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Sexual harassment in schools tops headteachers’ Coast conference

Delocalisation policy also unpopular as tutors ‘are plucked from their families regardless of age or health status’ 

Discussions on finding the quickest and most effective ways to slay the ghost of sexual harassments in schools topped the agenda at annual headteachers’ conference in Mombasa last week.

About 8,000 school principals and education stakeholders cracked their heads on re-directing education sector in Kenya during the 43 rd Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (Kessha) held Wild Waters.

The headteachers found themselves on the receiving end as various stakeholders including their employer –the Teachers Service Commission- insisted that as CEOs of schools, they are responsible for safety of learners in schools.

TSC Director for Teacher Management, Mary Rotich was the first to fire the salvo on the first day when she said teachers must ensure the students’ safety and those found culpable of negligence will have only themselves to blame. “Some principals have developed an unprofessional habit of passing their responsibilities to School Boards of Management,” she said.

Noting that it is possible to dodge a responsibility but impossible to dodge the consequences, Rotich reminded the principals that they are the CEOs of their respective schools. “TSC will not spare the ‘rod’ but will deal incisively with school heads whose schools will be found culpable of neglecting safety of their learners,” she said.

TSC chairperson, Lydia Nzomo, said unregistered teachers were the rogue elements responsible for cases of sexual harassments. “They should be weeded out,” she said.

Teachers buy teaching materials at the forum. Photo/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed later pushed temperatures at the conference a notch higher, tasking the school heads to uncover sex pests in schools, arguing that they know them.

“Security breaches in schools are worse during Second Term,”  she said. 

The CS said defilement is a crime and whoever is found culpable “be it a principal, a teacher, professor, or subordinate staff” will be dealt with as a criminal. “Such criminals will be treated as criminals no matter who they are because the life of that child they defile will never be the same again,” she said.

Deputy President William Ruto was categorical that the government would not spare anyone, including principals, who attempt to cover paedophiles. He called on teachers to stand tall against sexual harassments. “Cases of sexual harassments in schools must be stopped at once. As leaders, you must show zero tolerance with such cases by exposing the criminals,” he said.

Principals, however, appeared to resist attempts to place the burden of security on their shoulders. Kessha chairman Indimuli Kahi and union leaders defended the school heads, saying security was not part of their training in college and “it should not be sneaked into their job description as principals”.

Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion said it was wrong for the principals to be burdened with security responsibilities without proper building of capacities.“Schools must be empowered through government resources… teachers should be allowed to exercise their profession without extra burdens,” he said.

Kahi  said teachers are under attack from a lot of people and asked the TSC to protect them.  “We cannot institute anything capital without, approval by the boards of management,” Kahi. “I cry when I see principals being put to task on matters security. These are the things that cause heart attacks and high blood pressure in teachers,” he said.

Amina said the ministry has issued a number of safety measures, including the Safety Standards Manual to assure the safety and security of schoolchildren.“The Quality Assurance and Standards directorate in partnership with education stakeholders is working with headteachers with a view to finding sustainable and lasting solution,” she said.

Delocalisation policy is also unpopular with teachers. Kahi accused TSC of unfairness in its approach as  teachers are being “plucked” from their families regardless of age or health status. “This has contributed to growing mortality rate amongst us from high blood pressure and heart attacks,” he said

Kahi asked TSC to consider the age of teachers. “By delocalising a teacher aged 55, then you are forcing that person who had already settled to go back and start life afresh…some have medical conditions and have specific hospitals within where they live. If you transfer them it is like you have signed their death certificates,” he said.

Bomet senator Christopher Langat backed the claim, saying most teachers die as a result of work-related stress.“Pressure and stress is common amongst principals I was once a principal but luckily, I crossed to this other world,” said the senator, a guest at the forum. 

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