School unrest; it is all about management

BY JARED JUMA A luta continua, the struggle continues, was the rallying cry of the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Mozambique Liberation Front) FRELIMO during the country’s war for independence. The phrase is Portuguese (the official language of the former Portuguese colony) and was used by FRELIMO leader Samora Machel to cultivate popular support against the Portuguese colonial presence. The phrase could have been originally used far from Kenya but the spirit has been alive within our boarders, not just with the Mau Mau war at independence or the opposition struggles against government excess or clamor for change. More recently, though in its soft sense, the Kenyan Civil Society joined the Law Society of Kenya in street protests as they condemned the killing of Lawyer Willie Kimani, his client and their taxi driver in what has been believed to be a cold blood murder executed by the police. The phrase has also been popular in spirit, at least, even in the schools in Kenya. One afternoon a student sat in Sawagongo High School in Siaya County following a Christian Religious Education lesson with the sleeves of his shirt folded in what is today called Obama–style.  The teacher, in a soft but firm tone, reprimanded the student telling him that he had to unfold the sleeves. She reminded the boy that the students were never kind when they demanded the long sleeved shirts. It was a dusty afternoon and it was easy to see that folding was just necessary to contain the rate at which the shirts got soiled. Briefly, this is an example of one way that simple matters have always caused a discord between students and their teachers. At times, the results are unfathomable. And their actions explained glibly. Say, they had been denied a chance to watch European match finals. And the result, six dormitories set a blaze and reduced to ashes.  The judgmental society, which is always quick to condemn acts of violence that is not done by themselves rush to pass verdict in strong emotive epithets. They often go against a basic tenet of justice that in nature, no man should be condemned unheard.  In most of these cases, the students take all the blame, and the teachers sit in the committees that are only supposed to asses the damage that should be paid by individual learners and recommend the sanctions deserving each student. Tragedy is that these approaches hardly stop the next group of learners from engaging in violent acts in schools. Mr Phillip Wasonga, a former school administrator is of the view that an unreasonable disconnect between the administrators and the leaner should be held culprit when it comes to causes of school unrest. “There are teachers who, unfortunately, still believe in the absolute necessity of using the cane. But the leaner of today is different,” he says.  “They need different approaches.” Mr Wasonga views majority of the strikes as avoidable. “How do you explain stopping students from watching a soccer match then end up with students hostels burnt down? This is completely containable if only you consult and make the learners part of the decision-making process”. He remembers vividly the struggle for long trousers adding that the learners of today may not even know that trousers, which they wear in schools, did not come easy. It was a struggle. Trousers were reserved for form five and form six students only. Then, form one to form four students ware taken as children and did not need to wear them. In his analysis, this discrimination fanned the violence. For Sarah Mwea, another witness of school unrest in her high school days, the strikes can be judged both on causes and the magnitude of force used. “There is a possibility to have a strike without violence”, she says. She remembers her former school to have gone on strike because the strict and no nonsense deputy head teacher had replaced the soft-spoken and liked Principal. “We went on strike but not violently. We never burned even a piece of paper,” she says. Some reasons are also not easy to lay a finger on, when one of the schools went on strike because they suspected that there were some element of devil worship in schools, it became hard to pass judgment on students. In the end, it is desirable that the young people will understand the need to minimize the damage that is often present in any of their clamor for attention. At the same time, the school heads need to follow and incorporate two things in management of schools; consultation and inclusivity in decision-making. It goes along way to capture the spirit of public participation, which is now entrenched in Article 10 of the Constitution of Kenya.

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