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SCHOOLS, THE BURNING QUESTION: WILL YOUNG KENYANS HAVE TO DIE FOR ACTION TO BE TAKEN?

In response to the many tragedies that have hit secondary schools in the last decade, the Ministry of Education introduced a safety standards manual for schools outlining measures they should take in the event of an outbreak of fire. It required, among other things, for the space between beds to be at least 1.2 meters, corridors to be not less than two meters wide, and prohibited the sharing of beds to minimise overcrowding in dormitories.

The school safety standards’ manual came as a breakthrough in attempting to curb the incendiary crisis. The daunting task however, still lies in its implementation. Take for example this series of events since the year began;

In February suspected arsonists set ablaze a dormitory at Sameta Boys High school in Gucha.

21 March: a dormitory was torched at Magena Secondary School in Kenyenya. Nothing was salvaged from the dormitory housing 37 students in the incident that happened at 8.30pm. Luckily, nobody was injured since the students were attending night preps. It was the tenth dormitory to be burnt down at the school.

10 May: a fire burns down four dormitory cubicles at the Ndumberi Girls high school. The Star reported that it was the third fire to affect the school this year.

21 June: an inferno gutted a two-storey dormitory at Kereri Girls High School in Kisii town. The dormitory, which housed about 250 students, was severely damaged and more than 60 students lost their belongings.

22 June: 114 boys were left without a place to sleep when a fire broke out at Nakuru Boys High School destroying property worth Sh10 million including a dormitory, a dispensary and staff quarters.

The causes of these fires have mostly been blamed on faulty electric circuits though suspicions of arson have also been cited. In most of the cases reported the fires started either when students were in their evening preps, or in the morning during assemblies. The targeted areas were mostly dormitories and as a result students ended up loosing all their belongings as well being left without a place to sleep.

And so it goes on… It seems apparent that most schools have not complied with the Ministry of Education’s guidelines judging from the increased cases of school infernos this year.

Kisii County leaders in particular have expressed concern over a spate of school fires in the area. Cabinet minister Chris Obure and ODM activist Gideon Moreka have also called for a probe into the mysterious fires. And the umbrella association of fire fighters has urged the government to introduce fire education in both the primary and secondary school curriculum, citing that lack of knowledge in handling fire disasters as a major problem.

It is indeed alarming that no eyebrows have been raised yet, perhaps because this is Kenya and it’s become a tradition to act only when faced with a massive disaster. It might be good news when a dormitory burns down and students escape unhurt but not newsworthy enough to provoke a reaction from the stakeholders. Shall we have to wait until a school fire kills a number of students for action to be taken?

It is sad that boarding schools, which have long been perceived as safe havens where parents leave their children to be molded into well educated and experienced citizens, away from any external distractions in society, are so often putting those young Kenyans’ lives in jeopardy.

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