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By KEN NDORI
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The Supreme Court ruling that overturned the Appellate Court decision that allowed three Muslim students of St Paul’s Kiwanjani Secondary School in Isiolo to wear hijabs to school continue to elicit mixed reactions among the stakeholders in the education sector. The judges said every school has the right to determine its rules as far as school uniform is concerned.

However, issues of alleged religious intolerance and discrimination have simmered in the sector. The events at Jamhuri High School in 2018, that left more than 30 students nursing injuries after a fight between the Muslim and Christian students was one of the latest displays of how far religious intolerance can get.

Despite the fact that every student has a right to an education free from discrimination that provides high-quality, equitable opportunities to learn, the fact that individuals or systems sometimes act in ways that violate this right cannot be overruled. Discrimination occurs when people are treated unequally or less favourably than others because of some real or perceived characteristic. It exists in both intended and unintended ways and can take the form of direct, overt discrimination.

Most of the public schools in Kenya were established and owned by religious groups. Even after the government took control of some of them, it is not a secret they still do wield immense influence in the management and day-to-day running of the schools. Despite such influence, schools are expected to admit and accommodate all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, social class or religion.

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The Constitution stipulates there shall be no state religion and prohibits religious discrimination. It provides for freedom of religion and belief individually or in communities, including the freedom to manifest any religion through worship, practice, teaching, or observance, and states that individuals shall not be compelled to act or engage in any act contrary to their belief or religion. Likewise, the Children Act (2001) prohibits discrimination on grounds of origin, sex, religion, creed, custom, language, opinion, conscience, colour, birth, social, political, economic or other status, race, disability, tribe, residence or local connection.

It is the responsibility of individual schools to work together and promote inclusive school environments where all students, regardless of their religious affiliations, feel safe, welcome and valued.

Administrators of schools and other learning institutions need to be more responsive on reports, not only of religious discrimination, but all other forms of discrimination, in both their verbal and physical forms.

The Supreme Court ruling should not be looked at from the point of creating a divide but as a stepping stone for the stakeholders in the education sector to forge ways on how unity and tolerance can be fostered.

By so doing, the policy makers and educators will be able to understand the scope of the problem and foster a cohesive society.



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