Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Beryl Aidi
Six out of 10 school children in Kenya are aware that tribalism is a form of discrimination but say they are under pressure from their parents to discriminate on ethnicity. This is according to 2011-12 Knowledge Attitude and Practice (KAP) study on equality/non-discrimination conducted by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) among primary school children aged 12years (Std 6) in Marakwet, Ugenya, Wajir, Isiolo, Taveta and Nairobi.
A cross section of children interviewed during the study say parents often try to prevent them from spending time with children from other ethnic communities or warn them against it. The children also said they feel that their ethnic communities are more superior to others and prefer to keep friends from their own ethnic communities. The study also reveals that some ethnic communities are associated with negative attributes and 12% of children have at one time discussed throwing out an ethnic community from their area of residence.
The Study focused on 5 equality themes namely ethnicity, gender, disability, age and economic status covering total of 844 questionnaires, 24 focus group discussions and 24 key informant interviews. The majority of the schools (10 out of 12) had pupils from different ethnic communities. Other findings of the report indicate that although 55% of the children interviewed agree that girls are as brave as boys, they exclusively accord boys the right to decision making and the right to protection from war. The findings also show that school children consider people 65 years and over as poor leaders, lacking appropriate wisdom, while those less than 19 years are dismissed as inexperienced and irrelevant.
The study was inspired by the realization that children were not only affected by the 2007/8 post-election violence, but in some cases formed part of the perpetrators. Children aged 15years and above formed part of the youth militia that spread inciting messages and meted out violence following the 2007 elections. This realization raises questions on how much the primary, secondary and teacher training curricula invest in teaching children about equality/ non-discrimination and encouraging a culture of diversity.
A related study titled ‘Curriculum Opportunities to Teach Children on Equality and the Constitution of Kenya, 2010’, identifies numerous opportunities to begin teaching children tolerance with respect to national diversities in ethnicity, gender, age, disability and wealth or economic status. This comes at a time when the Ministry of Education is reviewing its curricula at various levels to ensure compliance with the new Constitution.
In view of the findings and recommendations of the two studies, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) has developed and released ‘Attack of the Shidas: AKAs Save Planet Earth’ a story book for children aged 9-15years. The book creatively addresses discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, age, disability and wealth status through a deep friendship between three children from different ethnic communities, one of whom is a blind girl. The book is conceptualised to bring equality and human rights debate to school children and their teachers as well as parents.
“Attack of the Shidas:AKAs Save the Planet” is the story of three communities who live in a desert town which depends on a lone borehole for all their water. But the people are threatened when they discover that the water is mysteriously being emptied at night. Three children in the town discover they have special powers as only they, can see and hear the invisible water thieves that bring with them numerous other problems to the three communities. Yet nobody believes what the children have to say, because these three children possess special powers of equality and tolerance that enable them to see what others in their communities cannot see. Can the children stop the aliens before war breaks out in the town?
“Attack of the Shidas:AKAs Save the Planet” is among the first to venture into the genre of science fiction to address the very delicate and contentious issue of discrimination by providing simple and practical messages to children in an entertaining manner. The storybook has been pre-tested among pupils and students of 5 primary and one secondary school as well as 15 teachers drawn from Siaya, Kitale, Marigat, Kwale, Wajir and Nairobi (Kawangware, Kibera, Musa Gitau, Mathare and Lavington).
According to the children who have read the storybook, its greatest attribute is that it makes children who are tolerant of ethnic and other diversities the super heroes, whose special powers come from having skills to recognise and confront discrimination in the form of hate speech, songs, poems, sayings, proverbs and even jokes in the form of ‘mchongoano’ often used by children. The storybook is expected to impact on children’s knowledge, attitude and practices on equality / non-discrimination.
Attack of the Shidas: AKAs Save Planet Earth confirms that it is possible to innovatively use the curriculum to deliver education that is relevant to Kenya’s current needs. Relevance is one of the goals of the Education for All (EFA) campaign which the Kenya government has been party to since 1990 when the 1st EFA conference was held in Jomtien and the second in 2000 where Kenya was represented by Hon. Kalonzo Musyoka, then the Minister for Education
With equality/non-discrimination being one of the key values embedded in the Constitution of Kenya 2010, it is clear the Ministry of Education is on the right path in its review of primary, secondary and teacher training curricula to give equality, tolerance and peace building the weight they deserve in the socialization of Kenya’s children.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) envisions a Kenya that respects, protects and promotes human rights and democratic values. The KHRC’s objective is to enable the society to attain equal and accessible rights and opportunities for all; specifically, endeavour to prevent discrimination across all levels of society including in the school setting.
The report findings and the story book were launched on 10th September 2012 at the Hilton Hotel in an eventpresided over by Hon., Mutula Kilonzo, EGH MP., Minister for Education.
The book is retailing at various Nakumatt Books First outlets in Nairobi for KES. 400.00. It is also available at Amazon.
This article was first posted on the KHRC site on September 11, 2012