Are cartels to blame for school fires?

Langata High School on fire
Langata High School on fire

 The question remains unanswered as term three gets underway

The blame game on who was responsible for the over 100 secondary school fires has subsided, but life is yet to return to normal even after students resumed the third term.
Fingers are pointing left, right and centre as to who was responsible for torching of schools that saw destruction of property running into millions of shillings.

There are so many reasons that have been raised as to who could have been responsible for the arson. These include claims of examination cheating; students’ anxiety over mock exams; leadership wrangles and discontent among teachers over the school calendar.

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has been categorical and blames cartels around examination cheating as being unhappy with the strict measures that have been put in place to curb fraud which has been on the rise in the recent past.

Secondary school head teachers, who have been implicated, have defended themselves strongly saying there was no tangible evidence linking examination cartels and the fires.

“So far, there has been no evidence to tie exam scandals to fires unlike in the past when it was the tradition during mock examinations,” says John Awiti, chairman of Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association. He notes that in the past decade, fear of examinations had been the major cause of strikes in schools.

“Why is it that it is only dormitories being burnt? We strongly feel if it is about accountability and examinations, they would burn classes and administration blocks as well,” argues Awiti.


Students from Langata High School appear before Court of Law

On the other hand, Cyprian Nyamwamu, the director of Future of Kenya Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, says they have strong evidence linking examination cheating to torching of schools.

“We have concrete evidence of a well-organised cartel that is behind the unrest, and principals as well as school administration are working with them. We shall supply all the evidence,” said the director.

Nyamwamu says he is privy to information that some parents have been paying as much as KSh3,000, depending on the size of the school, towards levies meant to buy examinations.

The Education Cabinet Secretary has been on record stating that the reforms he initiated at the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) had disconnected the link between cartels and those who buy the examinations.

However, more fingers are pointing to the school boards. Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) Secretary General Akello Misori has challenged them to come clean on examination cheating rackets.

“I challenge them to tell us what they know about the examination cheating,” says Misori.
A cross section of students who were interviewed, confessed that the unrest had links to anxiety over mock examinations administered two weeks to the close of the second term.

“The spate of unrest in school is because of two things; first, the extension of the school term by two weeks has been a cause of concern; and secondly, the mock examinations which many students don’t or would like to skip,” says Justus Maina, a Form Four student at Aguthi Secondary School.

Teachers Service Commission, the employer of teachers in public schools, has directed all head teachers and their deputies to live in schools as a way towards addressing the issue of unrest in schools.

Clan politics and questions of who should sit in the school boards have been mentioned as being among other reasons for unrest as was suspected in some arson cases in Kisii County.

In one of the schools, a local politician is said to have been against the school board chairperson who had expressed interest to contest the parliamentary seat next year.

It also emerged that the principal of the same school is related to another area politician, an issue that rubbed the local politician the wrong way.

“The politician was against the board chairperson and school principal both of whom come from a clan different from that of the politician,” said a source familiar with Kisii politics.

Other possible causes of crisis in schools is the fear over school audit queries some of which was causing panic among institution management.

On assuming office, Matiang’i had accused some of the school auditors of colluding with school heads to doctor reports. He noted some schools did not utilise funds meant for textbooks and cited serious accountability gaps.

Matiang’i collapsed the old audit system and announced establishment of the Directorate of School Audit (DSA), which will examine books of accounts to identify expenditure leakages.

The decisions taken since Matiang’i took over the Ministry of Education have also been cited as possible causes of the fires. These include impromptu visits to schools which have sent chilling shivers among heads. Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, on the other hand, has questioned the visits and attempted to connect them to the fires.

Senate Education Committee chairperson, Daniel Karaba, also asked Matiang’i to explain whether his visits had angered teachers.

In his reaction, the Cabinet Secretary has maintained that it is his duty to visit all schools and he vowed not to relent.

Teachers who spoke said some of them have academic research papers to submit and examinations to write when schools close.

Faulting the term extension, Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary General, Wilson Sossion, said teachers ought to have been consulted before the decision was made.

“We are asking the Cabinet Secretary to shelve the issue of term dates and allow time for consultations before it is rolled out,” Sossion had said.

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