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Teachers Must Quit Exploiting Children

Editorial, The Nation (Nairobi), 17 May 2001

A common element emerging from a study of our school system is that the learning environment is increasingly becoming hostile to pupils.

If it is not corporal punishment, then it is bullying of Form Ones by older students, or harsh treatment of the learners in one way or another.

The latest case in Nyeri, where a schoolgirl was scalded while making tea for teachers, illustrates the magnitude of the problem.

Our children are constantly subjected to unfair treatment in schools. And this is not an isolated case. A random visit to many institutions indicate that learners are made to work in teachers' farms, collect firewood and fire for them, and sometimes even cook and wash clothes for the teachers.

The danger is, sometimes, these chores, besides wasting the pupils' time, may also result in closer, undesirable relations between male teachers and their wards which might lead to sexual liaisons.

These forms of exploitation are prevalent at the primary school level, where due to age, fear and lack of knowledge about their rights, learners dare not defy teachers' instructions.

Matters are made worse by the fact that in rural schools, parents revere teachers so much that they rarely confront them even when it emerges that they are exploiting children. Such things as having a girl prepare tea for teachers or sending a pupil on an errand is taken as natural.

But the fact that these incidents are recurrent underpins the point that inspection is rare in schools. Education officials at the grassroots are unaware of what goes in schools in their localities. They only respond when a crisis arises.

Studies have established that a hostile learning environment contributes a great deal to rising school dropout rates. This is particularly so for girls, who, fearing harassment, opt out of school. In some cases, it is the parents who withdraw their children from such schools to protect them against exploitation.

In this particular case in Nyeri, the matter must be thoroughly investigated and the culprits punished. The incident also provides a perfect opportunity for the ministry to intensify school inspection to stamp out cases of exploitation of children by teachers.

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).