Many students in boarding school shouldn't be there

Tuesday September 26 2017

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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Kenya cannot and should not hide her head under the sand anymore. We have a problem in the education sector, specifically with boarding schools.

Whereas violence perpetuated by the youth is difficult to contain within the public, it has proved to be fatal when situated within a boarding school.

Using the latest case in point, at Moi Girls School Nairobi, some issues are obvious for the public to see.

The death of eight children in a school fire is a tragedy of national proportions. Much as the country may be facing severe cases of drug and substance abuse among the school-going population, there are many other factors that will need attention to streamline public boarding schools that will hopefully prevent any further tragedies.

In the United States for example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that one in five children of school going age are affected by mental health issues.

What about Kenya? Do we have statistics, which can greatly help with intervention?

Adolescence is a particularly traumatising time for children, with so many changes taking place in their bodies and transition from childhood that they need special attention, otherwise they might fall on the leeward side.

Parents need to prepare their children to deal with separation if they choose to send them to boarding secondary schools. Children who have always lived at home will get bouts of separation anxiety and how they react to this stress may be unpredictable.

A boarding school is not a place where parents can dump their ‘problematic’ children in the hope that their ongoing issues will be resolved.

Whereas school personnel play an important role in early identification of mental health challenges, parents cannot take a back seat and or rely on schools to keep an eye on their children on this matter.

The factors above, combined with glaring gaps in school administrations can only cause parents sleepless nights.

Boarding schools cost a pretty penny, yet it seems children are housed poorly in cramped airless, windowless rooms. Who designed those dormitories that we saw in the paper?

STRATEGIC ADVISERS

Boarding schools are ongoing business concerns and should be run as such. I am not sure what level of business school principals need to be able to adequately manage both the business and educational elements.

Many times, it seems they are burdened with the physiological, psychological and social welfare of children. Whereas we cannot expect a banker to get a job as a nurse tomorrow, we seem to expect teachers to be the centre of a myriad of skills and competencies, even when it is clear that they are not well-trained for these roles or adequately compensated to play them.

School boards are supposed to play the role of strategic advisers to schools and look into the bigger picture concerning the welfare of children and the future of the education system, but this is not happening.

Many boards are bogged down with minute details of the running of schools. This would seem to be a deliberate strategy to ensure that school heads find any excuse to engage in projects that have mega procurement elements.

Schools are meant to provide knowledge, not procure chapels, buses and other material things. Other board members are serving the roles of suppliers, auditors and signatories of school accounts, creating a conflict of interest that makes then turn a blind eye to the activities of school heads.  

The fact that the disciplinary measure often taken is transfer of teachers cannot be helping the education system in any way. It means that errant educators move their problems from one school to another, spreading malaise, ill-will and incompetence within the sector.

LOCKING CHILDREN UP

Transferring wrongdoers is not a solution, but is burying the heads in the sand awaiting the eventual eruption. Such teachers serve as very bad models for an already fragile generation.

Security is not been handled logically either. Locking children up at night like they are prisoners and taking the key to the dormitory should be considered an act of criminal negligence.

If none of the children under a school's care can be trusted with a key, then a school is not doing a very good job in guiding future leaders on responsibility, accountability, competence and many of the skills they would need for personal development and community service.

The government should also follow through with the threats of the National Land Commission to reposess any land grabbed from public schools, otherwise where will the land to expand schools come from?

Schools are clearly overcrowded and have inadequate infrastructure to cater for the growing numbers of children.

A boarding school is very good ground on which to create independence, a sense of perseverance and patience in a child. But in instances where they are turning out to be death traps, they are definitely not worth it.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa