Why we are setting our schools on fire: Students

Students at Wang'apala High School in Homa Bay County look at a damaged boxes from Mishael Anyango dormitory on July 23, 2016. Two blasts were heard in the morning before the building burst into flames. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • A Njonjo Girls’ High School student aid she was among the ringleaders of the unrest and blamed it on, among other reasons, poor diet.
  • Two students at Nyamache Boys’ High School in Kisii County said the insensitivity of the administration led to the burning of a dormitory.
  • Another student said Nyamache Boys’ High School management ignored grumbling from learners on the quality of food offered for supper on the day the fourth dormitory was set ablaze. 
  • At Monianku Secondary School in Kisii County, a student said some of his colleagues torched the deputy principal’s house last week following a comment he made about one teacher having an affair with a female student.  

Students have come out to reveal the forces behind school unrest in the country.

In exclusive interviews with the Sunday Nation, some learners confessed to having participated in the wanton destruction of property and justified their actions on various reasons, from high-handedness of school administrators to poor diet and the displeasure with new rules on term extension.

“The headteacher is high-handed. She has been caning students for the flimsiest of reasons,” said one student at Njonjo Girls’ High School in Laikipia County, who sought anonymity for fear of being victimised.

She was one of 19 girls at the school who were pardoned after they admitted having participated in students’ unrest that nearly led to the torching of dormitories.

Another student from the school said she was among the ringleaders of the unrest and blamed it on, among other reasons, poor diet.

“How can a big school like Njonjo Girls’ High School give one loaf of bread to six girls to share for breakfast while in most other schools the minimum quantity of bread is a quarter loaf per student?” she asked.

The 19 were smoked out after they were repeatedly named by fellow students as being behind the unrest almost two months ago. They then confessed their intentions to stone the staffroom and torch the dormitories.

The school administration was forced to send the students home for a five-week break and, when they returned, each student was asked to name the perpetrators.

They were then suspended for two weeks before being subjected to grilling by a school disciplinary committee where they confessed that they were behind the unrest.

Elsewhere, two students at Nyamache Boys’ High School in Kisii County where a dormitory was burnt on June 27 — a few hours after Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i had left — said the insensitivity of the administration led to the burning of the facility.

There are now four dormitories burnt at the school, torched in the space of four weeks.

A Form Four student at the school said the institution’s management ignored grumbling from learners on the quality of food offered for supper on the day the fourth dormitory was set ablaze. 

He said students had been promised “good food” after the guests who had come for fundraising had left. The fundraising was meant to raise money to reconstruct the facilities razed in a past arson attack.

However, the students were served with the usual food they ordinarily take on Fridays.

HAVING AN AFFAIR

“Everyone was irritated. They kept discussing that matter. When the administration was told, it didn’t take it seriously,” said the student.

“So, after eating what was there, we went for entertainment. A short while later, we were shocked to realise that a fire had started ... It could have been an individual’s plan,” he said.

His colleague shared the same sentiments, saying the insensitivity of the school’s head left them frustrated.

“If the administration gets a certain demand from students, they should not take it lightly. They should call the students to ask them why they want something the way they want it,” he said.

At Monianku Secondary School in Kisii County, a student said some of his colleagues torched the deputy principal’s house last week following a comment he made about one teacher having an affair with a female student.  

The student said that ethnic unease between Maasai and Kisii students fuelled the standoff as the teacher and the girl he was suspected to be flirting with come from either community.

Still in Kisii County, it has also emerged that a teacher with a history of inciting students earlier at Ichuni Girls’ High School could have played a role in the torching of a school in the same area.

“I remember when we set our dormitory on fire some years ago, a teacher smuggled the petrol we needed into our school,” recalled a former Ichuni student.

She said that the said teacher has since been promoted to head a school within the county and that, in an ironic twist of fate, that school was one of the first casualties of school fires this year.

This echoes allegations facing a teacher at St Theresa’s Girls Bikeke in Trans Nzoia County, who was arrested last week after a learner told police that the 25-year-old teacher on duty had incited them into burning the school after a delay in the serving of tea.

Kilometres away in Vihiga County, three of seven students expelled from Kaimosi Boys’ High School, who the management had linked to the July 15 torching of a dormitory, turned down an interview with the Sunday Nation.

However, a learner at the institution said the school’s administrators were aware of the plans to torch the school. The decision to expel the boys, the student said, was made without considering what they (expelled students) could do in retaliation.

The Sunday Nation also heard that senior students (in Form Three and Four) are behind the burning of as many as seven dormitories at Itierio Boys’ High School in Kisii County on the night of June 25.

SMASHED WINDOWS

Though several theories abound as to who started the fires, a Form One student said that after students were denied a chance to watch a Euro Cup football match, senior learners forced juniors out of classrooms.

“One group smashed the windows in all buildings as another group formed a circle around the dorm to prevent anyone from getting into the dormitories that were already ablaze. Another group broke into the canteen as the younger students ran for their lives,” he recalled.

At Ololulunga Boys’ High School in Narok County, which was closed indefinitely on Monday following student unrest, a learner told the Sunday Nation that anger over the extension of the second term was the main reason for the strife.

The Form Four student said the Sunday night protest was also sparked by the transfer of some teachers, increase in school fees by Sh3,000, introduction of caning and lack of medication and a trained nurse at the school dispensary.

“Other issues range from being stopped from taking food to the dorms, watching TV, taking tea on specific days, to a demand that the principal and some teachers should go.”

He added:  “The Matiang’i rules were not welcome but the students also got an opportunity to raise some of the issues that are affecting them and it is becoming an in-thing for secondary schools that if you don’t go on strike, you are scolded by other schools,” said the student.

Recent arrests and botched arson missions have also provided clues on what is motivating students to run amok.

For instance, at Tabaka Secondary School in Kisii County where a dormitory was burnt last week, evidence gathered before the arrest of 19 students showed that the proponents wanted their school to do what other schools were doing.

“The ringleaders were heard asking other students why they wanted to be different from their colleagues in other schools who had set their schools on fire,” said Mr Nehemia Ontere, the Gucha South District Education Officer.

Meanwhile, Kilgoris Boys’ High School was closed down after students threatened to torch property. The students allegedly wanted to bring down their school in a bid “to join the league” of schools that have been torched.

According to a student at Narok High School, there is a wave of peer pressure.

“The reason for the strike is taking a different perspective since students are always shifting goal posts and use the strike to make demands to the school,” the learner said.


By Elvis Ondieki, Aggrey Omboki, George Sayagie, Derick Luvega and Steve Njuguna

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.