Thursday, September 07, 2017

Mr Matiang'i must go (Part 3)

Sometimes I leave home at extremely unsociable hours, usually around 6:00 a.m. By that unholy hour, some of the most unfortunate humans alive have been awake for two hours -- and are on their way to school. Taking the Buru Buru Uchumi Supermarket as the centre of an uneven circle, there are at least 10 state-funded primary schools within a radius of 3 kilometres and, perhaps, half a dozen private ones, yet there are children being ferried to the extreme ends of Nairobi by parents and school vans in the wee hours of the day. This unhealthy practice is presumed to end when these children cram their way into "good" schools such as Moi Girls and Alliance High. "Presumed" because in the past six moths, Alliance High has been revealed to be an institution where the adults oversee the Kenyan version of the Hunger Games while Moi Girls' adults are responsible for the deaths of some of the girls in their charge.

From what we have discovered of residential schools that are not Saint Andrews Turi, boarding schools in Kenya hold more children than they are designed to hold. Children are sleeping in triple-deck bunk beds, in overcrowded dormitories with poor ventilation and almost no safety features: fire-fighting equipment, fire alarms, outward-opening doors, non-burglar-proofed outward-opening windows or emergency independently-powered lighting systems. Classrooms are similarly inadequate; I am still not sure how a teacher can effectively teach a room of seventy children in a class designed to hold thirty and whose ventilation and lighting hasn't been adjusted to accommodate the increased number of hormonal juveniles.

It is also apparent that apart from the built environment being inadequate, the overall schools' footprints have shrunk over the past decade. It is extremely odd that the girls of Saint George's conduct part of their physical training by jogging round the school's perimeter -- from outside the school. Young girls are compelled to conduct physical exercises by jogging in and out of traffic. And they are not the only ones. All over the country, schools have lost portions of their land to land-grabbers and children now make do with physical exercise outside the school boundaries, endangering their physical well-being if not their lives. Mr Matiang'i and his underlings know this. Mr Matiang'i and his underlings have chosen to do nothing about it. Mr Matiang'i, his underlings and schools' administrators have more important fishes to fry -- the management of national exams and the cost-savings exercises that are the mother's milk of all managerialists like Mr Matiang'i and his underlings.

The Ministry of Education, Mr Matiang'i and his predecessors, and schools' administrators, with the unwitting -- and sometimes, knowing -- collaboration of parents, are waging a war  of attrition against children. "Discipline", a catchall word, is deployed to attempt to control children at all costs. A decade after corporal punishment was outlawed -- outlawed because it became an excuse for the brutal torture of our children -- education sector administrators and school heads have found other ways of abusing children in their charge. Insanely unhealthy boarding arrangements are just the tip of the iceberg. Even holidays are no longer sacred: mile-high piles of homework and holiday reading are now routine. The relentless pressure for children to "do well" in their exams by limiting the amount of time they have to play or sleep is the replacement for corporal punishment that is now leading to extreme mental distress among children.

Of the two most prominent events that have adversely affected our children in six months -- the torture at Alliance and the fire at Moi Girls -- Mr Matiang'i has sided with the schools' managers. Neither of them has been charged with negligence when it came to the injuries and deaths that their actions led to. From the moment Mr Matiang'i was appointed education minister, he has almost always sided with schools' managers -- almost always at the expense of the welfare of learners. It is no longer tenable that he should be Kenya's topmost education bureaucrat. At every turn -- especially whenever there has been a school fire -- Mr Matiang'i has sought ever more creative ways to control children and failed to offer effective solutions to make their school lives better. Mr Matiang'i does not care about their welfare. Mr Matiang'i is, after all, a manager.

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