roughshod not only over their fellow students but even teachers.
In this particular national school, prefects were accorded privileges such as eating earlier than the rest of the students, sleeping in separate cubicles from others, being served with bread and milk daily, being taken on annual holiday trips, having an errand boy, a Form One student who would wash their cubicles and uniforms among others. They would also sit in their respective schools’ board meetings.
These sweeping powers accorded to prefects have been cited as being behind the unrest in learning institutions over the last one year.
“Surely how do you give children such powers? Calling them presidents, allowing them to sit in the school management board meetings, keeping them at Bomas of Kenya for a week. It makes them feel more superior than their teachers. This must stop,” said Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i while addressing headteachers during the annual Kenya Secondary School Heads Association conference last week.
Dr Matiang’i announced that, henceforth, prefects would no longer be allowed to discipline fellow students or even sit in the school management boards.
“Teachers will now be involved in the selection of prefects and school captains to ensure maximum discipline among students,” added Dr Matiang’i, saying that allowing students to elect their prefects was wrong in the first place.
Cases of prefects torturing students in schools are not new in the country.
In March this year, horrifying student accounts of bullying by prefects was reported at Alliance High School, one of the country’s most prestigious learning institutions. So serious was the case that one of the victims, a Form Four student, was left walking on crutches.
The school’s administration, however, attempted to cover it up, purportedly to protect the school’s image and it took an investigation by the Ministry of Education and the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to unearth the incident.
SLEEPING ON GRAVES
In the report, investigators captured shocking details of how prefects tortured students at the school in the name of induction, sometimes waking them up at night and forcing them to sleep on the graves of the school’s founders.
Investigators reported that the school administration admitted to the fact that there was bullying, which was part of the school induction programme.
This led to the suspension of six prefects and demotion of 10 prefects, including the school captain, as part of measures to end the bullying incidents that shocked the country and left students traumatised.
Hardly had the dust settled on the Alliance case than long-serving Maseno School Principal Paul Otula was suspended following harrowing details of sexual molestation and bullying at the school.
A confidential report compiled by the ministry and TSC revealed that sexual molestation among students at the school had reached alarming levels.
Following the incidents, headteachers were directed to monitor closely any kind of bullying in their schools and take action against the culprits whenever such cases were detected.
Student leaders were also stopped from administering punishment on any student.
A special team formed by the Education ministry to investigate cases of arson in hundreds of schools last year and which was chaired by former Provincial Commissioner Clare Omollo recommended an overhaul of students’ councils in learning institutions, saying some were contributing to the unrest.
The report noted, among other things, that several schools lacked structured discipline committees.