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Student Unrest in Kenyan Secondary Schools: Who Is to Be Held Responsible?

By Stephen wanjau - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Since the schools reopened in January this year, the cases of student unrest have been on the rise. Several schools including Chesamisi boys, Kimulot Secondary in Bomet, St. Luke’s Kimilili Boys, and Koelel high school have been closed indefinitely. 

The drastic change from the home environment to a strict school schedule might seem like something students should have adjusted to by now, but it seems that the adjustments are yet to take place. This is evident in scenarios like Koelel high school, where students went on a rampage because entertainment was cancelled; according to them, their stay at school was ‘boring’. The same goes for Chesamisi boys, where students claim that their disgruntlement was due to the entertainment hours were changed. 

And so, as we seek to better understand what’s happening in the education sector, there is a consensus that there are a few factors that play a major role in the students’ unrest and general indiscipline in schools. This article seeks to highlight three reasons and how they can be addressed.

Parental negligence

Experts have deduced that the nine months stay at home could be the reason for the unrest and anger among boarding school students. 

While parents are doing an excellent job at providing, they are lagging in providing emotional support. The tough economic times force parents to leave early in the morning and come back late in the evening. In this hustle for a better life, children are often left alone for long periods. The teens’ curiosity, peer pressure, and online information overload take over from where the parent left off. Soon these young adults are doing live demos to satisfy their curiosity or experimenting with what they’ve seen. 

Parental absence leaves a gap in mentorship and guidance. And even when parents are present, they haven’t normalized open communication with their kids, especially boy children. The result is evident as it’s mostly boys’ schools that are mostly affected. Boys are taught from a young age to act tough. You are a man, and thou shall not cry nor share your emotions. That’s what manhood is about. But what happens when they can’t process their emotional turmoil? They resort to aggressive behaviours. 

Parenting entails more than providing financial support. Yes, teachers are instilling discipline, but they cannot provide personalized support to individual students because of the sheer number of students in a class. Besides, teachers already have a lot on their plate as far as the syllabus is concerned. 

Life skills lessons

It will shock you to know that life skills are not addressed in the syllabus. There is a specific lesson time for Mathematics, but there is no time slot for life skills. The best teachers can do within their lesson time is to dish out advice, which will be a brief five minutes’ talk as they have a whole syllabus to complete. 

And so if we are telling children to be good, what does that really mean. The I-generation has a lot of information at their disposal and a one-minute conversation cannot address. Perhaps life skill lessons that seek to engage and really understand where these kids are coming from can help address the deteriorating moral standards. 

It’s easier for people to follow set standards when they know the what, why, and how of the matter at hand rather than when the rules are imposed on them. 

Counselling sessions

When researching this article, I went online to find out others’ opinions about students unrest. Most parents on different platforms felt like the lack of caning was the sole reason students were misbehaving. To some extent, they may have a point. When I was in school, I was rarely in any indiscipline case because I feared the cane. This strategy is fine if we only want to instil fear, which is an unhealthy way of dealing with moral issues. However, if the goal is to promote self-discipline, counselling will go a longer way than caning. 

Most of the schools that went on strike and torched their dormitory had shown signs of discontentment early on. The schools’ administration and teachers could see the negative energy, but somehow they thought the children would get over it. Suppose they had counsellors who understood children’s psychology. Perhaps they could have diffused the bomb before it exploded.

The teacher counsellors in schools can’t effectively handle this role because the teacher-student relationship is that of a boss-worker. One is superior, and the other is supposed to take instructions and follow them without question. Also, teachers receive minimal counselling training. They don’t have the expertise to handle children’s psychology. 

Professional child counsellors are better placed to help children deal with the issues they are struggling with at home and school. Next week, I will explore some options on the available options for counselling service for children in Kenya.

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