7 January 2013

Kenya: Respond to Students' Grievances


All over the world students have grievances. They range form genuine to mischievous ones. Whether grievances are valid or not school, authorities must attend to them.

When they are swept under the carpet they escalate to ugly scenes of violence that may include riots. When students resort to violence this is a symptom of total system failure. Violence begets violence and this is costly to both the students and schools.

In most cases the situation could have been addressed amicably before the worse came to worst had the school administration chosen to dialogue with students.

It is possible to cultivate a culture of dialogue between students and the administration. Listening to students' grievances is not a sign of weakness on the side of administration.

Instead it shows maturity and responsiveness to students' demands. Through my many years experience I have gathered that students know what is good for them. It is not that they demand for what is not possible!

Most students' grievances are genuine although there may be few that are mischievious. Whatever the case, it is incumbent upon the administration to listen and respond appropriately to them.

Ignoring them only serves to demean the students. It baffles me to hear students accuse school administration of high-handedness. What does is cost to just listen to students' demands? I am sure it is cheaper than the cost of repairing a burnt dormitory or dented school image, isn't it? Why must schools turn their backs against their own students? This is foolhardy.

Some ways of addressing students demands are tested and proven. Some of these are barazas, open forums, students' councils and lately the famous 4Cs.

The 4Cs. This is a system where students address their grievances through a well structured system. The 4C are: Concern, Complaint, Curiosity and Compliment.

Students are trained to put forward their issues through a structured template that does not only focus on the negative but also the positive sides of the issues. This is more of a 'Suggestion Box'. This method works perfectly.

I teach in a school where students voice their demands in a very polite way using the 4Cs system without necessarily resorting to violence and ugly utterances.

For instance, a student wanting to know about the fate of a certain co-curricular activity may phrase their demand thus "I am curious to know when our next match is."

Similarly he may want to praise the school thus, "I would like to compliment the school for...". Another student may raise a concern or a complaint without sounding like she is complaining.

This is a healthy way of engaging each other. The school does not feel disrespected and neither does the student. This way the two end up cultivating a win-win culture.

However, the success of 4Cs is wholly dependent on promptness and feedback the school administration gives to earlier issues. If schools make students go through this just for formality is will not be too long before students revolt.

This system thrives in a culture of mutual trust; the school must mean well for its students and similarly the students must reciprocate this gesture by being truthful to their school. Mischief from either side would mean failure of the system.

Ashford Kimani teaches Literature and English at a private school in Nairobi county.

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