The girl’s schoolmates reported that the student was humiliated by the teacher reading her love tweets to the rest of the school. Although the media reported the girl’s death as suicide, I’m not convinced that it was suicide.
There are two problems with Kaimenyi’s views. The first is the government’s rather backward view of technology and its relationship with students. The ban on mobile phones for high school students – which is essentially treating them like prisoners – makes no sense, when at the same time the government is pushing to provide laptops to all Standard One pupils. For most Kenyans, the primary access to the range of laptop functions – communication, internet, documents, taking photographs and videos, listening to music, making audio recordings, and transacting business – is the mobile phone. That means that mobile phones can be incorporated in learning rather than treated as contraband goods. Students could use phones to do homework, access learning apps, better still, create their own apps, find books online, blog and write, and take photos and videos for artistic projects and for the Kenya Drama festivals that have a film category.
It makes no sense to reduce students to a technology-deprived life, and then all of a sudden, in the university, we’re telling them to generate employment using technology. And if the government’s intention is really to expose all Kenyans to technology at a younger age, the option cheaper and more effective than the laptop project would be to provide mobile phones – which a greater number of students can afford.
The second problem with Kaimenyi’s approach is the view that every problem in the school is a management problem that needs cracking the whip by the management board. Anyone who has been to an educational psychology class should be shocked at the choice of school teacher to humiliate the girl by reading her tweets, which her schoolmates say were to someone she was in love with. Humiliation can never be a punishment for teenagers. It’s incapacitation. Teenagers are already awkward in their identity and relationships because their bodies are undergoing changes, and they are trying to figure out who they are as they become adults. So humiliation does not punish them. Instead, it paralyzes their self-confidence, and their agemates – who don’t know any better – will continue the humiliation throughout their years in school, and then some more.
And if the girl was tweeting about love – which I think is so cute – isn’t that the best opportunity to advise her on how to handle her emotions while she needs to concentrate on her studies? There’s nothing wrong with her being in love; the role of education – through good counselling skills of the teacher – should have been to give the girl the tools to handle being in love.
If there is any matter for the management to address, it is the safety of the school premises. Looking at the open sewer in the media reports, one can easily see the possibility that the girl was too distraught to look carefully where she was going, and instead she fell in the sewer which was close to the toilets, the only private space for a student in a boarding high school. At what time was the girl in the vicinity of that sewer? Was it easily visible for her to avoid?
There are too many layers of issues – training of teachers, safety of the premises, policy on technology – for the CS to simplify this tragedy a a matter of better police in the form of the management board. Education is a complex and multi-layered enterprise, and so educational leadership requires more than just academic titles – it requires a heart for young people, and an understanding that the ultimate purpose of education is not good school management but the growth of our youth into people who innovate, create opportunity, achieve their dreams and become the best they can be. We need an Education CS who gets that.