Matthew Kibet just wanted to learn.
The form two student at Kapenguria Boys Secondary is an iconic example of tenacity and grit. In spite being unable to raise school fees and perpetually being sent home, the boy persisted and faithfully went to class.
This week was one of those many times he returned to school yet again without school fees, having stayed home for a month. He found his desk was among those that had been returned to the store, a clear indication he was no longer welcome to the school.
When it became apparent he had nowhere to sit, the boy picked up his belongings and left Kapenguria Boys — and school — for good.
ACT OF DESPERATION
However, that moment of hopelessness, that final act of desperation, is probably what saved Kibet’s education, and future, because as he was leaving the school, onlookers filmed him and interrogated him.
In the widely-shared video, he is seen trudging on, lugging his metallic box, a backpack and what looks like mattress as well as a couple of blankets. That video would later go viral on social media, spurring empathy from well-wishers.
This is what Kibet told Daily Nation journalists: “I have been determined to learn but it has become difficult for me.”
He was tired of always working in the shamba while his friends were in class learning. Kibet lives with his 70-year-old grandmother. His mother ekes out a living doing menial jobs. His father has not been as keen about his son’s education as he has been about the bottle.
I was relieved to learn that an anonymous well-wisher has since cleared the fees balance of Sh109,000 and the young man is back in school.
However, I cannot stop thinking about the school principal. Did he not stop for a moment and ask what was it about this young man who was so persistent and so determined to learn despite of all the challenges he was facing?
TYRANNICAL SCHOOL PRINCIPALS
Which brings me to today’s topic; the tyrannical school principals who behave as if the schools they manage are their fiefdoms and the students, parents and teachers their subjects.
They are feared and loathed in their small kingdoms. Teachers, students and parents tremble at the sight of these principals — some of them who are corrupt to the core.
They treat students — your daughters and sons — as just any other statistic that has passed through the school. They neglect sick students and frustrate parents and students by making their schools seem like military camps.
And, should you as a parent be so unwise as to question the school administration, their wrath will be taken out on your child — an innocent student who is just trying to enjoy high school.
It will be a year this September since the country witnessed one of the most horrific school tragedies in recent memory. Nearly a year later, not a single adult has been held accountable for the deaths of 10 girls that in the Moi Girls fire, and the only individual currently under investigation is a teenage girl who allegedly set the hostel on fire. Where were the adults when this was happening?
As a journalist who covered the tragedy, I saw first hand the callousness and casualness with which parents of the deceased were treated by the school administration. It was the most hurtful thing I witnessed last year.
I am afraid it seems as though those ten families whose daughters would have been in Form Two today will never get the justice they deserve.
What is it with school principals that they are so powerful, so untouchable that they are allowed to get away with literally anything?
It is not enough that school principals involved in scandals resign. It is time to hold them personally responsible for what happens to students in the school compound. Because of this arrogance some parents have endured untold grief.
I interviewed a parent who had to be committed to a mental institution for a couple of weeks after her daughter perished in the fire. It is that sad.
Principals need to level up and stop behaving like demigods in their little fiefdoms.
They should learn to have some empathy, act professionally, and for the love of God, they should take those students as if they were their own daughters and sons.