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Society

Approved schools not the way to deal with truant children

approved school
Children at an approved school in the early 1990. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

During my primary school days at Thogoto Junior School in the 1960s, the very mention of an approved school sent shivers down your spine. Ms Fanny Cluness, our headmistress, used the threat of being sent to an approved school to great effect on those of us who tended to be wayward. The threat was very real because there was the Dagoretti Approved School for boys at Baraniki not far away from Thogoto. We heard stories about how approved schools were for children who had done very bad things.

The term Approved School came into use in the UK in 1933 when the former “industrial” or “reformatory” schools were phased out. They were residential institutions to which young people could be sent by a court for committing offences or because they were considered beyond parental control. Modelled on ordinary boarding schools, they were run by voluntary bodies under the supervision of the Home Office. Offenders sent to the schools, as well as receiving academic tuition, were assigned to work groups to carry out such activities as building and bricklaying, metal work, carpentry and gardening. More serious juvenile offenders were confined to institutions known as “borstals”, tougher and more enclosed kind of youth prisons.

Many approved schools were known for strict discipline, with corporal punishment used where deemed necessary, generally a more severe version of the caning or strapping that was common in ordinary secondary schools. In particular, boys who had absconded were given a more severe caning immediately after being returned, to serve as a deterrent to other would-be escapees.

The concept of approved schools was adopted in Kenya in 1935 and I believe the one at Dagoretti was the first to be established. The school was run by missionaries under the supervision of the Department of Approved Schools in the Ministry of Education.

Today, there are a total of 10 approved schools at Kirigiti, Dagoretti, Kisumu, Kericho, Kakamega, Wamumu, Kabete, Gitathuru, Likoni and Othaya under the Department of Children’s Services since independence.

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No matter how difficult your child is you do not have the discretion to admit him to an approved school at will. That authority is vested in a judge of the Children’s Court who will issue a committal order depending on the circumstances of the child and the offence. It is not only children who have committed an offence who are sent to approved schools but also those who need care and protection. According to the law, only children above the age of 10 and below 15 are eligible to be sent to approved schools. Those who are between the ages of 15 and 18 are sent to a borstal institution under the Department of Prisons.

Once a committal order is obtained boys must first undergo an assessment programme at Gitathuru Rehabilitation School (Kirigiti Rehabilitation School for girls) from where they will be sent to various schools depending on whether they are graded low, medium or high risk.

The aim of these schools is to rehabilitate children so that they can be released back into society. The children play, go to class and receive counselling. If the behaviour improves remarkably, he or she may be released before serving the full course of the sentence.

According to child therapist Gloria Wandeto “As helpful as they are, rehabilitation schools should be the last line of defence, especially if alternatives such as child therapy and counselling can be made available.”

This week a video showing a Class 7 boy wearing a Consolata School T-shirt, uttering unprintable epithets at a girl schoolmate for allegedly calling him gay went viral on social media and was also reported on mainstream media.

While commenting on the incident some people went as far as to suggest that the boy should be committed to an approved school.

Whereas I may not be privy to the boy’s background, the notion of sending the boy to an approved school seems to me to be an overreaction. In any event, the boy has since seen the folly of his errant ways and apologised.

I believe the boy was trying to impress his peers and seek attention which he is not getting elsewhere. Of course, access to such vulgar language at his age brings into question his upbringing.

I believe behaviour problems among children fall into three broad categories. The most common is normal indiscipline where children are simply truant as they are wont to be. This type should be dealt with at home and in ordinary school (and in that order).

The second category is where the child becomes maladjusted and refuses to obey rules becoming a risk not only to others but to himself. This type should be dealt with at an approved or rehabilitation school. The third category is where the child has become unmanageable and acquired criminal tendencies. This type should be committed to the more restricted borstal institution.

At the end of the day, discipline of the child starts at home where clear lines should be drawn between what is right and what is wrong. Parents need to demonstrate strong role model qualities while offering emotional support, encouragement, appreciation and physically being there for their children.

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