Katheka Boy’s Secondary School principal in Kitui West, Jerome Kamuti, at the school’s dormitory that caught fire on May 28, 2017. Property worth more than Sh5 million was damaged when one of the school’s twin dormitory- Upendo/Umoja- caught fire during the early morning incident as the students were attending prayers in the school. Police have swag into investigating the cause of the fire. However, Kamuti said initial investigations pointed to an electric fault. [Paul Mutua, Standard]
A Government report has exposed disturbing levels of laxity among school head teachers in securing their institutions and students.
It has emerged lack of basic safety measures in many public schools left them vulnerable to insecurity and put thousands of children’s lives at risk.
A Ministry of Education special investigation team report reveals lack of effective supervision of school personnel, recruitment of overage members of staff and wastage of State resources in school projects.
Such is the level of laxity that some school administrators could not even account for items lost to arson.
Security guards were also not vetted before recruitment and some were ignorant and incompetent in matters of safety and security. A considerable number of them were over-age.
“It was further established that some schools retained security guards beyond the mandatory retirement age. One school had a 70 years old guard,” reads the report.
It also emerged that while most schools had employed security guards specifically to keep watch over students at night, some lacked specific job descriptions.
“In one school, grounds men doubled up as watchmen, thus compromising the security of the schools,” says the probe report.
More shocking is failure by some schools to keep simple records such as visitors coming in and out of the institutions.
“Registers were either not available at the gates or not updated at the time of the investigations,” the investigation team noted.
The team also established that most schools did not even have secure perimeter fences.
“Some had incomplete fences, others had fenced various isolated areas within the school compound while others had used substandard fencing materials,” states the report.
The report says that such omissions and lack of secure gates in some schools posed major security risks.
“The foregoing circumstances led to lapses in security such that in some cases, there was no knowledge of who torched the facilities,” reads the report.
Another shocking revelation is a case where principals blamed absent, suspended or former students for the arson saying they had sneaked in through the fence.
“In one such school, the suspected students were actually absent from school as they had been suspended.”
The report reveals that in some cases, students took advantage of the lapses in security to smuggle in fuel used to torch the dormitories.
The team further discovered that only a few schools had firefighting equipment at the time of the unrest.
“Some had empty fire extinguisher cans while others were placed in inappropriate places where they were of no use during any fire emergency,” says report.
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In some cases, school administrations only purchased fire extinguishers after the fire incidents.
“In most schools visited, there were no fire assembly points or evidence that fire drills had ever been undertaken.”
The report describes last year’s schools fires as unprecedented.
A total of 483 incidents of student unrest were reported last year. Among these, fire cases were 239.
In second term alone, the incidents were 429. Of these, 219 were fires and 210 were other forms of unrest.
The Clare Omolo report presented to Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i revealed that a majority of the schools that experienced unrest were boarding schools, followed by mixed/day boarding and day schools in that order.
The report reveals that in some cases, the principals did not even have an understanding of a fire drill.
“The evidence of unpreparedness could have been a reason for the students’ use of arson to express their grievances and to force the administration to allow them to go home. This situation was found to be risky to the lives of students in the event of a fire outbreak,” says report.
The report further states that in some schools, there was a huge disparity between students’ working areas, staff rooms and administration blocks especially in boys’ schools.
“Whereas the conditions of the students’ operational areas were below standards, uninviting and unfriendly, the administration offices were state-of-the-art structures,” the investigators said.