Before they bite, they bark. Before they hit you, they hit near you. Is it an act of violence or a cry for help?

Over the last couple of weeks the story of the day in Kenya from TVs to daily journals has been cases of fires in high schools. But really, what causes these fires and what is the solution?

You can not solve a problem that you can not see and if it does not have a solution then it is not a problem. Fires in schools is a problem, because it has a solution.

What causes conflicts? Poor communication, needs not met, prejudice, intolerance, ignorance, lack of empathy, making assumptions, poor working conditions, among many others. Fires in schools is not a dispute between teachers and students.

Broken education system, overwhelmed societal expectations and failed discipline complex are the main causes of school fires.

Broken education system. 100% transition was introduced few years ago. The main reason was to ensure every pupil finishing class eight had a chance to join high school so that they all had access to basic education. The idea was noble. While the intention of having every school-going child in school is honourable and human right, the approach is haphazard and counterproductive.

As of 2020 January, Kenya had roughly 32,344 primary schools and 10,463 secondary schools.

Students from 32,000 schools are getting absorbed in 10,000 schools. Secondary schools do not have necessary infrastructure and personnel, including teachers, classrooms and learning materials.

Somebody said that we would rather have kids learning under the tree than have the same kids sniffing glue on the streets. Am not supporting drug abuse nor mental unhealthiness but even if the kids were studying under the tree there is no teacher to teach them and even if there were teachers there would be no learning materials.

100% transition has caused congestion. It’s the congestion that causes fires. Classrooms, laboratories, dining halls, dormitories and washrooms are all inadequate. They are congested. Congested area is a poor working environment.

I will not mention names here but if you are so keen you will realise that most of the schools that have been burnt this year have been big schools either national schools or extra county schools with very high populations. How on earth would an academic giant, a respected school getting means of 9.7 burn dormitory twice in three weeks?

Teachers are professionals who know their work. But how can you teach a class of 80 students?

I have had the privilege of delivering my academic mentorship talk in over 70 national schools and over 200 extra county secondary schools. I have seen students learning under tents in some cases, whenever it rains, it pours on them. I have seen schools where double-deckers are now converted to triple-bunk beds.

A school which had 700 students four years ago is now having 1300 students with the same number of classrooms, dormitories and a few more teachers. The students, the teachers and non teaching staff are all struggling to cope up with this scenario. Of course the government doesn’t disburse the subsidy on time. The same government is telling principals not to send kids home for school fees. How does a school run without money? The students end up being fed sub-standard food at some times.

All these causes fires. The students know that when there is a fire incident they will go home. At home they will not sleep on the third bunk, at home they won’t be congested to watch a movie, at home they won’t stay in the queue for 20 minutes to serve lunch, at home they won’t study under a tent. The kids want home because the environment at school is not conducive. And this is not the principal’s fault.

Overwhelmed societal expectations. I did not get the chance to study in a national school but we all know that in most cases when kids go to national schools they are told by the society to work hard, never give up, get an A plain and nothing less, go to a good university then do either Engineering, Law or Medicine. Kids are pressured to do highly well. This is working against schools. Why would bright candidates of a renowned national school say that they do not want to do a mock exam? They are pressured to pass and if they do not meet the required mean in the mock exams they are mocked. They develop stress when they look at the students who cleared high school with As in KCSE then went to campus but right now they are at rural home unemployed. They get depressed when they think of their uncles who got B+ in KCSE but right now is riding bodaboda. They think of that student who was in the same secondary school three years ago and got an A- but right now is a campus drug addict. They think of what they saw on the news where a graduate was taking to the streets with placards asking for people to help her get a job despite pursuing a good engineering course in campus. Must I really get an A to become successful in life? Why am I pressured? Do not pressure the students. Let them do their best and then see what the future holds for them.

Failed discipline complex. Discipline doesn’t take away freedom, discipline brings freedom. You take the train off the rails, it’s free but where does it go? The current generation is the ‘yes generation’ while our old generation is the ‘no generation.’ During our times a no from a parent meant no. You could even see from the eyes. With the current generation of teenagers if you tell a kid no, they ask you why? When you explain the why they again ask why? And then why? Why? The society has become mean. During our times anyone could discipline you even on the road. These days if you discipline someone’s child you’ll see police land rover with P3 knocking on your door the next day. Parents will always support their kids even if the kids have done a mistake. ‘I know my boy, my boy can not do that,’ you’ll hear them shouting in the principal’s office. What do you know about your boy? Have you even gone through his Google search history? Do you know the age that he broke his virginity? Do you know what he watches when you’re asleep? He’s a church boy but are you aware that he’s addicted to pornography? You know nothing about your boy. Parenting is not a part time job, it’s a full time occupation. You can’t be a perfect parent but you can be a good dad, a role model to your daughter and a mentor to your boy. Don’t drink alcohol infront of your girl, don’t send your boy to buy you ciggarette. You are not a failed parent, you are just an absent parent. Your presence is key to your kid’s discipline and moral upbringing.

Principals, keep the students busy, especially over the weekends. Two thirds of all fires happen on Friday evenings, Saturday evenings and Sunday evenings. Organise small championships and competitions both indoor and outdoor. Award the winners. Allow them to choose their leaders. Let the students feel special. Make games compulsory, let them forget about class congestion for a minute. Bring speakers to address the students frequently. That positive energy is important as it keeps them thinking about school. Let them know that passing is important but failing to pass is not a jail sentence, allow them to focus on progress.

It’s hard to fit in the shoes of a principal. These men and women go through alot. They are caught in the cold war between TSC and MOE. TSC is the one who hires and fires, but it is the MOE that manages the education provided. The government should build more classrooms to cater for the needs of 100% transition. The teachers should be allowed to discipline the students. The principals should be empowered to empower the students. The students should understand that they are the masters of their fates, captains of their souls, owners of their futures, drawers of their curves and managers of their decisions. They should know that there is a fine line between enjoying the teenage and destroying the future.

Let’s take collective responsibility. This is a discussion that needs sobriety.

So, is it an act of violence or a cry for help?


Vidambu is an Academic Mentor with over 1500 high schools in Kenya running his academic programs.
His Academic Mentorship Programs revolve around Syllabus Coverage Techniques, Syllabus Understanding Strategies, Content Mastery, Content Retention, Content Delivery, Proper Revision Techniques, Time Management Strategies, Working Timetable, Study Book, Classroom/Staffroom Intercordination, Academic Cultures, Study Habits, among other great topics.
He is a Trainer of Principals during KESSHA meetings and teachers.
He is the President of Global Student Mentorship Foundation, Author, and a Lecturer.
To Have Vidambu launch their Academic Mentorship Programs in your school and be a Class Mentor kindly call/text/whatsapp 0743480435 (Sam Vidambu).
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Kindly Forward This Article To Whatsapp Groups of the Teachers, Guidance and Counselling Teachers, Parents and All The Principals you know.
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You Are Blessed.

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