Over the past few weeks, the nation has witnessed what can only be described as a recurrent nightmare. Almost 90 secondary school fires, student unrest, parents baffled and the government, like they always do, “appearing to take action.” The burning (no pun intended) question is; why is this unrest recurrent annually, around the same time? We spoke to high school teeniez to help us better understand the problem, and seek a lasting final solution…

The Insyder Team

High School Fire BBC Image

As we write this, it is reported that Education CS, Fred Matiang’i, has set up a 10 person committee that will investigate the incidents that report back with findings within 30 days. This won’t be the first committee set up to attempt to resolve this recurrent problem. It most probably won’t be the last as well. Why?

Through all this mayhem, one voice, the most important voice, has been forgotten; the student’s voice.

We sought to correct this. And why not? How can we claim to be “the teeniez voice” and not give teeniez a platform to air their views? So over the past few days, we have traversed the country and managed to interview students to find out more about the school unrest. Here’s part one of our findings:

WHY THE FIRES?

You’ve probably heard the narrative from the experts and everyone else except the teens. They say the new 3rd Term rules set by the embattled Education CS have made them feel much more strained and overwhelmed. They are stuck in school with no outlet to relieve the pressure they face daily. That’s what they say. This is what the students say;

The students want to be heard, they feel they have no voice when it comes to their own education.

The National Students Council is no longer as active as it used to be. This council basically brings together all national school prefects in one forum where they can discuss their grievances – student from a school which torched their dormitories last year

The National Students Council never achieved its intended goal – giving full representation to all the students. Before we go into why this never happened, first let’s delve into why the idea of the National Students Council was created in the first place.

Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, school unrest had reached unprecedented levels of violence (yes, this cycle of school unrest pre-dates this current generation of students by over a decade). The violence was mostly around late June, and July. Back then, the experts and everyone else in between blamed the unrest on the pressure created by MOCK exams. Here’s a short chronology of the orgy of violence;

1998 Bombolulu Girls Secondary School – 26 girls dead

1999 Nyeri High School – 4 boys dead. They were prefects.

2001 Kyanguli Secondary School – 58 students dead

The Government of Kenya proceeded to implement investigations to seek reasons behind the unrest and also come up with solutions. In 2000 the Government of Kenya presented the Shitanda Report, and in 2001 the Wangai Report. Many reasons were given to the students unrest, but one issue was clear; there was little or no way of knowing what the students were thinking. Additionally, it was noted that the prefects system wasn’t an effective way of getting information from the students. Four prefects had been murdered by their fellow students. A clear indication that prefects didn’t represent the issues of the student body effectively. In fact, they were deemed as part of the problem by their peers.

Enter the proposal to create the National Students Council.

As early as 2006, the Ministry of Education, KESSHA (Kenya Secondary School Heads Association) and UNICEF were working on independent surveys that sought to find a lasting solution to the school unrest pandemic. Interestingly, all studies came to a similar conclusion;

The research found out that the core causes of unrest rested with the administration of student affairs as the existing system allowed students to play little or no role in running of the schools. From the findings it was conceptualized that radical reforms in student leadership was the way forward in addressing causes of tension in schools, which in most cases foment indiscipline culminating into violent strikes.

According the 2008 Implementation of Student Councils in Secondary Schools policy paper, which was funded by UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the KESSHA, a time frame for the establishment of the Students Council nationally was set in 2010. In Page 19 of the document, it states, “A transition period of two (2) years with the deadline of August, 2012 will be sufficient for all institutions to have established functioning councils.” In essence, a fully functional National Students’ Council was to be effective by August 2012. You can read the policy paper below.

UNICEF funded this initiative to the tune of KES 48 million. The objective of a fully functional National Students’ Council was simple; to move Kenya secondary schools’ student leadership from the autocratic prefect system, to that of a students council whose members were elected by fellow students.

The 2-year transition period mentioned above was to allow for a hybrid system that assimilated both the hated prefect-led system and that of the elected student body. Ultimately, the prefect-led system was to be completely replaced by the Students Council.

Student Council Transition Structure GuidelineSome schools fully implemented the policy. Most didn’t. One had been doing it since its inception. That school was Starehe Boys’ Centre. We will go into the full details as to why this policy failed. But that’s in a later part of this report. Right now let’s hear what the students have to say.

A PREFECT SPEAKS

A student captain from one of the national schools said,

The only way forward is for the government to call for an emergency meeting with the students. It is a cry out for help, we need to be heard.

However despite all this, I’d like to encourage all my fellow brothers and sisters to stop these fires. We are destroying our future. Let us call for dialogue instead.

PART II follows..