Reformation of schools should include eradication of brutal cultures

I spent my week travelling around Rwanda from one corner to the other and not spending a night in the same place. I felt like a fugitive always checking into a hotel, checking out the next day and checking into another one soon after.

I spent my week travelling around Rwanda from one corner to the other and not spending a night in the same place. I felt like a fugitive always checking into a hotel, checking out the next day and checking into another one soon after.  I love travelling and although my recent travels were not about tourism, I still enjoyed and learnt some things that I will share in detail later on.

While travelling I always make an effort to consume less news so I can immerse myself in the areas I go to and the work that has taken me there. Of course it is impossible to totally insulate yourself from the news cycle now that news flows more on social media than traditional media spaces. So every now and then snippets of news will find you wherever you had hibernated to.

The revelation that bullying at Kenya’s Alliance High School had left some students injured is one story that I failed to ignore. The story has all the hallmarks of a ‘hot’ story as we would say in a newsroom. The bullying was said to have been carried out by prefects, school administration is accused of knowing and not doing much about it and to top it up the school principal, David Kariuki quit when these allegations became public.

More than anything, the prestigious reputation of the school is what made the story a really hot one. After all this is a school that effortlessly attracts the definite, ‘the’ before its name. Having taught at Alliance High School in Nyacyonga, Rwanda (no direct relation with the Kenyan one), I have lost count of how many times I have had to explain to Kenyans that I was not a teacher at The Alliance in Kenya but a similarly named school in Rwanda whose founder was inspired by the one in Kenya. 

The Alliance High School is also one of those schools in the region that can also be identified just by one name thanks to its rich history as the first school in Kenya to offer secondary school education to Africans. Founded in 1926, the school’s long list of prominent alumni includes names like Mbiyu Koinange, Charles Njonjo, James Orengo, Kenneth Matiba, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, Kiraitu Murungi, Prof Makau Mutua, Ronald Ngala, Paul Ngei and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

In Uganda, Namilyango College which is the oldest secondary school (not oldest school though) also one time found itself in the limelight after a case of bullying that turned fatal when a one Victor Rwomwiju was killed by fellow students in 1992. These are not the only schools where students have experienced the brutality of bullying which many students are conditioned to view as normal or part of the school culture of older students initiating younger ones.

In Rwanda this bullying was swiftly dealt with when it was realised that it was being used as a channel for genocide ideology often targeting vulnerable genocide survivors. In some cases the bullying is by the teachers seeking ‘to teach students a lesson’ like we saw in that video that went viral showing more than three teachers brutally beating a student, Sebastian Chinguku at Mbeya Day Secondary School in Tanzania.

Schools are supposed to be places where young impressionable minds draw knowledge, skills and attitudes not fear and impunity in the name of culture. If such vices are not tamed, then we are nurturing citizens who can only be at the extremes; either as depressed and cowardly with low self esteem, or lawless lords of impunity.

These cases need to be dealt with openly and extensively with the aim of reforming what the students see as a culture of the school. Culture by its very nature is dynamic so it should not be impossible to drive behavioural change to cleanse the learning environment so students can get the best out of their time in these schools.

One person on social media said, “Why should young boys be made to sleep on graves?” in reference to the bullying at Alliance High School in Kenya. Such acts violate the rights of these children and grossly tear apart their self esteem. Surely this is not a culture we need in this day and age.

The world is changing fast and we should be reforming our schools and education systems to try and keep up with these changes. We should be creating a culture of knowledge pursuit, innovation, skills acquisition and perfection. Bullying has no place in a modern school and cases should be dealt with swiftly and thoroughly.

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