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…