November 21st 2017

Media / Arts & Culture

Overly reactive to student strikes, government missing the big picture

Peer influence is having a more negative impact in contemporary society. Students have more differences, geographical, cultural and even political. Traditional pressures for kids to fit in with colleagues and please classmates have been compounded by growing inequalities in society.

By Winfred Mbuya Mwanikiwmwaniki@kenyafreepress.comSunday, 17 Jul 2016 20:57 EAT

Kuppet Secretary General Akelo Misori with Education CS Fred Matiangi.

Strikes by high school students has reached catastrophic levels. Hardly a week passes these days without a media report on some school being razed down by grieving students.

Students have been striking for decades, but the regularity, ferocity and amount of media coverage of the incidents being witnessed today is unprecedented. So what has changed? The first is definitely the prominence that Education Secretary Fred Matinagi has given the issue. The minister has visited so many schools affected by strikes, sometimes announcing the sacking of headteachers on the spot.

The minister's involvement in addressing the strikes has helped made strikes a national issue. This is in contrast to the experience of, say, last year, when the country was similarly convulsed in student disturbances. The then education secretary Jacob Kaimenyi did not give concerted attention to the matter. One can argue that the problems were buried in the sand, but the crisis didn’t explode to the proportions we have witnessed today.

And while Matiangi’s involvement has fueled media interest, newspapers haven’t dug deep to understand what is going on in schools. For example, at Iterio Boys, media reports indicated that students were rioting against the administration’s decision to stop the television screening of the ongoing Euro tournament.

The reports were not accurate; the students rioted after they had watched the match in question. The report smeared not only the boys at Iterio but all youths who are passionate about football. Even if a decision banning the live screening of a match was the trigger of the strike, it would be understandable, given that Iterio Boys is a national powerhouse of football.

The media has got a very big role to play in trying to find out the exact cause of every strike they report. In the absence of this, media reports only incite more strikes in other schools. The reports should not merely be of how many dormitories were burnt down, but also the causes, damage and the kind of punishment given to students involved. Details should be given, but not in a way that glorifies the evil by telling of how much destruction the students cause.

Beyond the media, schools have responsibility to address strikes. We need more practical ways of dealing with it. For example, the students who are caught as involved in the same should be severely punished and preferably arrested. These students should not be given transfer letters as is the norm since that only transfers indiscipline to other schools.

On the other hand, the students’ reasons for strikes can also be justified, so the teachers should create an environment where the students can freely share their grievances without victimization. This is because some students strike to get attention when all they are fed up with rules and not given a listening ear by the administration.

School administration should also be democratized. High school students are adults. They should be involved in decision making in schools in cases where the decision affect them such as making the choices of their leaders and not leaders being imposed on them since they may end up feeling alienated. The students should be allowed to freely join the clubs and societies where they perform best and given an opportunity to shine in them.

Also for the students who are undisciplined, the kind of punishment they get should be one that make them reform and which they recognize to be a form of correction and not torture. It takes understanding from all the parties involved to come up with the solution to this recurrent problem.

However, the administration is not to be entirely blamed for the students’ rude behavior, since their guardians are responsible for the bigger part of their formative age. Parents are the first role models for their children, and they should therefore work hand in hand with the teachers to ensure the child get the necessary needs and discipline too.

There are causes such as peer pressure, whereby students seek to get approval from their peers. To discourage influencing one another in the negative way, the students should be given platforms to exercise their talents in a way that is not harmful to others.

Peer influence is having a more negative impact in contemporary society than in the past. Students have more differences, geographical, cultural and even political. Traditional pressures for kids to fit in with colleagues, please classmates, learn new behaviours etc, have been compounded by growing inequalities in society.

Drugs are more widely available and media influences more commonplace. The role of counsellors has never been direr, but there aren’t enough schools with staff to handle the issues. The students need to be taught to deal with situations before they happen, since it is very rare for students to risk their reputation among colleagues by reporting unbecoming behaviour.

In the case where the students are involved in drug abuse, the students should not just be sent out of the schools for good but they should be rehabilitated so that when they recover they will give practical motivation to their fellow students

As the school is a theater of many influences, the need for institutional coordination is important too. The agencies like NACADA that fight drug abuse should collaborate more closely with school administrations.

There is also the issue of infrastructure in schools. The Secretary General of Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education of Teachers, Akelo Misori said that the reasons why the students strike are never addressed as those who make attempts to solve them base their strategies on assumptions.

"In many schools around the country, students live in very bad conditions in their dormitories, that is why they do not burn classrooms but the dormitories," he told the Free Press. According to Mr Misori, the students have genuine reasons to strike and so their plight should be given attention.

“If education is the problem then they would have been burning classrooms. Other reasons being advanced such as the contribution of term breaks also misses the big picture, if a break is the problem then we would not have cases of students striking immediately after the midterm break,” he said.

"Many students have no problem with the system, the thought of spending most of their time in the poor dormitories as is a major cause of the strikes," he said.

From the past experiences, most of the strikes happens just before the examinations and more specifically in the onset of national examination; this then reveals the pressure the students are exposed to during this period.

This is a wakeup call to the teachers that they should make sure that the students are allowed not just to perform well in studies but should be accommodated with their different abilities. There are schools where the students who poorly perform in class are given punishment that traumatize them such as cleaning the dining rooms. These tactics may at some point develop resentment which the students end up solving in unheard of ways.

The students just like any other person perform best when they are least under pressure, if the child is gifted in games, supporting them in their talents will give them a better reason to own up the school instead of making them feel out of place due poor academic performance.

There is no single best way of addressing the problem of indiscipline in schools but students’ friendly environment is inevitable in solving this problem. The sacking of school heads is an over-reactive measure for a compounded problem.

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