Strikes in secondary schools in Kenya are usually a recurring event. There are many causes of student unrest in Kenyan secondary schools. This article aims to present some of these reasons (and studies) for student strikes in Kenyan schools.
It is mostly the students in public secondary schools who often go on strike, and usually in the second term. Therefore, it is important to learn the underlying causes of student strikes in secondary schools and how to address them.
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Ms Florence Wanjiru carried out a survey of student strikes in selected secondary schools in Nairobi province which was published in 2002. The main purpose of her study was to investigate the underlying causes of student strikes in selected secondary schools in Nairobi Province. It also sought to establish some possible ways of curbing these student strikes.
The study also highlighted some of the effects of these student strikes as well as giving some policy recommendations which, if implemented would go a long way in curbing these strikes. The study attempted to answer research questions touching on areas such as:
- some of the major causes of student strikes in secondary schools;
- the part that guidance and counselling would play in curbing student strikes in secondary schools;
- the attitude of the headteachers on the rising cases of student strikes in the schools;
- the suggestions that the headteachers gave for curbing the rising cases of student strikes; and
- the effects of the student strike on the schools.
From the study findings, the researcher established that student strikes in secondary schools in Kenya, and in particular, in secondary schools in Nairobi Province is a living reality.
Top on the list of causes of these strikes is blamed on the school administration for failure to establish effective means of communication between themselves (the administrators) and the students as well as the teachers.
In many cases, headteachers are dictatorial using decrees to run schools while students are supposed to be passive recipients of these decrees. This, in many ways, acted as an obstacle in the solution of conflicts that lead to student strikes.
Drug abuse and addiction is also a common problem in both day and boarding schools – mainly in boys schools. Most schools are situated in estates (residential areas) making drugs readily available for students. A number of student strikes are attributed to drug abuse.
Lack of effective guidance and counselling services in schools is also singled out as a major cause of student strikes. These services are usually given at crisis times since the teachers are too busy trying to cover the syllabuses leaving little time for them.
Other major causes of student strikes include poor parenting, lack of essential facilities in schools, bad or poorly cooked food and political interference.
The main purpose of this study by Mr Francis M’itiiri (M’ is read as ‘Nto’) published in 2011 was to assess the causes of strikes in secondary schools in Meru North District. The study aimed at investigating the following;
- the history of students strikes in Kenya;
- the causes of strikes in secondary schools; and
- the role of school stakeholders in addressing the strikes.
Some of the research findings from the study about the causes of student strikes in secondary schools in Kenya were:
- poor public relations;
- poor school nutrition;
- peer pressure;
- drugs and abuse of substance;
- bad leadership in the management of the schools and in the community, including external and political interference;
- prevalent monotonous method of instructions; and
- examination phobia among the students.
Some other causes that can lead to student strikes in secondary schools in Kenya include the following :
- The viewpoint of the students. – What do students want to learn about? What do they have on their minds? A substantial number of secondary schools in Kenya ignore the desires of their students and their perspective. Students continue to have information shoved at them and are sometimes ignored when they want something different.
- Boredom. – imagine taking the same classes every day, or several classes, in the same way, every day for all the years that someone is a secondary school student? Isn’t this the same reason most adults hate professional development classes?
- The relevance of study material to real-life. – Why are we learning this? Perhaps you have also asked yourself this question. Some (or most) students may feel a disconnect between what they learn daily and their everyday lives or future aspirations.
- Lack of personal care. – this point ties to the one raised by Ms Nchogu on the relationship between teachers and students. A student may feel that the teacher does not know (or care) about them or about what they want in their future. If a student feels the teacher does not care for them as an individual or about their future hopes and dreams, then it leads to a lack of trust.
- Lack of a voice in decision making. – a lot of students may feel like those in the school administration do not listen to them or even willing to learn from them. Some schools do not involve students in decision making. They just tell them after making a decision and expect them to follow without question! Students without a voice are less likely to be motivated academically.
- Lastly, because they can! – when they stand up for something greater than themselves. When the students have a sense of purpose, a conviction and passion for something better, they are bound to make a difference. The students don’t always have to worry about being compliant.
- (you can find more of these points at edweek.org).
Ms Eva Nchogu, a secondary school teacher, says that, as per her informed observation, students, especially those in public schools strike for various reasons. These reasons are congestion, teacher-student relationships and corruption.
Congestion is on top of the list of the causes of secondary school strikes in Kenya and it has to do with personal space. She gives the example of a classroom that should host 45 students now hosting up to 55 and in some cases 70. In such a situation, personal space is non-existent. You can imagine the situation in the dorms!
Try taking someone’s personal space for a few minutes and they become uncomfortable. Do this for months on end; in the dorm, in the classroom, in the dining hall, in the field, and uncomfortable turns into combative.
On the relationship between teachers and students, Ms Nchogu says that teaching is a profession that requires a trusting relationship between teachers and students. Both need to feel they are in this together. The teacher is a friend. The teacher is a supporter.
In congested classrooms where one cannot even get to the back or middle of the classroom, the possibility of a teacher not knowing all their students leave alone build relationships is very high.
Add this to the constant berating of teachers by parents in the presence of children and you have a demoralised, defeated teacher, who within, loses interest in wanting to build that relationship.
On corruption as a cause of secondary school strikes in Kenya, Ms Nchogu stresses that if you want to study the extent and effects of corruption in Kenya, look no further than the education system.
Allegedly, for a school to get a Teacher’s Service Commission (TSC) slot, the school must bribe. Corruption infiltrates positions, transfers and sometimes interdictions. Most school boards feel that they own the schools.
In secondary schools, it is worse since principals rarely have leeway to do the right thing, especially if the right thing is interfering with the milk flow from the cash cow which is the school.
You find some school changing principals every year, yet the board members have sat there for over 20 years. Such members will seek to supply even mundane things like fruits and vegetables.
Often, these supplies are going to be either poor in quality or quantity or both.
Therefore, all these reasons eventually affect the students who develop dissatisfaction with the school once more.
Ms Nchogu goes on to say that some principals’ policy is “eat while you can”, so they will join in on the milking of the school resources by creating pseudo companies and will focus on how to milk.
In such systems, parents with truant children find refuge for their children because they can bribe authorities to look the other way.
Ministry officials are in the mix because they will give “directives” to certain principals to find space for more students from whose parents they may receive kitu kidogo (kickbacks). Some will even revoke suspensions.
Sometimes subordinate staff may be puppets to incite unrest to speed the ousting of a ‘foreign’ principal or one that is cutting off the ‘milk’ supply.
In some instances, principals and board members will underwrite the number of students in their schools to the ministry. Who knows where the monies reunited by the other unquoted numbers go to?
Other schools are extremely understaffed. “There is a five-stream school that I know of that once had one geography teacher,” says Ms Nchogu. “Do the math. How many students are idle during those lessons? An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” she concludes.
Ms Nchogu says that schools with favourable learning and living conditions will not have the problems mentioned above.
She says, “I promise you, the reasons students give (for strikes and unrests) are just symptoms. A scratch.”
“Once the living and learning conditions of our students improved (in 2017), they have not been on strike. They used to always quote the poor diet. The quality of their meals is so much better and there is no more congestion.”
“Children are no longer the main clients. They are a means to an end. (For example) ‘To get me awards and trips as a teacher, to get me a promotion, to put money in my pocket’ among other reasons. In such schools, the teacher is so afraid that they believe the best option is to teach and go home.”
“Sometimes, that is the only viable option especially when most teachers are doing 27 to 35 lessons a week!”