I heard that doctors bury their mistakes while lawyers jail theirs. We, Kenyans, on the other hand, punish the youth for our mistakes.
I say this in objection to the new measures implemented by the government as a way of curbing the ongoing unrest in schools. Inasmuch as I agree something radical and drastic needs to be done to correct the situation, it needn’t be in the form of blighting young people’s future. Punishment is in order, especially for the young, but only if it is reformative. Keeping a record of a life-term of bad conduct by the youth will destroy lives.
What we are doing in our corruption-saturated society is to punish the young for our mistakes as adults. Children are a reflection of ourselves. We are, essentially, reaping what we sowed.
When society turns a blind eye to years of corruption activities in every facet of our lives, the price we pay is children who have little regard for law and order. They have grown up witnessing wanton disregard for the law. We are not being honest to expect them to live within the confines of the law yet we don’t respect legal boundaries.
Corruption within our education sector has not just been of monetary value. Children cheating in exams is not a factor of their own creation. Adult(s) are obviously behind the scam. Parents bending the rule to buy leaked exams for their child to do well despite his/her academic handicap ought to carry the blame. Adults resorting to violence to solve political challenges need to take the blame. Politicians forging degrees to gain political mileage need to take the blame.
Failure by the criminal justice system to deal with criminals effectively tells our children crime pays. Kenyan children understand ‘chai’ as euphemism for bribery and it is sad. Because they have seen adults in action bribing that policeman with ‘chai’ on the roadside, bribing the headmaster for a place in the school, the judge ‘dad’ bribed to influence a case, the border official ‘mum’ asking for a bribe for a passport, engineer ‘uncle’ bribing for a contract and bribery balls keep rolling.
Let us first consider all the factors on the ground that have caused behavioural problems in schools before we shift blame to the young.
We must take a step back and consider how we got here We need an honest approach to understanding the social ills afflicting the young people and, hopefully, find means and ways to help them. We are taking a one-way approach to anti-social behaviour. It is a myopic way to solve a complex problem that needs concerted efforts between teachers, psychologists and experts from the youth justice system.
One glaring problem, like in many public sectors, is remuneration of teachers. When teachers and lecturers spend more time hustling on the side to top up their salaries, that is counter-productive. They will have very little time for teaching.
We have our salary structures all wrong. The pay gap between the executive, the legislative and the rest of the civil service is huge and grossly unfair. It is unfair when key workers are left to wallow in poverty instead of being remunerated well enough to comfortably provide key services. This goes for teachers, nurses, doctors and the police.
When our priorities are back-to-front and we reward those who have little impact on the lives of our children more, then we end up in the moral doldrums that we now find ourselves in.
Funding for schools and colleges in Kenya is a lottery. We must consider investing in the institutions well so that all children can have access to quality education. There is no level playing field in education yet it should be the norm. Two-tier funding leaves some schools struggling to offer even the essentials, such as security.
A standardised education system is fairer to all the children than having some schools with more swimming pools than others. Standardisation should be from the facilities on offer to the quality of education.
Then there are not enough libraries in the communities or social and sports centres for the youth to attend. Just some example of distraction the youth need especially from poor backgrounds.
The measures taken to punish youngsters for life is too harsh and exonerates the adults, who ought to take the largest share of the blame. The measures are typical knee-jerk reaction to social problems afflicting our society. We need to rethink the punishment.
Let us first consider the impact corruption and lack of funding has on education, for instance, then come up with a better solution for the youths’ behaviour. Juvenile delinquency will come and go. Children should not, therefore, be judged harshly 20 years later for childhood misdemeanours contributed by adults’ omission.
We are punishing the youth unfairly — for our failures.
Ms Guyo is a legal researcher in Kenya and the United Kingdom. [email protected]