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Alarm as new wave of fires hits schools

At least 17 schools have been hit by student unrest in the last nine days alone as parents stare grimly at yet another round of disruptive juvenile arson.

Yesterday alone, nine schools witnessed unrest and were closed down indefinitely by respective boards of management as police launched investigations with the aim of nabbing the culprits.

Besides the cost to parents in destroyed property, the unrest will also take a toll on students preparing for KCSE examinations in three months.

Students have burnt dormitories, dining halls and descended on other assets occasioning huge losses worth millions of shillings.

As the incidences barreled across the country, the government yesterday threatened prosecution of students found culpable of causing the turmoil saying some 125 students are in police custody.

Read: Three Siakago boys jailed on probation over school unrest

Also read: Probe school fires quickly and find causes – principals

Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said preliminary investigations reveal that the unrest could be a response to the cancellation of some KCSE examination results last year due to cheating cases.

She said students could also be resisting the stringent guidelines set out by the Kenya National Examinations Council in the administration of this year’s exams to stamp out cheating.

“The ministry will not be distracted from sealing off all loopholes to ensure the examinations are credible. We are conducting unfettered and impromptu surveillance of all examination centers to monitor the examinations using combined teams of multi-agency government actors,” she said at a press briefing at her Jogoo House office.

She said the ministry supports the Directorate of Criminal Investigations’ decision to criminalise unrest in schools.

Students responsible for stoking the unrest in schools will be arrested and charged with arson and other criminal acts in stern measures aimed at containing the violence.

They will consequently be blacklisted in police records should they need certificates of good conduct routinely required for employment these days.

Amina said her decision was part of the government’s stern response to the latest streak of disturbances that started from a few public schools in the Nyanza region.

Kenya National Examination Council chairperson George Magoha attributed the school unrest to student panic occasioned by the national examination.

He termed the ongoing unrest as blackmail to the authorities so that they can comply to examination malpractice.

 “The fires will not stop the examination from happening. If students want to burn down their school and take their examination under the trees it will,” he said.

“Yesteryears of cheating are gone and students should work hard to ensure they excel. We owe fidelity to our children and it is priceless,” Magoha told the Star.

According to the ministry, some 10 boarding secondary schools have experienced cases of unrest. Of these, seven were cases of arson targeting dormitories when students were undertaking their evening studies.

It all began at Kisumu Girls High School on Sunday, July 1, 2018, when students went on rampage, vandalizing the dining hall and a computer laboratory.  

Ng’iya Girls High School in Siaya county followed on July 3, evoking memories of the second term strike ghosts that engulfed public schools across the country two years ago.

However, rioting students have blamed their principals of high handedness and poor diet. Other stakeholders have blamed the unrest on exam phobia and the reintroduction of mock tests banned by in 2015 following heightened strikes and cases of arson in schools.

Then Education CS Jacob Kaimenyi outlawed the administration of any form of mock tests — including those that were being sponsored by politicians — across the country in a bid to contain the unrest in schools.

Related: What Amina said about school fires

SPIRAL

The unrest spiraled from Nyanza to other parts of the country, with nine schools recording incidents.

In Rift Valley, students at Larmudiack High school in Nakuru county went on the rampage, destroying school property over what they termed as poor diet.

The students were angered by the administration’s decision to confiscate and dump assorted food items brought by parents during a prize giving event on Sunday. Some parents said the school management threw the food into the dustbins because it doesn’t allow packed meals from outside.

In the same county, a dormitory at Rohi Girls’ High School in Nakuru East constituency was reduced into ashes.

Esther Kioni, one of the neighbours, said that one girl nearly suffocated in the billowing smoke as students scampered for safety.

Over in Meru, a dormitory in Kathera Boys’ in Imenti South constituency, was burnt down yesterday morning. The hostel which housed 85 students went up in flames as the boys were in their early morning preps in the classrooms.

Yesterday also, Meru School was closed indefinitely after students rioted on Sunday night and destroyed property.

Also closed was Thitha Secondary School in Igembe North, after the students rioted, barely one month after they had razed down one of the school’s dormitories. 

Among other incidents in the past week, include the July 3 arson incidents in which dormitories were burnt down at Mukuiru in Tigania East and Kisima High school in Buuri sub county of Meru county.

In West Pokot, Chewoyet High School was closed indefinitely and students sent home after a dormitory was razed down wee hours of Monday morning. The Longonot dormitory that accommodates 115 students was burnt down at 6.15am.

Some students of St. Mary’s High School yesterday lost all their property after fire razed down their dormitory which houses 114 students. Among the casualties were 19 students were rushed to hospital with trauma. They were treated and discharged.

The school’s Board of Management chairman Alloys Mandu said all the 1,038 students were safe.

In Homa Bay, two schools—  Oriwo Boys and Kandiege Mixed —were over the weekend affected after two dormitories were burnt.

On Monday, a dormitory was burnt down at Kandiege while students were on morning parade. No injury was reported in the 7.30am incident.

More on this: TSC moves teachers at Chalbi Boys after attack by students

At Oriwo Boys, quick intervention from teachers and students prevented the fire from spreading to other adjacent dormitories. More than 100 students lost personal belongings.

Siaya County has been worst hit with six schools affected by the wave of unrest. They include Ng’iya Girls, Maranda High, Mariela Boys, Usenge, Nyamonye Girls and Ambira High.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s wife, Ida, yesterday appealed to the students to stop burning schools.

As the school fires raged, education stakeholders blamed communication breakdown between the schools’ administration and the students; examination fever and poor security measures.

According to the Ministry of Education, 33 schools have been closed down since the beginning of the year — 21 of them between May and July.

Kenya Secondary Schools Heads association chairperson Indimuli Kahi yesterday said the wave is spurred by incitement from other schools.

“School heads have to be very vigilant because the school fires are caused by small issues affecting students and you don’t know what will be the next reason students go on rampage,” Kahi said.

“We propose that if a school has been involved in unrest, it be closed down for three to four days to allow investigation so that students go back and learn to avoid time wasting,” he added.

SECURITY

Kahi said most schools lack preventive measures to curb such incidents —personnel and equipment such as CCTv.

“CCTV monitoring needs to be in a focal point where someone is observing it 24 hours, but in most schools they are in the principal’s office and he will not be there the whole time. Thus, if anything is recorded it remains as evidence and not preventive measure,” Kahi said.

Yesterday, the National Association of Parents chairman Nicholas Maiyo blamed management of schools for the unrest.

“There are no consultations between the school principals, the students and the parents. Some principals do not want to engage parents early enough to solve conflicts,” he told the Star in a phone interview.

“Why must parents be involved at the last minute when the situation has deteriorated yet they are expected to pay the cost of the unrest in terms of cost of damages,” he asked.

Also see: [VIDEO] Worry in Meru as cases of student unrest, dorm fires increase

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