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School CP - June 2006

Corpun file 17785

East African Standard, Nairobi, 3 June 2006

To cane or not to cane

By Peter Thatiah


"Garissa students vow to kill a teacher", "Female teacher in Kakamega stabbed by a knife-wielding student", "Gun-totting student gunned down by Ruai police in a foiled robbery".

Kaloki with his wife Agnes and daughters Ruth and Emma

These are some of the headlines in the local dailies that drove a teacher in Kitui to sue the Government over the caning ban.

Mr Nicholas Kaloki, a teacher at Ilako Mututa Secondary School, says he could not just sit back and watch as things got out of hand.

Kaloki says indiscipline in schools is chilling and unless action is taken, a whole generation risks going down the drain.

Ever since the Education ministry banned caning in 2001, the children's rights crusader has been watching events unfold. He says as things stand, they can only get worse.

He is a seasoned counsellor and offers his services to his school. He is also a visiting counsellor to 24 secondary schools, spread in the semi-arid districts of Mwingi and Kitui. Kaloki says the talking has not been enough.

"The decision to ban caning in schools was a whimsical political manoeuvre as a result of the bad press coverage the ministry was attracting over a few teachers who went overboard and inflicted physical injuries on their students. It was a unilateral decision made without the evaluation of the case on the ground," he asserts.

When The Saturday Standard visited the school that is set in an offbeat location of Mutonguni Division, the scorching sun overhead and the sun-baked bare earth traversed by gaping craters for roads, make you know that this truly is a hardship area.


Later in the day, when we visit Musengu market, several miles away, people look at us suspiciously when they hear we have been to see Kaloki. When idlers loafing by the shopping centres see his car they beat a retreat and wait until the white Nissan Sunny, battered by the lunarscape roads and scorched by the punishing Ukambani sun, is safely behind the corner.

He has in his car a copy of the Children Act, 2001. "It is my duty to deal with parents who will not take their children to school. I'm mandated by the Government of Kenya to protect children," he asserts. "It is my work to take charge of abandoned children, begging or even displaced children. Those displaced, those whose parents are in prison and those in child labour… bring them to me."

True to his word, he is already living with five children in his home near the school – three of whom their parents are in prison for other offences and two whose parents are unknown.

"Counselling is a time-consuming job and requires many follow-ups," he says, "Unfortunately, there are not enough of us in the country and that is one of the reasons I'm taking the Government to court to reverse the decision on caning. I'm doing this for my love for the children."

"Should the Kenyan public watch helplessly as the discipline of their children deteriorate due to a simple administrative order by the Education ministry that lacks the capacity to stand to legal scrutiny?" he poses.

The teacher says the introduction of free compulsory learning has seen massive enrolment of youngsters in public schools. This has reduced the ratio of pupils to teachers considerably. "Considering the requirements of effective counselling, today's teacher is unable to cope with the workload. Add the level of indiscipline brought by children who have been out of school for a long time and you will see a disaster in the making."

"There is a correlation between indiscipline and poverty. That is a fact as old as time, which Kenyans are ignoring. As long as we remain poor we will need the cane. Indeed, Section 127 of the Children Act deals comprehensively with the limits of enforcing discipline on children and the same can be used to gauge what is acceptable and what is not. Regulation of caning is what we need right now."

Kaloki says that some quarters have not taken kindly to his lone crusade. "Some people have accused me of going overboard because I don't have children. This is erroneous. I'm the loving father of three girls," says the teacher, who is also a pastor at the local Full Gospel Church.

"Doing this kind of work needs a supporting family because many times I have to use the family car to chase law breakers around the villages. Fortunately we share the same vision with my wife and I hope my daughters will follow suit when they grow up," he says.


Corpun file 17729

New York Times, 4 June 2006

Spare the Rod and Spoil the Country, a Kenyan Warns

By Marc Lacey

Nicholas K. Kaloki, a teacher and counselor in Mutonguni, Kenya, wants to end a ban on caning in schools.

MUTONGUNI, Kenya — Nicholas K. Kaloki's icy glare and booming baritone are his only legal weapons these days against wayward students, now that Kenya's government has officially disarmed him of his long wooden stick.

In forbidding the hitting of children in school five years ago, Kenya joined most of the rest of the world, where physical force against the young is regarded as a cruel form of punishment. But the ban — imposed after some schools took the practice too far, injuring, disabling and even killing some children — has yet to truly take hold.

Though no precise records are kept, children's advocates in Kenya report a steady stream of new cases. The illicit caning is often far more violent than the paddling that goes on in some American schools under individual state law, and it occurs with surprising regularity, especially in rural areas like this one in southeast Kenya. And many parents and teachers, Mr. Kaloki most vocal among them, are pushing for a return to the days when students were legally kept in line with a switch.

"Many people have accused me of baying for the buttocks of an innocent child," said Mr. Kaloki, a veteran teacher and father of three who has emerged as the leading spokesman for those who want the cane restored. "I'm not guilty of that."

The ban was imposed in 2001, but Kenyan children have continued to be roughed up so badly by teachers that they have been hospitalized with bruises, welts and far more serious wounds like internal injuries. In one episode, a boy in central Kenya was hospitalized in April after being disciplined by a teacher, and the Kenya National Association of Parents intends to help file a legal claim in that case.

"My little boy didn't deserve to die," said the mother of another boy, a first grader who was whacked in the head for staying outside when recess ended and died later that day.

The mother spoke anonymously because she did not want to jeopardize her effort to force the firing of the school official who she believes killed her son. "God will revenge the one who spilled the blood of my son," she said.

Prosecuting caning cases has proved challenging. Students are hesitant to testify against their teachers, whether they are breaking the law or not. Teachers, who fear they may lose their livelihoods if they speak ill of a rogue headmaster, also remain mum.

A girl who lost an eye when she was caned in 2003 did receive a financial settlement. But the case of a boy who fell down unconscious with injuries to the face, ribs and chest after a beating by a teacher was thrown out of court that same year. "The conduct of the complainant appears provocative to his teachers and incensed the teacher to lose his self-control," the judge wrote.

Mr. Kaloki, who has filed a court case to restore corporal punishment in schools, wants regulated caning for, as he puts it, the good of the next generation. According to his plan, only bamboo sticks would be allowed, to sting but not enough for permanent injury. He wants only experienced disciplinarians, like the headmaster, to administer the blows, always with a witness to ensure sufficient restraint.

Mr. Kaloki has had little success in pushing his case. Government officials insist they will not consider a return to the days of corporal punishment.

For generations, sticks have been used to sting the backsides and palms of students across this country — and this continent. Some opponents say the practice originated with colonial schoolmasters and was adopted by Kenyans.

Governments across Africa have been slowly banning it in recent years, in some cases after signing international human rights treaties, but that alone has stopped neither the blows nor, among some, the appreciation of them.

"I think it would be a good idea if it were brought back," said Veronica Nduta, 22, a recent college graduate who was caned as a child. "Now that it's not there, the youth have become a hard-core lot. As long as the teacher is not brutal, caning is a good way of instilling discipline. Even the Holy Bible talks about it."

The perception that young Kenyans are losing their way is heard frequently here, and evidence of unruliness is ample. Kenya's government recently eliminated the fees that were charged for students to attend primary school, which greatly increased enrollment and class sizes. Gamblers now attend classes, Mr. Kaloki said, as well as drug addicts and young people who fight and engage in sex.

Pupils, taking a cue from older, rowdier university students, have conducted walkouts to demand changes in school conditions. In extreme cases, they have set classrooms afire or chased away teachers.

Shiphrah Gichaga, a trained counselor and mother of four, said one problem is that Kenya banned caning without providing teachers with adequate skills for controlling their classrooms. "The children had known the cane as the only weapon that was used in silencing them," she said. "Now it is no longer there."

Ms. Gichaga said she firmly opposes corporal punishment and believes the ban should stay in place to keep in check those teachers who are "ruthless, unkind and unfriendly."

As for her own children, Ms. Gichaga said she engaged in "just a little smacking here and there."

The association of parents, a 3.8 million-member parents' rights group, reports two rather contradictory complaints it receives these days from parents.

Some says that teachers continue to whack their children on the sly. Other parents long for a return to the days when caning was legal, and much more widespread than it is now.

"A lot of people are saying caning should be brought back into schools," said Musau Ndunda, secretary general of the parents group. "They think discipline is the work of the teacher."

Mr. Kaloki contends that schools need a disciplinary recourse if parents fall down on the job.

"I am grateful that I was caned by my parents and teachers," said Mr. Kaloki, who carries on the tradition when his three daughters step out of line. "My father was strict and would not hesitate to use the cane. In fact, I was caned rarely because I knew it could and would be used."

The solution to wayward children, he says, should also involve counseling. Mr. Kaloki, now his school's designated counselor, sits in a tiny room across from offenders and tries to make them see the errors of their ways.

But for repeat offenders, there is nothing, Mr. Kaloki said, like a switch across the bottom or the palms to stop bad behavior in its tracks. As if to emphasize his point, he spun his wrist in a circle. His eyes glared across the desk.

Mr. Kaloki acknowledged that he still wields his cane every once in a while, outside the school grounds. He volunteers as children's officer for the government, and in that role visits bars and nightclubs on weekends in search of underage students carousing in places where they are not allowed.

When he barges in on a boy hanging out in a dimly lighted drinking den or a girl in a motel room with a man, he said he is armed. "In cases like that," he said, grasping an imaginary rod with his hand, "I do not hesitate to use the cane."

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