The cost of basic education in present-day Kenya seems to be life and is one that has left most parents wondering why they chose to take their children to school in the first place.
Schools that were formerly considered second homes and safe grounds for children have now become death traps. A series of tragedies emanates from our schools almost every 3 months. Each time an incident occurs, the pain incurred through loss of lives then wakes our consciousness to the monster that we have been feeding daily. What proceeds is a typical series of knee jerk reactions by the government through the Ministry of Education, which has now turned out to be that barking dog that never bites. Quickly after a tragedy we quickly return to the default mode where not much follow up is carried out and life continues as normal, but not for the immediate families.
Once more young and innocent lives in Kakamega Primary School are paying off, for what might also have been as in the past years, the mistake of a few adults. The incident adds to the pile of other ghastly incidents such as the Precious Top Talent school that cost 8 lives and other disasters in waiting such as St. Charles Mutego Educational Centre which seats just kilometres away from Precious Top Talent. These tragedies eventually lead to the disruption of training and learning in these institutions apart from exposing children to great hazards and trauma causing injustice to young children who entrust their security to adults.
The government of Kenya just like any other government globally invests a lot of resources in the attainment of basic education and promotion of education as a fundamental right. In its pursuit to improve the standards of education, it has appointed various committees, commissions and task forces to address major challenges faced by the sector. These bodies have come up with tons of reports and national standards where school safety is concerned, notably the Safety Standards Manual for Schools released in 2008 as a blueprint for enhancing school safety with a variety of safety measures to help schools improve the safety of learners. In addition, being a signatory to international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child alongside other protocols that dictate international standards and regulations for access, equity and quality of education.
The current state of school safety cites huge gaps in both the implementation of and adherence to these policy guidelines by relevant stakeholders. On top of that, the government is well aware that most if not all of the legal frameworks set out as guidelines for registering schools have not been fully implemented. Either way, there has not been much of an indicator that the Ministry recognizes the importance of school safety when it comes to attainment and provision of quality education contravening The Children’s Act (2001).
With schools still operating in dilapidated states and cases of overcrowding in classrooms, it is evident that even with the issuance and existence of safety manuals and measures very little seems to be happening to tackle these disasters.
The issue of safety and security is not one to be taken lightly as it is the case. For a while, the government has been pussyfooting around this issue at the expense of innocent lives. The most it has offered is threats and promises all year round with no action.
The Kakamega Primary School stampede once again turns the spotlight on how unsuccessful the ministry has been in achieving schools’ safety precaution. In a quick response to the matter, the Ministry of Education directed that the school be closed for further investigation. This comes months after the unfortunate tragedy at the Precious Top Talent School, where a similar directive was given at a nationwide scale to ensure no future casualties. It is on the same backdrop that concerns were raised in both houses of Parliament on how well the ministry is addressing school safety and security. However, not a single report has been tabled by the respective committees since the September 2019 incident.
It is also on record that CS Magoha, speaking at the scene of the collapsed classrooms in Dagoretti, Nairobi, assured Kenyans that their children are safe stating that, “The children of Kenya are safe in schools. This single tragic incident must not be used by anyone to instil fear in our children in both public and private schools.” Further promising that the national government through the ministry of education was going to monitor all schools to ensure the safety of the students.
The presence of inappropriate school facilities and infrastructure countrywide that is; poorly constructed classrooms and playing grounds, insufficient and broken-down toilet facilities, and inadequate and inappropriate furniture is not only a clear indication of lack of value for our children’s welfare but also a great sense of lack of citizenship and deep-rooted corruption within the Ministry and respective local government offices. Which has led to a general disregard of professional practice, inadequate proper and frequent supervision and open defiance by school owners and managers that our own Ministry of Education is so fearful to face head-on.
While the ministry needs to pull up its socks on this matter, the Parliament on its resumption of sittings should fast track the committee reports and compel the government to implement the recommendations that emerge from them.
~ Guest blog by Victor Werimo