Heads seek cover against mobs

21st July 2000 at 01:00
KENYA

PRINCIPALS of secondary schools and their deputies are demanding to be insured by the government against rising student violence.

According to the chairman of the principals' association, David Okech, school heads are at risk of being lynched by rioting students.

"We want the government to establish an insurance scheme for us, and if the treasury has no money, boards of governors should take the responsibility," said Mr Okech.

However, education minister Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka dismissed the demand. He said accessible and effective teachers do not need to be insured against their students.

"If we were to allow this, perhaps we would be the first country in the world to insure teachers against students," Musyoka told principals during their recent annual conference.

Nevertheless, he conceded that riots in schools were on the increase. Last year, 30 per cent of the 3,000 secondary schools in the country were hit by a wave of unrest and indiscipline, including class boycotts, bullying of fellow students, drugs and alcohol problems, arson, assault and rape.

Even as headteachers were holding the conference in Nairobi, two violent incidents hit two secondary schools. In Mombasa, Mazeras high school students rioted at night and set fire to their principal's house.

Those arrested confessed that they had wanted to kill the principal for increasing tuition fees beyond the ministry of education guidelies.

At Heni mixed high school, in Central Province, boys set ablaze the house of the school caterer. They later tried to break into the girls' dormitory, but the girls' screams alerted neighbours who went to their rescue. Some girls were injured.

"Families of headteachers should have something to fall back on in the event that a head or deputy dies or sustains serious permanent injuries in a school riot," said Mr Okech.

Riots, assault and destruction of property are widespread in mixed day and boarding schools, and affect 60 per cent of schools that stage strikes each year.

Sources at the ministry of education say that these are the schools that have inadequate textbooks, science laboratories, workshops and classrooms, resulting in poor performance in final secondary examinations.

In the past 10 years, various committees appointed to review unrest and indiscipline in secondary schools have recommended scrapping mixed secondary schools in favour of single-sex institutions.

A recent report by a presidential committee noted that sexual harassment was rampant as girls and boys were often made to share toilets and recreational facilities.

"Rivalry between male teachers and boys over female students often caused unrest in those schools," said the report.

Drop-out rates are highest in mixed secondary schools (usually only exceeded by low-cost private schools), mostly due to teenage pregnancy.


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