Teacher caning student [Courtesy]

A grainy video clip doing the rounds on social media shows a student being manhandled by a group of teachers.

What is administered to him is not the customary six of the best on his backside but a beating that borders on assault and battery; the sort that is aptly described in Kiswahili as “kichapo ya mbwa”.

Yet many Kenyans, including a CS, would have the nation believe that this sort of corporal punishment is the panacea for the conflagration of school buildings currently spreading around the country like wildfire! 

We would be remiss not to condemn the destruction of our educational institutions at the hands of arsonists. Indeed, there can be no justification in the destruction of properties funded and run at taxpayer’s expense. It is puerile, contemptible and deserving of punishment not only within the school setting, but in courts of law for what are clearly criminal acts. And with more than 40 schools burning in less than three months, this has become a hot-button issue that demands immediate resolution. 

However, suggesting the return of corporal punishment in schools is a knee-jerk reaction that doesn’t get to the root of the matter. It does not address the burning issues that have contributed to these infernos.

For starters, one notices that these fire incidents are all in public schools. Second, they appear targeted at dormitories and mercifully, there had been no loss of life. 

Which leads one to the unfortunate conclusion that students are pointedly calling attention on their boarding facilities. At the best of times, these facilities are spartan and devoid of the creature comforts that would make the boarding school experience pleasantly memorable. But these are hardly good times and for the most part, schools conditions are Hobbesian.

It has not helped that there has been a hasty policy to ensure 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary school. This has been without a corresponding increase in boarding and other facilities.

The overly crowded conditions are further exacerbated by an inordinately long school calendar that excludes stress busters like sports, drama, music and other extra-curricular activities.

Many public schools have no avenues for students to air their grievances. They are still stuck in a time warp where “children are there to be seen and not heard”. It becomes a tall order to expect students who have been dehumanised to behave in a rational manner. And the biggest fallacy of our times is to expect children to put up with unwarranted hardships just because their parents did. Just as it is ridiculous to imagine  students attending school without shoes, it is risible that weevil-laden food, poor sanitation and cramped gulags should be the lot of present day learners.

Trying to resolve systemic failures through corporal punishment is archaic retrogressive and only serves to fan the smouldering embers of resentment from a generation that is crying out to be listened to. This is a cohort that no longer has the benefit of sound guidance from parents, close relatives, teachers and the wider community. They instead draw comfort from their peers and inure themselves from physical and mental suffering through vices like the imbibing of hard drugs. What effect does caning then have on a student whose brain is already addled by hard drugs?

Rapidly changing times require relevant solutions. Caning and other quick-fire  solutions given by government functionaries out of touch with the times.

Long-term interventions are needful that include major investment in public school. One such investment entails reducing the student-teacher ratio from the current unacceptable 1:100 to 1.20. This is more in line which present international best practices. And it is important because teachers step in where many parents are unable to.

Then again, employers of teachers need to be sensitive to the plight of their staff. Arbitrary transfers of those who question policies and the subjecting of teachers to expensive in-service courses is detrimental to their morale.

Another intervention is a deliberate policy that should see the building of more public schools to take in the huge numbers occasioned by the 100 per cent transition. Focus here should be on day schools. In many developed countries, learners are not permitted in schools outside of a 3km radius from their homes.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst