OPINION

Deal firmly with masterminds of school fires

It is now a familiar story, that of secondary schools being burnt by students. The domino effect is proceeding as expected, with mainly copycat arson attacks following others.

At least 44 schools have so far been closed because of students unrest.

Myriad reasons are now being advanced why students are burning schools. It has been stated that students are stressed because of midterm examinations. It is also alleged that students are unhappy because principals have refused to cooperate with them in the stealing of exams.

The Kenya Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary general Wilson Sossion even thinks that transfers of principals is the main reason why students are burning schools. Of course, one would wonder why the schools were being burnt previously despite principals having stayed in schools for years.

Clearly none of these reasons can explain why students would without hesitation engage in such a nefarious activity. To get a hold of what has gone wrong, one needs just find out whether there has been any accountability for the schools fires that have happened in previous years.

At the height of the former Education Cabinet secretary, Fred Matiangi’s battle against exam cheating in 2016, more than 200 schools were burnt. The big question is, how many students were made to account for their role in burning of schools? How many students were arrested, tried and jailed?

It was reported that 700 students were prosecuted together with 30 non-students. Nobody knows what happened to those cases.  And this is the real reason why schools are burning. In a word, it is because of impunity.

In Kenya, nobody is made to account for nefarious actions. Judicial processes are laundering marts to process and  free criminals. The masterminds of the burning of schools in the last two years are still free. The 700 students arrested for arson in 2016 should have been handed tough jail terms which should have been well publicised. As long as these criminals masquerading as students and their masterminds, some of them teachers, know that nothing will happen even after they burn schools, they will have no fear.

The burning of schools is a very simplistic crime, down there with the stealing of chicken. It should be very easy to unravel. The seeming lack of enthusiasm to bring the perpetrators to book is what is fuelling further burning of schools.

The tragedy is that most students in these schools are victims of a few bad eggs, who are likely to be students with chronic discipline problems. These students do not care, and are not interested in studying anyway.

What is even more disturbing is that school administrations are involved and teachers have been arrested for arson in schools.

How then should this matter be handled. In a word, firmly.

Arrests should be effected which reflect the scale of the problem. If found guilty, these students and their teachers should be given stiff sentences. The one year jail terms that have been so far imposed on student arsonists are a joke!  These are criminals. And when they finish their terms, while they may be allowed to resume their education, they should be banned from ever being boarders. This means they can only go to day schools. Teachers should simply be struck off the teachers roll by their employer and blacklisted.

So far, the arrests seem confined to students. Burning of schools on this scale appears to be part of a well-organised scheme. The government must get to the bottom of who is planning, financing and recruiting the students who burn schools.

Petrol stations that are found to have sold petrol to students that was used to burn schools must be fined heavily or closed down. Surely, the pursuit of a few coins cannot be at the expense of millions of shillings in destruction and upheavals in the lives of thousands of hapless students.

Petrol stations should be required to demand identification from anybody who buys petrol using a portable container. Their details should be taken and remitted to a database just as is happening with so many other transactions in Kenya.

The Education ministry has announced the government will no longer provide any money for reconstruction of schools that have been burnt down by students. This now puts the onus on students to be vigilant and report their colleagues whom they suspect are up to no good.

It now also behoves parents to start having discussions with their children in secondary schools about the consequences of participating in arson in schools.

Until the masterminds and all student arsonists are arrested, tried and sentenced to hefty jail terms, this narrative will not change. Period! This crackdown must be the driver of dealing with this problem. All other initiatives are merely complementary.

For the sake of all those thousands of students who simply want to study and finish their education, and end up suffering because of the nefarious activities of their colleagues,  those responsible must take drastic action now. 

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