Part of the damage at Chesamisi High School in Bungoma County following student riots on January 24, 2021.

Part of the damage at Chesamisi High School in Bungoma County, following student riots on January 24, 2021.

| Brian Ojamaa | Nation Media Group

Rising violence among learners sparks worry

A wave of student unrest is sweeping across the country, leaving a trail of destruction, even after police moved in to arrest offenders.

Dorms, classrooms, labs and vehicles in dozens of schools have either been razed or vandalised in criminal acts that have left stakeholders in the education sector a worried lot.

In other cases, workers, teachers and their students have been attacked and injured, with at least one guard killed so far.

Schools rocked by the chaos include Lamu Boys, Anderson Secondary in Trans Nzoia, and Kikuumini and AIC Mwaani Secondary in Makueni County.

Others are King David High, Kirimari and Kiambere Mixed in Embu County, Ndivisi Boys’ in Bungoma and Kisumu Boys High School in Kisumu County.

Long holiday

The unrest comes only a few weeks after schools reopened on January 4, after the long holiday forced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Limiting of the freedoms learners enjoyed away from school rules for more than nine months has been cited as one of the main factors fuelling the violence.

Drug and substance abuse and alleged failure of parents to instil discipline in their children while they were away from school have also been fingered.

Force closure

In some cases, students have been accused of attempting to disrupt the academic calendar to force closure so that they avoid exams that are due in March.

Moi Girls AIC High School principal Alice Gituro believes that students are struggling to transit from "free style lives at homes to a life where they are required to follow instructions".

She blamed parents for neglecting duties of moulding their children.  

"They are really struggling to adapt a new life in school," Ms Gituro said.

A psychologist has also related the unrest to possible effects of psychological distress among students.

“Some students have experienced psychological distress during the long period of absence from school. Some could be suffering from the effects of issues or challenges that have been bottled up for a long time, and the situation might have been worsened by the fact that they had no one to talk to,” Emma Karitu, a counselling psychologist told the Nation.

Grievances

Some of grievances raised by students who talked to the Nation are alleged high-handedness by school authorities and limiting of entertainment and co-curricular activities, which were suspended when schools resumed.

According to Ms Karitu, learners likely to engage in violence are those with pent-up anger or bitterness with parents or teachers.

The company that some of the children kept during the 10-month break, she added, might have had an impact on their behaviour.

Bishop Joseph Wandera of ACK Bishop Hannington Cathedral in Mumias, added that students’ deviant behaviours are a reflection of the society they live in.

“Kenya is a country full of violence that has been manifested at all levels. Politicians fight, throw stones and insult each other in public. At home, parents quarrel, fight and kill each other before the eyes of their children; there is fighting in churches. The country is full of violent acts,” observed the clergyman.

His view applies to a troubled school in Makueni County, where a principal and his deputy are facing interdiction after a dormitory in their school went up in flames, in an act blamed on their rivalry.

“Investigation has revealed that the deputy has been undermining the principal. The two have been using students to settle scores. We have agreed both of them will have to go home,” County Commissioner Maalim told the Nation Wednesday.

Police are questioning two Form Four students and a Form Three student over the incident.

The Revered Paul Matheri of United Methodist Church, Naivasha, said a majority of the learners who reported back to school are battling emotional issues after the prolonged break.

“Having, stayed at home for over nine months, some of them underwent some traumatising moments, hence a change in behaviour,” said Mr Matheri, a trained counsellor.

Not spontaneous

“What we are witnessing is not spontaneous. The learners need to be listened to,” he told the Nation, adding that some of them are being subjected to tests they are ill-prepared to sit.

Educationist, Dr Anna Obura, told the Nation that schools did not take into consideration students’ emotions and fears when they resumed.

She said that although the students were excited to be back, they are fearful of exams and also contracting Covid-19.

Observing that most of the cases had been reported in boarding schools, Dr Obura said that this is a “colonial hangover” that the Kenyan government needs to re-evaluate.

“We have an unjustified number of boarding schools and this compounds the problem. Francophone countries don’t have as many boarding schools,” she said.

Guidance and counselling

Kakamega Catholic Bishop Joseph Obanyi called for strengthening of guidance and counselling programmes in schools to stem the current unrest.

He said learners are reeling from the effects of the long stay at home and that school managers should have taken students through guidance and counselling sessions before kicking off learning.

According to Homa Bay Kenya National Union of Teachers Chairman Patrick Were, access to social media, hard economic times at homes and poor management in schools have also contributed to the chaos.

Samburu County Director of Education David Koech noted that the many of the learners are struggling to adapt to school life after the long holiday.

Luxurious life

"They had adapted a luxurious life of waking up at 9am at home. The sudden change of waking up at 4am is frustrating them and probably making them ‘burst up (sic)”’, Mr Koech told the Nation.

However, a principal who requested anonymity said that only a few students are involved in the reported cases of arson.

“Only a small group of students are dissatisfied with being back at school and want to cause disruption so that they may go back home. Mainly these are the ones who’ve been taking drugs and now their supply has been cut off,” he said.

Increased vigilance

Some principals who spoke to the Nation on condition of anonymity said they had increased vigilance within their school compounds to prevent any possible cases of indiscipline.

Some schools have increased security guards and installed CCTV cameras and additional security lights.

A parent, Ann Masinda, from Bukembe, Bungoma County, called for reintroduction of corporal punishment to deal with the cases of indiscipline.

"We want the government to bring back corporal punishment to schools. That will help return normalcy to schools," she said.

On Tuesday, the National Parents Association (NPA) opened a branch office in Kisii in a move to curb the incidents.

“We are developing programmes to sensitise parents on many critical matters that affect children,” said the association’s national chairman Nicholas Maiyo.

The association asked the Teachers Services Commission to train tutors on professional counselling.

Meanwhile, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations on Monday warned that it will collect and store information on students’ criminal behaviour, which may harm their employment chances once they come of age.

“This is to warn every student that the DCI is archiving and consolidating charges that may be preferred to each and every student involved in any crime,” the directorate said in a statement.

“Let each student be informed that it will automatically be reflected on the police clearance certificate commonly referred to as Certificate of Good Conduct.”

It added: “This will be a permanent criminal mark that will bar many students from achieving their goals, as no employer of worth will dare employ such characters.”


Reported by Macharia Mwangi, Geoffrey Ondieki Brian Ojamaa, Stanley Ngotho, Simon Ciuri, Barnabas Bii, Titus Ominde, Gerald Bwisa, George Odiwuor, Benson Amadala, Benson Ayienda, Shaban Makokha, Pius Maundu, Maureen Ongala and Charles Lwanga.

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