By Liz Amandla
There have been several arson cases in Kenyan schools since 2001. In March 2001, 67 students died as a result of arson in a school in Eastern Kenya. The fire was caused by a group of students who were enraged by the school’s administration.
There were a total of 126 cases of schools getting burnt in 2016 in what appeared to be protests by students for having shortened school holidays and the limit of visits by their parents. This shows that school fires are caused by enraged students who have their rights expunged, violated or reduced.
In 2017, the most recent cases of school arson were reported on 2nd September. Moi Girls High School Nairobi reported a school fire that burnt down a school dormitory belonging to Form One students. It is now confirmed by County Commander Japhet Koome that eight students died and dozens sustained injuries due to the fire. The eight students who died were burnt beyond recognition. DNA samples will be taken from the bodies as well as form the parents of the girls for purposes of identification.
Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i said that ten students who were injured and were admitted to hospital. Out of the ten, he said, two of them were in critical condition and the other eight are out of danger. Ten other students were confirmed missing from the school’s Kenya Red Cross information desk. Education CS said that the school will be closed for two weeks to allow investigations into the fire.
Besides this case, another school that has been a victim of arson is Sigoti Complex Girls High School in Nyakach. The fire razed down a dormitory and was reported hours after the inferno that raged Moi Girls Nairobi. It was reported that the fire began at 8am while the students were on assembly. Fortunately, no casualties have been reported as all the students were out of the dormitory when the fire broke out. The police are still investigating the cause of the fire.
Yet again, as tragic as it is to report, a dormitory in Chuka Boys High school in Tharaka-Nithi County was also burnt down on Saturday evening. The fire broke out at 7:20 pm in the dorm. The Chuka/Igambang’ombe OCPD Barasa Sayia reported that no casualties were reported. He further explained that the fire burnt four out of the forty-two cubicles in that two-story building and that 46 students lost their property, which included books and clothes of unknown value.
These cases of arson in schools are devastating to hear again considering that the same cases were reported last year. This begs the question of whether the Ministry of Education established any guidelines to manage and reduce school disasters. The answer is yes. There are established guidelines to manage such disasters called School Safety Guidelines for Disaster and Risk Reduction. Are schools in total compliance with these guidelines? No they are not, because of the new reports of school fires.
In order for such cases of arson among other disasters that may occur in schools not to happen again, the schools need to follow these guidelines. First, the guidelines stipulate that every school should post a blueprint map of the school’s buildings, classrooms, hallways and dormitories. In addition, the guidelines require that there should be a telephone tree list including names of employees, pagers, teachers and parents for contacts in case of an emergency.
Nevertheless, schools should install serviceable fire extinguishers, good security arrangements for both day and night, well maintained learning rooms and a properly reinforced fence with an appropriate mechanism for repair and maintenance.
Boarding school dormitory schools are required to be at least 5 feet wide and they should open outwards. The dormitories should also have emergency exits at the middle and back, and the windows must be without grills and should be easy to open outwards.
The fire extinguishers and fire alarms should also be fitted in the dorms in case of a fire outbreak to protect students from being burnt and at the same time to safeguard property. The schools are also required to have a visitor’s book to record details of all visitors to the school so as to monitor strangers, who may have the intention of harming students or teachers.
As comprehensive as these guidelines are, they appear to be difficult for their beneficiaries to implement to the latter. Very few schools have managed to implement all of them yet some have managed only a fraction of them. Therefore, it is important for the Ministry of Education to conduct awareness in all the schools and ensure that all the schools have conducted their due diligence in terms of compliance with the guidelines.