Education: Hold school principals accountable for bullying

Monday, August 5th, 2019 00:00 |
Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha. Photo/BERNARD MALONZA

The recent case of bullying in Nairobi School has brought the country back to reality with a jolt. Bullying is still rampant in our public and private secondary schools, especially in the so-called KCSE exam high performers.

There are three reasons why bullying exists. First is culture—a bullying culture pervades such institutions. Students have come to accept bullying as part of school curriculum, and senior students, including prefects  feel entitled to assault their colleagues. Boy schools are the worst hit. 

Secondly, complicity among school administrations. The principals know there is bullying in their schools, but they turn a blind eye to it. Some feel that Form One students, who bear the brunt of the vice, require some toughening up.

Others are just too lazy, plain incompetent, or even afraid to confront the scourge devouring their schools. As long there is no overflow as happened in the Nairobi School incident, things are okay, and the ship keeps sailing, albeit carrying some damaged cargo.

The third reason is a complacent parent body. Parents need to rise up and confront bullying in schools. Yet many hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil, especially if the children affected belong to “other parents”. 

It’s not surprising to hear parents defending principals when they assert that there is no bullying, when children of other parents claim they have been bullied. Little do they know their children could be next.  Rise up and confront the monster as one.

Good news is, bullying can be eliminated. The first step would be to have schools adopt zero tolerance to the vice. Also, complicity, even nonchalance, by school principals towards bullying must end. This must be enforced by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and the Ministry of Education as a key performance target.

How can a student can be bullied in school to the extent that he becomes brain-damaged? That is abject abdication of responsibility by the principal. The TSC and the Ministry of Education should have acted immediately. 

That principal does not deserve to be entrusted with any one’s son or daughter. He should have been immediately interdicted, or fired. That will send an appropriate message to his peers. 

The principal is solely responsible for establishing whether there is bullying and taming it. If the principal decides there would be no bullying, it would not exist. Period.

Principals must stop abdicating responsibility and giving lame excuses for bullying in their schools. Are they not the ones who have empowered prefects to “discipline” fellow students? Diabolical.

Secondly, the school principal needs to be subjected to personal responsibility in cases of bullying like the case in Nairobi School. Such parents should sue the school, its principal and board of management for damages. 

Who will pay for the treatment of that boy? Who will compensate the young man for the time he will lose while his classmates are in class studying? 

The problem in Kenya is that nobody is made to take personal responsibility for anything. That is why a principal of a school where a child has been gravely injured feels no responsibility for the incident.

In fact, he will continue denying it.  Until principals and their board of managements start being hauled before courts and slapped with huge damages over bullying, this circus will go on.

 The day damages are awarded to such victims, principals and their boards of management countrywide will wake up. Nobody will need to tell any principal again to stamp out bullying from their schools.

The bullies must also have their day in court. The students who assaulted the young man who had to undergo surgery should be charged. This will send a clear message to all bullies that their actions have grave consequences-—do it at your own peril.

Harsh measures are required to eliminate this pervasive culture once and for all, just as was done with exam cheating.

Sadly, most principals where bullying take still thrives could not be less bothered. They need to be jolted into action ruthlessly. Education CS Prof. George Magoha, another look at bullying maybe? -—[email protected]

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