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School Unrest Worries Kenya's Parents, Teachers - 2001-08-01


Many parents in Kenya are growing increasingly worried by a wave of unrest sweeping the country's schools. President Daniel Arap Moi says opposition politicians are responsible for much of the unrest. But others believe the problem runs much deeper.

More than 30 secondary schools are currently closed in Kenya, following a series of riots, strikes and arson attacks. In an incident in March, 67 boys died when their dormitory was set on fire, apparently by other students.

Last week, 700 girls from Nairobi's Alliance High School, one of the top schools in the country, marched through the streets of the capital to protest the deteriorating situation in the schools.

The students' complaints focus on harsh living conditions and bad administration. Schools budgets are declining and corruption is widespread. Admission often depends on parents' connections rather than a pupil's merit.

President Moi's response to the student unrest is to blame it on Kenya's opposition parties, which he says encourage civil disobedience. But other analysts have different explanations.

Last year, Kenya banned corporal punishment in its schools, and some head teachers say the ban has made it impossible to control unruly students.

But Frank Njenga, a psychiatrist in Nairobi, says tougher discipline in the schools will not end the violence. He says all aspects of life in Kenya are touched by violence, and until something is done to end the violence in Kenyan society, the violence in the schools will likely continue. "I don't think discipline measures in schools by themselves is the total explanation," Mr. Njenga says. "I think a thoroughgoing introspection by all of us as a society is the beginning of it. But I think the broader issues, including issues of corruption and civil disorder and police violence and so on are all part and parcel of one big whole. And I think it's too simplistic to just say let's cane them and they'll be all right. It's not true at all."

Some observers are saying that it is time for the Kenyan government to show greater concern for what is happening in the schools, starting with the permanent secretary in the ministry of education, Japheth Kiptoon. Mr. Kiptoon has made it clear that student unrest is not one of his priorities. He recently said that since Kenya has some 3,000 secondary schools, student unrest in 30 of them is not a matter that is going to make him lose sleep.

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