Reintroducing caning in Kenyan schools is not the solution to indiscipline

Tuesday March 09 2021

Experts say caning only teaches that violence is the way to solve disputes.


The death of 12-year-old Mary Wambui of Gitithia Primary School in Kenya at the hands of a teacher is a cautionary tale against reintroducing corporal punishment in learning institutions.             

Before the practice was banned, there were several cases of death and maiming of students from beatings by teachers. This gruesome history seems not to deter those calling for reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools to stem runaway indiscipline which has included criminal acts such as burning of dormitories. 

Experts have always argued that corporal punishment is not the answer to indiscipline. First, they argue, this kind of punishment does not work because there are underlying sociological and psychological problems that contribute to indiscipline. They also say caning only teaches that violence is the way to solve disputes. Lastly, as the case of Wambui has shown, allowing corporal punishment puts students at the risk of maiming or death.   

But the Ministry of Education has a reputation for knee jerk solutions to problems in schools.  

Some years back, at the height of burning of school by students, then Education Minister Jacob Kaimenyi proposed the outlawing of mock exams and the half-term holiday break. Mock exams, it was argued, made students anxious and thus prompted them to burn their schools. As to how the half- term break contributed to the lawlessness has remained a mystery only known to Kaimenyi. Unfortunately, the minister took the secret with him to his ambassadorial posting (yes, we always pick the best brains to represent our interests abroad, sigh!). 

Fred Matiang’i, who took over from Kaimenyi, brought some semblance of sanity to the ministry. He was strategic, able to see where Kenyan education needed to be. His leadership style was persuasive, always seeking  consensus. He was consultative, bringing all stakeholders on board of his strategic plan. He gave responsibility to officials but also demanded personal responsibility. He gave credit to individuals who brought results. He used the collective ‘we”, signalling that he was part of a team, not an infallible pharaoh. He was firm without being a bully.


At first, George Magoha, the current Education Cabinet Secretary, gave the impression of fitting in Matiang’i’s shoes. But he seems not to have a strategic vision or is unable to communicate it with cogent authority. He forgets that he is an educationist, not a drill sergeant. He is blunt and insensitive to stakeholders in education. He bullies, not persuades. As a matter of fact, he was once caught by media humiliating a member of his junior staff.

It is true that burning of schools is a huge problem. The solution is to treat this behaviour as a criminal offence and ensure that those culpable are held to uncompromising account. The reason why it has persisted is because of a sense of impunity. 

At the same time, we must address sociological factors that cause this egregious criminal behaviour. 

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator