Kids learn to burn schools from parents- Boniface Mwangi

Burning dormitory at St Paul Gathuki ini Boys High School in Murang’a [Photo: Bonface Gikadi]

Candidates sitting for their KCSE exams this year were in lower primary school when the 2007-08 Kenya post-election violence occurred.

Some, especially in Nyanza where 10 schools have been closed so far because of the unrest, witnessed the burning, looting and killings that happened after the elections. And they know that no one got jailed for visiting murder, rape and destruction of poverty against fellow citizens. 

They say monkey see, monkey do.  These children have grown up knowing that the only way the government pays attention is when they burn and destroy things. The children are crying for attention. They want to be heard. The question is, are we listening?

When l visited Moi Girls after the fire that claimed the lives of 10 students, l walked around the dormitory where the children had been packed like sardines. For the girls to access their beds, they had to crawl over the beds of their schoolmates. The toilets were in a mess and the girls had to wear gumboots when going to use the bathroom. In that entire mess, and even after the death of 10 precious souls, the ministry of education did not take any action, or even punish the Principal for negligence or abdication of duty.

Boarding schools are severely overcrowded, our children poorly supervised. Drugs are sold in school, dormitories are shabby, sexual molestation and bullying are rampant, the food is bad, teachers are over-stretched, and the students feel like they are in prison. These are the reasons why they’re burning the school prisons. No one burns anything they love. They hate their schools and that’s why they’re burning them.

It is simplistic to say that our children are burning schools because they’re not allowed to cheat in exams. But in any case, when did it become okay for a child to cheat? It’s because we, their parents and teachers, have taught them that the process isn’t important; that what matters is results.  We, the parents, pay teachers to give our children good grades and facilitate exam cheating. We’re morally corrupt. In our workplaces, we steal tissue, printing paper, fuel and even food. We readily part with bribes. We are violent and like to beat up our lovers.

We face humiliation every day from our superiors, our bosses and the government. Then when we go home like the cowards we are and terrorise our spouses and children. A terrorised child, a child who doesn’t receive enough love and affirmation at home, will terrorise the society. Our children are brought up by house -helps. Parents are busy at work, and when they come home they switch on the TV, spending little or no time at all with them.  On weekends, since our estates and neighbourhoods have become concrete jungles, we take our children to restaurants and proceed to drink away for hours as they jump around on bouncing castles. 

We have refused to reclaim the public parks that were grabbed by well-connected individuals.  Majority of Kenyan parents don’t read, so they cannot pass on this habit to their kids. Nairobi, a city of 5 million people, has only two decent bookshops, which is enough proof that Kenyans only read to pass exams.

As parents, we have failed to teach our children good values. We expect teachers, media, pastors and Imams to do that. They won’t, though, because even they have been corrupted. So, in this corrupt nation, where we vote tribal, have very shallow thinking, our children have also become corrupt. Our children reflect our values as a nation. They’re our mirror image.

Don’t be surprised if the children don’t take Education CS Amina Mohamed’s threats seriously. After all she serves in Cabinet with a class 7 drop-out and deals with big people in government who have gotten away with worse crimes than burning down a school.


— The writer is an award winning photojournalist and human rights activist