Secondary school heads have said they lack support from parents and the government in dealing with school fires.
The principals said quality assurance officers only seek to address the situation after incidents have occurred.
Head teachers who spoke to the Saturday Nation in the wake of the recent fire disasters pointed an accusing finger at the government, saying it is reactive and there are many policy gaps that need to be addressed.
“We have to address the issue of safety in totality and not just look at dormitories alone. We have indiscipline and other issues,” a principal said.
Policy gaps have been identified in the handling of students in boarding schools, management of the institutions, indiscipline and motivation of those tasked with management of learners.
Training of teachers also needs to factor in issues such as how to handle students and boarding school management.
Other factors that have been pointed out are lack of parental guidance, inadequate life skills among students, peer pressure and incitement.
“We need to relook at the syllabus in universities and training colleges once again. Teachers are now more focused on appraisal and teaching and parents do not want to play their roles,” another principal said.
Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association chairman Kahi Indimuli acknowledged the concerns raised by his members, saying all stakeholders have to come together and get a solution to the crisis.
“There is need for principals to review the disaster preparedness manual for schools with a view to auditing it to hasten the implementation of safety guidelines contained in it,” Mr Indimuli said.
He called for proper sensitisation of principals and school management boards as well as provision of resources in implementation of safety measures.
“We also have to change the way quality assurance officers deal with principals on issues of compliance so that they offer advise and not rush to schools to find faults after occurrence of disasters,” said the chairman.
He notes that implementing the guidelines bear a cost implication that most schools might not manage.
“Most schools are ill-prepared to respond to disasters but no principal would wish to see students burn to death while in school,” he added.
The manual requires schools to procure fire fighting equipment, conduct drills in schools and put wide windows in the dormitories among other safety measures.
He said it is difficult for most schools to set up disaster and rescue teams.
“To have disaster experts stationed in schools and acquiring a fire fighter for a school comes with a cost, which schools can’t manage.
“An audit of the manual will enable us get a budget for funding by the government and other stakeholders,” he said.
Mr Indimuli noted that putting wide windows in dormitories would open students to insecurity as anyone could use the windows to gain access into the dormitories.
Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers chairman Omboko Milemba said the government has not been supportive to school heads in ensuring that the guidelines are implemented.
“Removing grills in dormitories and having fire extinguishers and smoke detectors requires money. It has not been budgeted by the ministry,” he said.
Mr Milemba said there is a policy gap and has asked Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i not to just visit schools when there are fires but to present to Parliament a budget to help restructure boarding schools.
“Maintenance of discipline is a task of both the parents and teachers.
“At the moment teachers are so limited on what they can act when it comes to discipline,” he said.
He said the ministry has made disciplining students so hard that teachers and board of management are so helpless.
Last year, there were a total of 483 incidents of unrest.