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Major Row Hits Catholic Sponsored Schools

By Tervil Okoko, Panafrican News Agency, 20 January 2001

Nairobi, Kenya - A major row is simmering between the Kenya National Union of Teachers or KNUT, and the Catholic church over the management of a number of secondary schools in western Kenya.

Embarrassingly caught in the crossfire is the government, which has remained passive as the controversy hits the learning process in the affected schools.

When Cardinal Otunga, St Paul's Amasago, Otamba, Sengera Girls and Rangenyo opened for the first term this year on 8 January, the Catholic faithful closed the gates on their head teachers, alleging that they were to blame for their poor performance in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination or KCSE over the years.

The principals, Cleophas Ondieki (Cardinal Otunga), Samwel Isena (Amasago), Theresa Mageto (Sengera) Josephine Nyagwachi (Rangenyo) and John Nyaanga (Otamba), were also accused of running the schools down through gross mismanagement and embezzlement of funds.

All the schools were sponsored and managed by the Catholic Church and headed by Fathers and Brothers belonging to the church until the late 1970s and early 80s, when their performance was exemplary.

Cardinal Otunga, for instance, used to be the top school in the national exam in Nyanza province and among the best nationally. At independence in 1963, Kenyan primary and secondary schools were sponsored and managed by different churches, especially the Catholic and the Anglican faiths, and civic authorities.

But the performance of the schools in Kisii district, which remain closed indefinitely, has deteriorated gradually since the management shifted to the government through the regional education board.

The new heads of schools are accused of engaging in personal businesses at the expense of the schools.

The communities remember with fondness the reigns of such heads as Father Innocent d'Koks and Brother Anthony Koning when they headed Cardinal Otunga at its inception in 1960.

Now they want a return to the good old days, arguing that the government-appointed heads have disappointed them.

But KNUT, being the teachers' advocate, is defensive of the five members.

Its acting secretary-general, Francis Ng'ang'a, argues that the deterioration in performance has not been caused by the head teachers who took over after the illustrious Catholic administrators.

KNUT contends that other factors, such as political interference, clan and religious conflicts have played quite a role.

How is it possible for all the five principals to Conspire to run down their schools at the same time? Ng'ang'a asked.

The teachers union wonders also why it took the church so long to realise that things were not going well at the schools. Why did they not take the action earlier? Ng'ang'a asked.

The government is waiting to appoint a Commission of inquiry to look into the crisis.

The minister for education, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, insists on retaining the principals and had refused to listen to the communities' wails for intervention.

The devil of it is that the situation has become so explosive that the heads risk their lives if they dare step into their schools.

As KNUT contends, schools cannot be managed through mass action.

Thus, it behoves the government to a decision, which should be people-friendly, yet decisive.

The role of the Christian churches in the development of education in Kenya cannot be over-emphasised.

Since the Church Missionary Society established the first school in Rabai, Coast province in the early 19th century, the development of education in the country has been synonymous with the church in general.

All the most famous schools, be they Alliance Boys and Girls near Nairobi, Maseno in western Kenya or Ngandu Girls and Mangu in Central province, were started by the churches.

The Catholic Church sponsors 3,700 primary and secondary schools in Kenya.

In the 1999 exam, for instance, half of the top 10 schools were those run by the Catholic Church.

Copyright 2001 Panafrican News Agency. Distributed by allAfrica.com. For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.