A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Violence in Kenyan high schools

In the last few days Kenyan headlines have been dominated by reports of increasing levels of violence and riots in high schools. Things appear to have reached a crisis point with the obligatory formation of a “committee” to investigate the cause of the riots. According to some news reports, students are responding to rumours that the results from the mock KCSE examinations, which were set to begin next week, will be the actual results used for the end of year examinations since the Ministry of Education & the Kenya National Examinations Council still haven’t resolved the mess that was last year’s examination results. Now the rumours are probably nothing more than that – rumours – but these incidents of violence are reflective of many issues that are buried in the “lets bring back caning” and its “drugs” refrain that is coming from all corners.

First, anyone who has been through the Kenyan education system knows how high stakes exams are for students. For the majority of students it’s an all or nothing affair in order to get into University (let alone get the subject matter of your choice) – most cannot afford to leave the country for other options, or pay for the parallel programs. In addition, many of us grow up with the idea that you’d better do well in school or you’ll end up pushing a mkoteneni (or some variation) being drummed into our heads – education is EVERYTHING and exams have this air of finality – screw up and you’re doomed. It’s no surprise then that there are high levels of anxiety around the mocks and the possibility that results could be messed up again – especially since heads have yet to roll for last year’s fuck up – the message to students…we can mess around with your lives in get away with it (as with many things in Kenya).

Second, and this might be a bit of a stretch, our society has set up the template for resolving grievances that is hardly a good example for young Kenyans…with the 2007 election being the penultimate example. Don’t like election results? Fake them and clobber a few people in the process. Not happy with land issues? Conduct ethnic cleansing (and admit it in public with zero consequences). It’s a problem that starts at home with kids dodging their fathers and wives tiptoeing around their philandering husbands because “uta-do?” and extends to schools where being “too smart for your own good” usually meant your were discipline problem number one in the school, to university campuses where even a slight showing of creativity means “you will never pass Prof. X’s class.” We are a deeply flawed society and bashing guys over the head in name of discipline will not fix that.

AOB: There was a (typically badly written) article in yesterday’s Nation about the legendary “discipline at Starehe”. I wish the writer would have chosen a different headline, because the story is not so much about discipline at Starehe, but rather how having an open environment in schools and building an atmosphere where individual responsibility for one’s action is emphasized is the way to go (instead of banning “perms” and other such rubbish in the name of discipline…can you tell I’m bitter about this?).

AOB2: This nice NY Times piece about the Kenyan tech scene has been doing the email rounds today, lakini couldn’t they have used a different image with the story e.g. from Barcamp or something? I don’t exactly get the feeling of Palo Alto when I look at that image…

22 comments to Violence in Kenyan high schools

  • I so feel your article. Much as don’t condone kids going around burning down their schools but I must admit that there are deeper seated issues at play here that go further than cell phone priviledges and entertainment time.
    The fact is that students have hardly any say in the Kenyan education system. The only time grievances are addressed is during a strike, no other time at all. And as you said, adults in Kenya have given a rather poor example if any. As usual drugs have been blamed, a committee that will meet and issue a report nobody will ever read has been formed and life shall go on. This is Kenya for you………..

  • Surambaya

    The one thing that doesn’t add up (just like with the election violence) is the fact that there seems to be quite some coordination going on. The schools involved range from Lenana all the way to schools in the deep reaches of Muranga – methinks something is not right here.

    As for the reasons that the students are giving, well things have certainly changed since my day. The prefect system at my old high school was such that you grew up being a gentleman, showing respect for your classmates, teachers and for the school and being proud of your institution. I proudly played for my school, walked the walk, talked the talk and if I didn’t then I would be hearing from my seniors, my prefects, my teachers and finally my parents in that order. What happened to collective responsibility.

    Ati cane them… I only got caned once in all four years of high school – I did not end up burning down my living space… bah!

  • Don’t see Palo Alto? Is that not why they have a question mark in the title?

    Reminds me of another stereotypical question someone posed once around AD 30: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

  • Interesting post, and Surambaya’s comment is also food for thought. I read a suggestion yesterday that many schools are ill-equipped and were completely unprepared for the increase in enrolments which a government campaign brought about. More kids are now able to access to education, but the education system is not ready for them. Maybe that’s a factor, too.

  • What about education leading to unemployment. Someone maybe unjustly told me that some of the most active criminal forces in Kenya today were disgruntled out of work resourceful university graduates.

  • Vince

    For once I have to admit that I don’t quite understand what is going with these strikes in Kenyan schools. KP has done a great job of explaining to some of us the whole crux in her blog above. I attended high school in Kenya in the early 1990’s and strikes were always about bad food, more bread, bad head teachers, broken school buses etc. If I understand the current situation correctly, rumors over mock exams are somehow responsible for the current mayhem (again correct me guys if I am wrong). If it turns out that mock results are going to be used as the final results, then that is unfair to these young kids. Mock results were always not a good indicative of the final scores. They were always skewed.
    This can be compared to using the Olympics trials and friendly matches as final scores for the Olympics in Beijing. Countries will riot. If these are bogus rumors, then the Minister of Education should clarify this in a jiffy other than sitting on his rear and letting violence escalate. I don’t think these kids are that unreasonable to keep on burning their dormitories if they are told the truth.

  • Vince

    About the NYT article on Kenyan technology, that was a great piece but the photo was quite off the mark. You open the URL thinking it’s about advancing phone technology and the first thing that hits you is a photo of dilapidated kiosk with a Masai man walking past. The impression I got was of a huge disconnect. Again, remember to most Westerners a photo of a Masai or wild beast is synonymous with Africa/Kenya.

  • KE

    I think part of the problem in Kenya is that we are associating “modernization” with “westernization” and so, we are loosening the discipline standards thinking that this means we are becoming more advanced and more modern when in fact, all we are doing is adopting western cultural norms (that produce less discipline) in a country that needs discipline.

    You can’t loosen the disciplinary standards in a country of such poverty. They are too many angry, frustrated, young people and they have to be tightly controlled. Twenty years ago, these things didn’t happen because there was strict discipline and severe corporal punishment. We need to stop trying to adopt the cultural norms of “mzungu” type schools because we are just not ready yet for that kind of “freedom”.

  • NonPulsed

    “We are not yet ready for that kind of freedom”, wow, if a mzungu where to come out and say that there would be a huge uproar (and rightly so).
    So discipline is necessary for poor people? but not rich people? how about white people?
    This is so hilarious (in a sad way), something out of Fanon.

    What your stating is very similar to this,
    “Most officials, missionaries, and settlers thought it to be the convulsion of a bewildered people, disoriented by colonial development, literacy, exposure to modern markets, and the subversion of former social hierarchy. Such people were too easily led by self-seeking agitators, of whom Jomo Kenyatta was the chief. This explanation presumed that British rule was either too progressive to be assimilated by the native Kikuyu mind or that civilization had not yet penetrated far enough” (http://kenyaimagine.blogspot.com/2008/07/britains-mau-mau.html). It is the argument used against granting the colonies independence.

    Depending on which part of the political divide, switch Jomo with either Kibaki/Michuki/Karua, or Raila, and one will be able to continue the tired old argument from the 50’s.

    Is it only me or isn’t that exactly kind of the philosophy that Bush is using in the Middle East? How is it working?

    Has anyone in been to a traditional arbitration where grievances are resolved? Have they really seen what happens there? I nearly feel out of my chair when, I saw the similar techniques used in a case study, and role play in class!!!

    Discipline is needed, but so is leadership and accountability. The mock exam rumors did not circulate in a vacuum. As Vincent says, if they are false, the Ministry should have taken it upon themselves to quash the rumors. In the so called “mzungu” schools, students and parents would have been called the principal constantly, there would be articles in the newspaper, leaders would be questioned, there would be peaceful protests, etc.

    I might be wrong on this, but it seems that those kids with another option i.e. study abroad , USIU, are not rioting? e.g. St. Mary’s , Msongari, et al. I know from personal experience, those kids are not more disciplined than rioters!!!

  • Very interesting comments here. Thanks.

  • Petite

    😥 The recent wave of strikes in our high schools have left many with their mouths agape at the extent of damage that can be caused by our youngsters. A lot has been said about the probable causes to these strikes and the blame game continues. Some say parents, teachers, the government, the society, the students and so on. But the reality is we have not solved the underlying causes that may have resulted in this . The concerned parties should go to the students themselves who are causing this mayhem in our country and have their say. On a personal level I think our youth are TIRED (with emphasis). The society expects a lot from them i.e one has to get good grades to survive in the ‘ harsh’ world as it is said. There is alot of pressure from both parents and teachers and at times students get overworked and looking closely they may have not understood anything in class.
    Some students are slow learners and some teachers are so unfair in that they concentrate on the fast learners leaving the slow ones to suffer in silence. I have been to high school and at some point I almost went into serious depression and stopped reading because I was frustrated and tired of the pressure from all corners.
    People set very high standards for me which I could not achieve but what could I do! just pretend that I was working hard when in real sense I wasn’t. Thank God I performed well despite my predicament.
    What I’m trying to say is that there are other aspects which have to be looked at other than the ones stated e.g social especially when it comes to prefects who have excessive powers,peer pressure; spiritual- are their spiritual neds being met in the right manner?; physical e.g living conditions , proper diet and especially for those with serious medical conditions; emotional- are there efficient counselling services in place?, Is there an efficient communication channel between the students, teachers and administration or is there a breakdown of communication. These are other factors that have been overlooked( I stand to be corrected) that might have resulted in the strikes which of course to the students must have been the most effective way for expressing themselves.
    We should pray for this young generation and especially against the spirit of destruction and strikes which is on the loose. I hope someone digs deeper into this matter and come up with a lasting solution too this predicament facing us. We do not want to lose any more lives and justice should be done to the perpetrators of this as our schools are not places for moulding criminals!

  • brayooh

    :evil:it something evil for schools to go on rampage without no clear reason.it is inhuman for someone to come with an idea of burning properties without no reasson.stiff action should be taken to those found guilty

  • As a way of raising funds for schools to get access to internet and computers EACdirectory has come up with a “2009 SCHOOLS ONLINE PROJECT” where for a small fee of Kes. 2,000 you can promote a school with a website that they can use to access the globe and raise funds.

    Check more info here:

  • Ben

    The world insists on the traditional undertone that all institutions require to offer the all round education to their learners. The requirement of the delivery of holistic education in all institutions makes it imperative that the institution’s curriculum should have religious studies as compulsory subject and examinable in all levels. Enright (2003) successfully argues that almost all fields of academia borrow concepts of religion especially those which deal with human beings directly. Curriculum and policy makers in the Kenyan systems of education need to consider the importance of offering the holistic education and investigate to find out the justification of religious education as a promoter and sustainer of peace and calmness of the learners in their respective institutions.

  • I think it’s quite tragic that decadence in schools is on the rise and leads to this.

  • Ways to Clean Your current Lcd Tv set

  • An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been doing a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast due to the fact that I discovered it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to talk about this matter here on your website.

    My web page; raspberry ketone

  • It’s difficult to find knowledgeable people for this subject, but you seem like you
    know what you’re talking about! Thanks

    my weblog … google

  • […] Okolloh at Kenyan Pundit analyzes on the reports of increasing levels of violence and riots in Kenyan high schools. Posted by Elia […]

  • Profile: Kenyan Pundit …

    Lawyer and political analyst Ory Okolloh’s blog, Kenyan Pundit, serves as place for the Kenya native to offer passionate and critical observations of news and politics in her homeland. Ory , who is currently working in Johannesburg, South Africa, sta…

  • agamegame…

    Your zone to play free Agame – A game online! Play free games online together with racing games, sports games and a lot of at agamegame.org…