Over a hundred government secondary schools in Kenya have been set on fire this year, with varying reports as to the reasons behind the wave of arson incidents. Some schools have had to shut down completely, meaning that more than 6,000 students have been sent home.
The origin of the problem is attached to an atmosphere of tension within the Kenyan education system that has been heightened by recent government measures. Reforms have shortened the school holiday by two weeks, with students not due to break up until 12 August.
According to a BBC report, arsonists who were officially interviewed, but refused to be named, said they had met pupils from different schools who were already on holiday because their school had been burned down. The pupils, who have told the police they were responsible for the fire at Tabaka High School, said that the stress of their heavy workload at school drove them to burn their own school down in the hope that they would get time off.
Adding to the tension is the feeling that teachers also have too heavy a workload, as described by Akello Misori from the Kenya Union of Post Primary Teachers:
“One thing which is very unfortunate is that teachers are overwhelmed by the numbers of pupils.. The guidance and counselling departments of the schools are also under pressure, because the teachers who handle these types of responsibilities have a lot of work on their hands.”
Meanwhile, Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has attributed the arson attacks on schools to the anger of students at not being able to illegally access national examination papers.
As reported by All Africa, Dr. Matiang’i has said that that students who paid for these illegal papers were frustrated at not having received them after the government dismantled the cartels that used to distribute them at the Kenya National Examinations Council.
Dr. Matiang’i said:
“Students who have been arrested and are facing charges have told police that they were protesting because they had paid for the papers but they have not received them. They said they had been promised they would get samples towards the end of the second term but that has not been the case.”
The minister, however, has said that all the students involved in the unrest had their own peculiar reasons for burning dormitories, laboratories and libraries. Despite this, he sees the dismantling of the examination cartels as the key trigger for the school burnings.
Some of the most recent fires were in St. Stephen school in Narok and Kiini Girls High school in Kirinyaga. The Star reports that two students from St. Stephen school were taken to Narok county hospital last week after a dormitory was set ablaze by known perpetrators.
Meanwhile, according to StandardMedia reports, the Kenyan government is contemplating introducing new measures to contain the unrest. Dr. Matiang’I has announced that the heads of 15 secondary schools are being investigated and could be prosecuted in connection to the arson incidents.
However, a preliminary report prepared by the ministry has indicated that the problem is bigger than this, as 68 schools have been affected across 15 counties. Education Secretary Matiang’i has also been put under pressure by MPs while discussing the issue in Parliament, with MP Chris Wamalwa going so far as to claim, “Matiang’i is sleeping on the job. We have only known him for roadside pronouncements pertaining the running of schools.”