25 July 2001

Kenya: Declining Morals to Blame for School Crisis

Poor management and declining morals are to blame for the current crisis facing schools, according to Catholic bishops meeting yesterday.

They asked the Ministry of Education to restart the church-ministry liaison committee to help resolve current conflicts.

And the bishops also suggested the abolition of secondary boarding schools, replacing them instead with day schools.

It would enable parents to take care of their children's discipline, for which some had abdicated responsibility, said the Archbishop of Mombasa, Dr John Njenga.

"We should close all boarding schools and parents be allowed time to mould their children as they attend day schools," he said.

The archbishop and two bishops - Dr John Njue and Dr Cornelius Korir - added they were "disappointed and worried" by the recent wave of school unrest.

"Society morals have gone down completely and some parents are to blame for indiscipline in schools," Dr Korir observed.

The three were speaking at Westland's Waumini House, Nairobi, after reading a pastoral letter asking Catholics and Kenyans generally to be self-reliant.

They accused the Government of failing to implement recommendations of various commissions set up to investigate previous school unrest.

They cited two commissions established after the St. Kizito Secondary School (Meru) and Bombululu Girls (Mombasa) tragedies.

"There were commissions that went round and came with recommendations that were not implemented after the St Kizito tragedy," said Dr Njue, who served on the committee.

At St. Kizito's, 19 girls suffocated to death while 71 were raped when male students raided their dormitory in July 1991.

At Bombolulu, 25 girls perished in an inferno when they were trapped in their locked dormitory, in March 1998.

Dr Njue suggested that parents, the church, ministry officials and teachers meet to address the recommendations for preventing any repetition of such tragedies.

The ministry's decision to ignore the church, Dr Njenga said, would be disastrous.

Bishop Korir of Eldoret asked school administrators and the ministry to emphasise guidance and counselling.

They all supported the ministry on the ban on caning because corporal punishment failed to reform.

Caning, Dr Njue said, while seen as a corrective measure, created fear rather than inculcate values in children. The ministry banned caning recently.

Twenty five schools have been closed over the past week in the wave of student unrest sweeping the country.

Dagoretti MP Beth Mugo attributed the unrest in schools to inefficiency in the Ministry of Education.

"The disorder in our schools is a serious issue. It is clear testimony that the Education Minister has failed in managing his docket. He ought to resign in public interest because he has failed to provide direction as to how the crisis should be handled," she said in a statement.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission called for an independent group to investigate the unrest.

Programmes Officer Brigit Moraa asked the ministry to weed out inefficient headteachers and begin to implement the Koech report.

It recommended that the 8-4-4 system of education be replaced by 1-7-4-2-4 and that both examinable and compulsory subjects be reduced.

The current system, it added, was burdensome and stressful.

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