Concern as fatalities in schools rise

The rising number of student deaths has raised concerns over safety in learning institutions.

The incidents range from drownings to unexplained falls. In July 2022, the body of eightyear-old Jane Maina – a pupil of Buruburu 1 Primary School, Nairobi – was found in the swimming pool at the institution. The child’s family reported the incident to police.

“They told us after filing the report that they had taken up the case. We’ve not heard from police since,” the girl’s mother, Lydia Maina, said. Teachers maintain that the child went to the pool unsupervised, a narrative disputed by the family. They say the small girl would not have been able to open the gate to the pool. Ms Maina now fears for the safety of her remaining children.

“The joy that we had as a family is gone. Her death left a big gap,” she says. Kimathi Primary School parents protested the death of 12-year-old Handas Kanyora, a Grade Six learner, in October last year. Scholastica Nyambura, the mother of Kanyora, was told he fell into the swimming pool. The family is still searching for answers. “I’m left with many questions. What really happened? My child was fine when he left home. I still recall how he looked as I prepared him for school,” Ms Nyambura says.

On March 9 2024, 13-year-old Wesley Njiru was found dead on a balcony at Joy Gardens Primary School, Nairobi. Njiru’s kin say he could not have fallen from the seventh floor as claimed by the school authorities. On February 9, 2024, three-yearold Liam Kipruto – a pre-primary 1 learner at Goodrich International School – was reportedly run over by a bus. The school is in Katani, Machakos County. In March last year, Kelvin Kiptanui, a Form 1 student at Chemase Secondary School, died after supposedly being caned by teachers. Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director, Houghton Irungu, stresses the need for a comprehensive approach to school safety.

“The first thing to look at is whether there is crowding and if facilities are enough in a school. Schools should not be pressure points or places teachers feel that they have to crush disagreement. Schools are places of learning,” he says. The Ministry of Education has formulated guidelines for student safety. They include proper fencing and controlled access points, protocols for handling emergencies and alternative methods of enforcing discipline like detention, community service and counselling. Mr Irungu highlights a gap between policy and practice.

“The ministry must go beyond having guidelines. It needs to delve into the actual culture in schools,” he said. “Are teachers equipped to handle disagreements with learners constructively, or does a culture of intolerance prevail?” The deaths have sparked outrage and calls for accountability. Some see negligence on the part of school managers contributing to the tragedies. “If an accident occurs under the watch of a teacher, it is the responsibility of the school to explain what happened,” Ms Maina says.

Adds her husband James Mwangi: “If teachers were more careful, the death would not have occurred. I would never want to see another family to go through our experience. It is like she died yesterday.” Mr Irungu calls for swift investigations and counselling support to the grieving families. He expresses concern that such services are not readily available.

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