By Winnie Kabintie
School unrest has perhaps become the greatest challenge the ministry of Education and all stakeholders in the Education sector have to contend with.
The torching of dormitories and strikes by disgruntled students have become more of a tradition especially every second term. The sad thing however is the helplessness shown by schools management’s and the ministry at large on how to tackle this menace.
DRACONIAN SCHOOL RULES
I could be wrong but I believe the main source of unrest in schools is the draconian rules and Modus Operandi adopted by most of these institutions.
We need to acknowledge that times have changed and we are dealing with a different generation all together, a generation that is empowered, exposed and restless when inflicted to routines.
This generation of millennials is driven by a robust energy and diverse attitudes towards life and is totally restless when reduced to mere spectators when it comes to matters that affect their lives; Millennials want to be at the front seat of defining their agenda.
Trouble brews when these characters leave their spaces at home, majority or minority depending on a school’s location; spaces where for some they have been given room and freedom to define their agenda; spaces where for the lucky few, their opinion matters and is often sought when making decisions that touch on them.
Then as duty requires, at the beginning of every year, these characters are bid farewell and off they go, reluctantly to “prison” as boarding schools are popularly referred to by Millenials.
In this “prison’s “, as was the case in the one I schooled, everything is pushed down your throat! Even how you walked was not a personal decision to us, a teacher would even beat the day lights out of you just by the way you looked at HER. I emphasised on the HER because in Girl’s school’s it’s as though female teachers have some special bile towards their students.
UNIFORM MENACE AND THE FAMOUS MUTULA KILONZO MINISKIRTS
These schools will DICTATE on how long and tight the girl’s skirts should be and because their reasoning is anchored on draconian rules, the end product of what they deem ideal leaves the poor girl’s eroded of their self-confidence; there’s just something about a woman’s dress code and her confidence levels. At thhis age a girl is discovering herself and is cautious on what she wears. Its just what it is! You cant wish it away as insignificant!
So in my school, what used to happen is that, left with no choice than to comply, we would don the “tents” ..yeah, that’s how we used to call them, prescribed by the teachers, but then we would have another set of “butchered Skirts”, designed to fit well by a tailor back at home, which we would reserve for special occasions when we would be interacting with outsiders; either in external school functions with students from other schools or when going home.
The sad thing however is that without any iota of restrain, some teachers would call you out even during those external school functions, reprimand you for wearing a fitting skirt and will demand that you surrender it to them as soon as you get back to school, they would consequently torch it, as you watched in pain.
In extreme cases, once the school bus parks at the school’s compound after a trip, the teachers would stand outside the door and we would alight one by one, while they inspect our dress code and woe unto you if they were in a bad mood and you were a bit well-endowed and your figure was well complimented by your butchered skirt, they would tear it off you…like quite literally.
It was a humiliating experience that not only stole a girl’s joy but eroded her of her confidence.
Some people would not understand why students would be concerned with skirts and people were even shocked when in 2012 students from Ruathia Girls in Murang’a County went on strike in protest of long “ugly” skirts that the administration was imposing on them prompting the late Mutula Kilonzo, then Minister for Education to weigh on the “miniskirt’s” issue and ruled that we should just let school girls be, its not the miniskirts that attends class.
“Why should you dress a school girl like a nun?” the late minister posed, a comment that drew in a lot of criticism especially from the clergy.
Some rule out these issues as petty, including some parents but the sad thing is that we are in a different time zone all together so attempting to make sense out of our way of life by comparing it to yours is the biggest undoing. The only way to find a solution on issues affecting our students is to GO DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL and UNDERSTAND MATTERS FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE.
A teenage in school has nothing more on their name than just their VOICE, and that is all these kids want; an ear to pay ATTENTION to their needs. If employers out here understand the power of employee motivation and invest alot in team building activities, what makes you think that students do not need some of these, we can be investing NEGATIVE ENERGY in these kids and expect different outcomes.
The other area that i also believe has contributed majorly to discontent among students is the issue of school prefects, and this one particular makes me think it’s where “poor leadership skills” in our society are horned.
You see school perfects are ideally supposed to be their peer’s representatives and the link between students and the school administration but what we see in our schools is far from this narrative.
Prefects in most schools are a major source of oppression to fellow students and the moles that will sell out their peers to the administration whenever there is alarm over issues the students are not happy with.
This explains why sometimes back, whenever there were cases of arson in schools, only the prefects cubicles would be targeted. In some schools prefects even have the power to met out physical punishment on fellow students.
That prefects are also accorded certain privileges by the administration like special diets, “better” uniforms and general special treatments, leave the rest of the students very disgruntled and resentful.
I recall an incident back in form three when our Head Girl gave false information to the principal that left three other girls and myself expelled for a very minor offence; accessing the dormitory during visiting day. Yes we were barred from getting to the dorms whenever parents were visiting and we had never been told why really, blame it on the parents; they never asked why.
That minor offence, which we weren’t even guilty of in the first place, someone was just out on a vendetta mission, even saw me expelled from school. When the principal summoned us in her offence she never cared to listen to our side of the story because the Head Girl’s word was final. She rained on us with slaps and a bamboo stick and I personally took off and resisted the ABUSE, one more girl followed me but the other two stayed put; They were beaten like dogs, African dogs, at-least in the West they value their dogs.
I would never forget the reasons the two girls gave for accepting to be brutally punished for a crime we hadn’t committed; “it will be worse if we go home”. What they meant was that, they would receive an equal treatment back at home.
I recall fellow students especially my classmates protesting the principal’s decision to expel us and even shouting as we were escorted out of the school compound like criminals.
Luckily I knew my rights and my mother was no pushover and we protested the decision, which our “no nonsense” principal had made harshly and without following the outlined guidelines, to the Board Of Governors and I was recalled back to school after two days.
When I reported back to school, I was shocked to find out that all my classmates had isolated the head girl, we shared a class. They were giving her the silent treatment and even her deskmate had migrated so she was sitting alone. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel nice about that. A week down the line however after apologising to me, we forgave her and moved on.
Lastly, the other thing that I believe contributes to unrest in our schools is the culture of victimisation.
Majority of our teachers are either frustrated, either by their employer or personal issues and they vent out on students.
In cases where for instance a student unfortunately gets pregnant while in school, or they perform poorly academically, some teachers will be the first ones to constantly make a mockery of them and even call them names in class.
Even when a student makes a mistake once and they are punished for it, the issue never goes away, teachers will always use it against you.
When students complain of “thinning food ratios”, a common issue in boarding schools, you will be condemned for “coming to school to eat” and in a mathematics or chemistry class when you flop, the teacher will shamelessly tell you “if you were so quick to per take the lessons with the same energy you do at the dinning hall, perhaps you would have been an A student. Really!!
What these issues, no matter how frivolous they sound, does to students is that they leave them angry, demoralised and resentful and just like a rubber band, you can only stretch it for so long; it still has its limit and the school inferno’s, the strikes; those are indications of these limits.
It’s about time our school’s revisited their culture of doing things.