Last week Jean Baptiste Gasoma, a teacher of chemistry at College St Andre in Nyamirambo, started his day normally. As a routine he proceeded to the laboratory to prepare for the day’s lesson just before the morning assembly.
Little did he know that one of his students was coming to school with a completely different agenda to harm him. The 17-year-old student, walked into the school with other students but headed straight to the laboratory. Gasoma, however, continued with his preparations. He then bent to pick something and in the process narrowly survived death as his student hit him hard with a machete on the left side of his head. Gasoma was badly injured. This story left the whole country in shock and generated a lot of debate and questions from the public. One of those questions is: How safe are teachers and learners at school?
“I was overwhelmed by the incident that day. Every day when I send my daughter to school, my worry is school security. Students are supposed to be in school studying not worrying about safety,” says Dative Uwimana, a parent in Kigali.
Uwimana, however, points out that security measures in many schools have been worsening.
“It is easy to access most of the schools without much scrutiny. Close to my home, there is a school where students come in at whatever time they want and no one checks them at the gate as long as they are putting on school uniform,” she explains.
Eugene Ndayisenga, a businessman in Nyamirambo, also says checkpoints in schools are just a formality. “The policy is there. After being checked, visitors are supposed to sign in a book and then surrender their identity cards but no one enforces that,” Ndayisenga says. He warns that although this habit of not checking starts slowly with the students, eventually strangers also take advantage of the security laxity.
“Most of the time, the doors remain open and visitors, especially those familiar with the students walk in straight into school premises,” Ndayisenga explains.
This kind of negligence has cost learners and teachers in developed countries their lives. For instance in the US, a study on gun violence in schools and colleges last year established that there were over 13 school shootings recorded in the first six weeks of 2014.
The incident at College St Andre has brought the capabilities of security personnel in schools into question but Emmanuel Nkurunziza, a security guard in town, believes they are not entirely to blame. “Most schools have a main gate but learners sometimes jump over the fence and smuggle in anything — gadgets, drugs or alcohol,” he argues.
Government officials speak out
Gerald Rutali, the inspector of Schools and head of education quality and standards department at Rwanda Education Board, says although possession of weapons such as machetes is prohibited in all schools, there is a lesson to learn from the incident.
“We went there shortly after the incident took place, it was just luck that the teacher did not die. It is a big lesson to us,” Rutali says.
Although investigations into the girl’s mental state are still ongoing, Rutali does not rule out any mental disturbances with the student. “You could not imagine how a student enters school with an intention of committing violence. Probably she had ongoing mental problems,” he adds.
Similarly, Damien Ntaganzwa, the deputy director general in charge of teacher training and development at REB, is also doubtful of the mental stability of the offender. “I would suppose the girl had problems in her mind. She has in the past done exams for other classes including national exams at some point,” Ntaganzwa says. He, however, wonders why she has not been hacking teachers in the past. “There must be a reason for this incident,” he concludes.
Ronald Wandira, a history teacher at Riviera High School, believes the surrounding environment can also affect the security of a school. “College St Andre is near a stadium and you realize when there are games, it is possible for people to jump over the school fence without entering through the school main gate. Probably they could supply drugs and weapons too,” Wandira says.
He adds that even genuine visitors who access school premises if not well checked may sneak in materials. “If there is no sufficient check up during visiting days, or lack of abrupt checkups, anything is possible especially if there are day scholars in the school,” Wandira adds.
But Rutali maintains that security measures have always been the same in all schools only that some people take them for granted.
Ali Mushumba, the headmaster of Remera Matyrs, blames parents for failing to identify the problems faced by their children. “This student probably left home after showing signs of depression. Any serious parent should have found it much easier to identify the problem,” Mushumba says.
Students also have a role to play towards their own safety as well as the schools.
At Remera Martyrs, security has been reinforced and checkups are compulsory for all students, visitors and parents. “We are now checking everyone, including our own staff members,” Mushumba says.
Marie Vianney Dunia, the discipline master of ES Kianza in Rulindo district, says no security measure is perfect.
“Even though there are security guards, they can’t read people’s minds. This means anyone can harm you. Whenever one develops any suspicion about someone, they should alert the authorities,” Dunia says.
But not all is lost. Abed Hakizimana, a senior four student of ES St Joseph Le Travailleur in Kigali, feels very safe at school because there is always morning checkup at the main gate. “The entrance is one and that is the main gate, you can only be allowed in after you have thoroughly been checked,” Hakizimana says.
Samuel Tuyisenge, also a student at the same school, points out that some schools have enough security to discourage offenders. “For example I stay in Gisozi near FAWE girls and I must admit that their security is intact. I once tried to enter the school but was asked for my identity card and given a book in which to sign,” Tuyisenge says.
For Peter Nshimiyimana from Intwali Primary School in Nyamirambo, his parents are the first to check his backpack in the morning.
“Before I leave home, my parents always pack for me. This makes it almost impossible to carry any non-academic material to school,” Nshimiyimana explains.
Students speak out
Edward Kamanzi, student at ESS Nyamirambo
Parents and teachers should work hand-in-hand to ensure that students get the required guidance and counselling to avoid such scenarios. Through such interactions, teachers may easily identify the difficulties the students may be facing and find a solution.
Pascal Ugwijukwemera, marketeer in Kacyiru
Some conflicts may be caused by teachers’ false promises to students. For instance a teacher may ask to sleep with his student in exchange for marks but fail to keep his part of the bargain. This can break the girl’s heart forcing her to do crazy things.
Frank Carlos, a student at St. Joseph Integrated Technical College Nyamirambo
When a teacher is very harsh to a student, the learner will most likely seek revenge. Of course some students are also very indisciplined and can go on rampage if there is no avenue to settle differences amicably.
Ishmael Niyonshuti, a student at ESS Nyamirambo
School authorities need to check students’ belongings regularly to avoid a repeat of the sad incident that occured recently. Students should also understand why they are at school and do that.
Danny Niyonkuru, a petrol station attendant To avoid cases of students or teachers physically hurting each other, students should be checked whenever they arrive at school. Students also need to attend regular counselling sessions in order to remain on the right track. It is not easy to deal with students from many backgrounds but it is possible.
Cecile Irakoze, student at G.S Akumunigo
In some cases, teachers mistreat students. However, teachers, students and school authorities should create clubs where they can often meet to discuss their grievances. On top of that, student’s luggage should be checked to ensure they do not possess any dangerous weapons.