On Sunday night, a scene that is becoming all too familiar now played out at Ikuu Boys Secondary School in Tharaka-Nithi County.
Learners at the school became restive and chased away the principal, Joseph Mbae, together with some teachers and guards who tried to calm them down.
Their grievance was that prefects have been given too much power, were too strict, had been given authority to punish them and that the administration believed everything they reported.
Mr Mbae called the police to help stop the rampage. When they were delayed, he drove to the station to pick them up but by the time they arrived at the school, four dormitories had gone up in smoke.
The following morning, the learners walked out of school and went home.
A disturbing trend is spreading across schools where learners are increasingly seizing control from authorities and dictating how schools are run, including deciding whether to stay at school or go home.
A spot check by Nation indicates that many principals have at one time or another been held at ransom by some rogue learners who insist on having their way, failing which they cause massive damage to school property.
Learners from various schools have in the recent past forced the administration to accede to their demands regarding issues like the school time-table, entertainment, diet, transfer of teachers, calendar and even when or whether to sit examinations.
Principals caught between acquiescing to the learners’ demands and maintaining order and discipline have had sleepless nights, even as stakeholders in education give diverse reasons and proposed varied solutions.
At Milo Boys Secondary School in Bungoma County, learners forced the administration to administer the end-of-term examinations on Saturday, ahead of schedule, so that they could close early. However, even with the new plan, they refused to sit the examinations and went home on Sunday.
The principal of Upper Hill School in Nairobi County, Masaku Muiya, was last week forced to release some learners who demanded to start their holiday early.
“Your son has been released from the school, after demanding to go home for the December holiday before the recommended time of closing. Kindly note each student was given an option of either going home or remaining in school. It will be communicated to you when he is supposed to report back,” Mr Muiya’s letter reads.
In Nyeri County, students from a number of schools have demanded to be allowed to go home while others have simply walked out of the institutions.
Kangubiri Girls High school students walked out after destroying the school food store while those in Kihatha, Dedan Kimathi High School and Dr Kamundia Girls Secondary school were released after they demanded to go home.
During a virtual meeting for Utumishi Academy in Nakuru County, parents were informed that learners are now using the parents association to air their grievances. Among the issues they raised was that they would not sit the examinations as scheduled, they would not eat githeri and that entertainment should be changed from Saturday afternoon to Saturday night.
The boys also requested that during Christmas break, they should not be given any assignment to give them time to relax.
A principal of a school in Samburu County told Nation that since last week, the students’ behaviour had changed and many of them were reluctant to attend classes.
“I have asked teachers to be more vigilant and keep a close eye on the students as many of them clearly do not want to be in school. They say they are excited about the schools closure,” he said.
The principal however maintained that even though the students had completed their examinations, the school would close next week as scheduled.
At Lubinu Boys Secondary in Kakamega County, learners forced the management to release them early for half term. A board member, Johannes Weta, said the learners had asked to be sent home for school fees. He said through the school complaints boxes, some of the students had complained about the quality of meals and demanded to be served meat four times in a week.
Form Four students
“They had threatened that if they were kept in school against their will, they would do something that we would live to regret,” said Mr Weta.
At Ototo Secondary School in Ndhiwa Sub-county, students were told to go home and the school closed indefinitely after Form Four students went on the rampage during examinations last week.
“They became rowdy and stepped out of the classroom leaving the examination papers behind. They continued causing damage that began the previous night,” said Koguta Location chief, George Onyango.
Tension had started building up the previous day when a group of learners allegedly ganged up to protect their colleague from being punished by a teacher. The learner declined to go to the office where he had been summoned but instead left the school and went home.
Igembe Central Sub-county Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association vice chairman, Moshe Musyoka, said the recent delocalisation of principals policy and smuggled mobile phones have contributed to the spate of unrest in schools.
“Instead of managing the pressure in school, principals are managing pressure coming from outside and thus there is a gap of administration. When one school has a challenge, they communicate very fast with other schools. That is why you find many national schools experiencing these problems,” he said.
Dr Wanjohi Githinji, an educationist, laid the blame on everyone, from the Ministry of Education to the parents whom he accused of surrendering their responsibilities to the school administrations.
“The school administrations also do not have control and when they try, the students threaten to cause chaos and destroy school property which makes them surrender to their demands,” he said.
“We have allowed too much space for the students to do as they wish. It is time we put our foot on the ground in matters of discipline. This does not mean reintroducing the cane but finding other means. We will be raising a difficult generation later in university and the workplace who believe they can get whatever they want any time,” he said.