By Rading Biko
Over the past few years, students have set fire to hundreds of secondary schools across Kenya. The tally includes more than 120 cases in 2016 alone.
In 2016 the then former Education cabinet secretary Prof.Jacob Kaimenyi had instructed that all secondary schools must hire trained guards from registered security firms but not even a single school have complied with the directive. Actually our investigations revealed that most rural schools have opted to hire untrained villagers to guard schools.
According to a watchman whose name we cannot reveal for security reasons, he revealed that the poor working conditions and ignorance by the school management to ensure that security team welfares are taken into account are some of the reasons.
“These school arsons you are witnessing today is not by accidents, it’s a message the students are sending and this happens when their problems are not fully addressed by the school management. Most of the school managements are using traditional way of solving problems,they should be ashamed of themselves since their methods are not working at all.Its time for dialogue and getting to understand the students’ problems,”comments anonymous.
Most principals argue that though the directive was issue and even a circular note sent to them the government failed to fulfill its pledge of funding schools to hire trained security personnel.
Enock Alumasi Makanga,the National chairman of the Protective and Safety Association of Kenya(PROSAK) feels that most fire cases in schools are caused through either collaboration between the students and the team employed to provide security.
“You cannot hire villagers to guard your school and expect them to fully counter security threats emerging from the students. Unless the government’s directive is implemented effectively then believe me we shall continue to have these cases of fire year in year out, “says Makanga.
Makanga noted that for a very long time we have always blamed the students for such incidents ,the latest one being the young girl who was arraigned in court for the inferno that recently happened in Moi Girls -Nairobi.
“Why wait till the school goes up flames and then start looking for culprits to blame?I mean it’s such a shame that most school principals are still using barbaric techniques to ensure safety of students in schools, I think parents too should start questioning and accessing security and safety preparedness but not just dumping their children in schools and expect them to be guarded by whoever opens and closes the gate whenever they visit the premises.I believe that what the schools need is a good intelligence system and well installed surveillance systems that will help flash out these culprits who are masterminds in such acts,Makanga emphasizes.
The issue of renumerations also plays key in ensuring that student’s safety is well taken care of.
“Most of those hired tend to be old men who cannot stop criminal activities. They are disgruntled guards because they are poorly paid.You will find out that most schools hires one watchman to guard a school with over 1,000 students. When a disaster occurs whom do you blame? Is it the single old man at the gate or the school management? Its time these principals engage with PROSAK to ensure that we don’t continue losing lives of our future leaders,”Makanga insists.
Makanga added that students target their schools because their grievances tend to be school-based.
“The most commonly cited complaints among students include principals’ overly authoritarian, “highhanded” and unaccountable styles of management, poor quality school diets and inadequate learning resources, including teaching. Many of these criticisms reflect suspicions about how school budgets are being allocated,,”comments Makanga.
The overwhelming majority of school arson cases have occurred in boarding schools across the country, including boys’ schools, girls’ schools, and mixed schools. Schools that perform well and those that tend to perform more poorly on national examinations have all been affected.
One may wonder why boarding schools are such common targets. 80% of Kenya’s secondary schools are boarding schools. However, students explain that boarding schools are targeted because life for them in these schools can be “like prison”.
Dr.Ken Ouko sociologist expert argues that the boarding school are like prison, can be considered a “total institution”. He comments that boarding school life is often experienced by students as excessively rigid and authoritarian.
Dr.Ouko also echoes words of Makanga by enforcing that secondary schools should indeed hire professional security guards and also involve more dialogue among managements and students.