To raise children well, boarding school systems need an overhaul - Beaking Kenya News

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Thursday, 8 August 2019

To raise children well, boarding school systems need an overhaul

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In 2016, the Ministry of Education charged a special investigation team to get to the bottom of schools unrest.

The team chaired by former provincial commissioner Clare Omollo, reported that boarding schools were congested and expensive and that limited contact resulted in a huge disconnect between parents and their children.


Other effects the team found include increasing cases of teenage pregnancies, arson in schools, drug abuse, and general indiscipline.

It further stated that second term workloads and activities, particularly for candidates, left students feeling fatigued and overwhelmed.

The report pointed a finger at parents; alluding that the act of placing children as young as eight years in boarding school translates to absconding the weight of parental responsibility. Were they right?

In 2018, Education CS Amina Mohamed had parents in a tailspin when she announced a ban on visiting children in boarding school; indicating that the disconnect also stretches to the policymakers and the citizens they deem to serve.

In early 2017, an image of a student in crutches went viral.

In his hands, he displayed bloodied clothes; evidence of the brutal beating his peers had given him. His trauma was allegedly part of bullying that was sanctioned by the administration that was supposed to protect his rights as a child and as a human being.

The outrage that ensued led to the principal's early retirement. This happened at Alliance High School; one of the most revered learning institution in the minds of many Kenyans. If such brutality could happen at a national school, who knows what unimaginable horrors the children in rural Kenya's boarding schools have been, and are still enduring?

Prof Catherine Gachutha, a trained educator and child psychologist at the Kenya Institute of Business and Counselling Studies, traces the roots of boarding school to culture.

“People found it happening, and without questioning whether it is a system suited for their children, they just accepted it as the norm,” Prof Gachutha said.


In her opinion, primary school boarding when children are in their formative years should ideally be phased out. Children need a family setting in their formative years that cannot be duplicated by an educator.

“If a child is institutionalised in both primary and secondary school, how will he learn how to form and nurture healthy social and emotional ties with themselves and others? Remember that they are spending time with other children and teachers. A teacher is not a nurturer. You end up with situations where children are acting as parents to their peers, offering the emotional and social support they should be getting from home.”

However, she is quick to assert that there are special cases to consider, such as children whose parents or guardians are gone.

“We could have boarding schools for such children, but not with the current system we have. We need professional, caring environments where children can thrive while still learning.”

The social and psychological effects of parental separation extend into adulthood and manifest as violent or abusive people, emotional detachment, passive-aggressive behaviour.

“They never learned healthy expressions of love or trust nor how to form social and emotional bonds so how can they be expected to do so as adults?” She posed.

Are the children safe in boarding school? There is a systematic problem in our boarding schools as history seems to be repeating itself.

This year, 15-year-old Ebby Noel Samuels died under mysterious circumstances at Gatanga CCM Girls High School in Murang’a County.


Fellow students in her dormitory said she fell off her bed the night before her death but the matter was not brought to the attention of the administration since there were no injuries. The autopsy revealed she died from blunt head trauma.

In Embu, a teacher at Kang’aru boys caned a student to death. At a Nairobi School, a Form Two student was badly beaten by prefects to the point of requiring surgery, prompting the Ministry of Education to open investigations into horrifying claims of bullying at the school.

Professor Gachutha adds, “in most cases, when children experience any sort of abuse- be it sexual, psychological, or physical- they start learning to suppress emotions. Repressed emotions manifest as acting out, abandonment issues, outright violence, drug use and on the extreme end, depression.”

She further asserts that there are education and legal policies already in place to protect child welfare. The problem is enforcement. “We know there is something wrong, but we need systems where stakeholders can be held accountable so that the cycle can end.”

The National Crime Research Centre echoes Professor Gachutha’s sentiments about policies and recommendations already suggested or in place. In the Rapid Assessment of Arsons in Secondary Schools in Kenya dated July-August, 2016, they urged the Ministry of Education to among others, establish functional guidance and counselling departments in schools, and decongest the students’ second term workload.

We must move beyond lip service and completely overhaul the current boarding school model because as it stands we are raising a new generation of broken children.


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