An estimated 35 schools across Kenya have been set on fire in the last month, forcing many to shut down. Authorities say the fires are being set by students, and have warned that any student caught in an act of arson will be locked out of the education system.
The wave of arson began about a month ago and has gotten increasingly worse. On Sunday alone, five schools were burned.
In one incident, a girls’ boarding school in Nairobi caught fire in the middle of the night. Sixty-three students needed medical attention.
The Kenyan government has issued a strong warning against students who are burning schools, and authorities are making arrests.
On Tuesday, six students were arrested, following the burning of a high school in Nyeri county, in western Kenya. A total of 11 were arraigned in court on charges of attempted arson.
Visiting a school in eastern Kenya, Education Minister George Magoha said the parents and students would rebuild the affected schools. He said those found to have participated in the arson will be banned from attending public schools.
“Anybody who is planning to burn the building, just remember that if you are caught, you are not going to go to any other school, definitely not a public school in this country. You will go back and ensure your parents contribute to the rebuilding of the school that you have burnt,” Magoha said.
Officials are blaming drug abuse, stress, curriculum overload and poor student-teacher relations for the unrest.
Sam Ndunda, secretary-general of the Kenya National Association of Parents, said teachers are not properly dealing with discipline cases.
“There are a number of students who have already been sent out of school in the form of suspension. These students have been kept out of school for quite a long time. These students who are out there feel so bitter that our colleagues in the school are learning and whereas we are given a definite suspension so that they can feel the pinch we are feeling, then they come up and organize for the fires,” Ndunda said.
Tomkins Baraza, a boarding school teacher, said the school calendar is short and a lot of learning is expected from the students which have made some unhappy with their studies.
“These learners may fear exams and remember the second term is when most of the schools the students sit for mock exams. Also, the pressure which is mounted on those learners. They are supposed to cover a wide syllabus within the shortest time possible, so maybe learners feel that there is a lot of academic work which is being pushed on their side,” Baraza said.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Kenya in March 2020, schools were closed for several months, until late last year.
The education systems in the country have been putting more pressure on teachers and students to recover the time lost.
Some experts are pushing for open forums in schools, where teachers and students can discuss their issues, before students feel the need to take drastic and destructive measures.