What Fuels Kenya's Deadly School Fires?

The torching of schools by learners has become a regular occurrence in Kenya for over two decades. The most infamous of these is the dormitory fire at a secondary school near Nairobi in which 67 learners were killed 20 years ago. In 2021, another spate of dormitory and school building fires forced the government to close all primary and secondary schools for a few days.

Amid a wave of deadly school fires in 2017, the government-run National Crime Research Centre conducted "a rapid assessment of arson in secondary schools". The centre outlined possible causes and strategies to address the problem. The causes included exam-related anxiety, schoolwork load, peer pressure, school leadership, and lack of guidance and counselling.

These explanations overlooked other important factors that include deplorable conditions in many public schools, oppression of learners and the violation of their rights. A focus on external factors ignores the psychological impacts of institutionalisation and authoritarian governance, writes Teresa Wasonga for The Conversation.

The fire at St Peters Abwao Secondary School destroyed a dormitory on October 19, 2021.

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