Anxiety runs deep ahead of schools reopening

Monday, October 12th, 2020 00:00 |
Flooded Salabani Secondary School in Baringo South caused by the rising water of Lake Baringo. Photo/PD/Raphael Munge

Phased re-opening of schools starts today, amid a cloud of uncertainty with parents expressing anxiety about safety of their children.

The anxiety seems to be founded on the rising coronavirus cases in the last few days, coupled with reports that many schools are yet to establish adequate measures to guard against Covid-19 infections among learners and teachers.

In Nairobi, parents yesterday thronged various bus termini to travel upcountry with their children ahead of today’s reopening. Most of them had to contend with fare hikes owing to shortage of Public Service Vehicles (PSVs).

But even as the government issued firm instructions to ensure the phased reopening succeeds, teachers were grappling with several challenges on the resumption of classes.

These ranged from late release of capitation funds to how they will cope with anticipated influx of students from private schools which have shut down, creating enough room to meet social distancing arrangements, provision of masks to students and teachers, to meeting the required hygiene protocols within the short period.

A spot-check by People Daily established that head teachers and schools’ Board of Management (BoMs) were racing against time to ensure the measures were in place in readiness for resumption of learning after almost a seven-month Covid-19 induced break.

Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang issued a circular, instructing County Directors of Education (CDE) to ensure all schools are re-opened today and that learning takes off immediately.

“In line with Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha’s directive that basic education learning institutions resume classes on October 12, you are hereby strictly instructed to ensure the process goes on unhindered. You are, therefore, instructed to ensure that all schools are re-opened without failure for any reasons whatsoever,” the circular stated.

Another circular

The circular warned that CDEs and head teachers would be held liable for public schools that fail to reopen today in line with the government directive.

Yet, in another circular on the same day, the ministry, through the Regional Directors of Education, asked CDEs to put in place mechanisms to absorb thousands of learners from private schools expected to flood public institutions as a result of closure of  private schools hard hit by effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This office has received unconfirmed reports of some private schools that have closed and ceased operations.

As we prepare for reopening of our schools, you are required to liaise with the proprietors of such institutions and obtain the list of their candidates for placements in the neighbouring public primary and secondary schools in consultations with the guardians and parents,” a circular from the Nairobi Regional Director of Education JO Obiero states.

On Friday, Kipsang said the government had released Sh13.2 billion for free secondary schools while primary schools were to receive Sh1.2 billion.

Several head teachers of both primary and secondary schools confirmed they had received the money in their accounts between Thursday evening and Friday morning.

Since Friday, the heads of school have been busy procuring and installing requirements such as water tanks and hand washing points, sanitisers, thermo guns, soap and other hygiene equipment as stipulated by  the ministries of Education and Health.

A cross-section of head teachers told People Daily yesterday that the government seems to have passed the responsibility of procuring masks to parents.

“Though the wearing of masks is one of the key requisites for all learners, the government has not factored it in the budgetary allocations to schools.

This obviously means parents will have to bear the cost of the masks for their children,” a teacher in Eldoret saaid.

Last week, Magoha directed Grade Four, Standard Eight and Form Four students to resume classes today, in a phased system that would see all the other learners returning to classes by November 2. 

As if striving to live by the maxim, desperate times call for desperate measures, head teachers have become ingenious than ever before.

Many have devised jerry cans (plastic containers) fixed with taps as points of running water instead of the more expensive water tanks. Others have devised ways to make cheap liquid soap.  

Yesterday, Kenya Secondary School Head teachers Association (Kessha) chairman Kahi Indimuli has confessed a myriad of challenges lie ahead.

According to Indimuli, the major challenges remain provision of masks to all teachers and students whose parents cannot afford, creating enough space for social distancing when other classes resume and how to cope up with the anticipated exodus of students from private institutions.

“At the moment, most schools can cope up with Form Four leaners, but the major challenge will be when other classes resume. This is likely to be compounded further by the anticipated exodus of learners from private schools,” Indimuli said.

Biggest challenge

The Kessha chairman now wants the government to either bail out private schools or create a revolving credit fund that they can access loans from until the time they are back on their feet.

Indimuli says schools with big populations of students could face the biggest challenge in meeting social distancing given the fact they have been directed to ensure that a class does not have more than 20 students.

 As a matter of urgency, the government should start mapping out the number of private schools likely not to reopen and estimate the number of students likely to be affected,” the suggested.

Already, some private schools have notified parents to make arrangements to transfer their children because they have decided to shut down.

“This is, therefore, to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances, Royal Kids School will not reopen its doors on October 12.

You are, therefore, requested to clear with the school and obtain your child‘s school leaving certificate and other documents that you may wish,” the school said.

The Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association (Kepsha) Nicholas Gathemia on the other hand while confirming that everything is in place towards reopening, faulted the government for releasing the funds late.

“The head teachers were not given adequate time to put in place all the requirements.  But all the same, we are racing against time to ensure that everything proceeds well,” said Gathemia.

Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) has also urged their schools to consider giving flexible fee payment terms based on a case-by-case basis.

KPSA Chief Executive Peter Ndoro said school fees issue should be dealt with in a manner that will not compromise access and provision of quality education in a safe and healthy environment.

Irrespective of availability of space, Ndoro said all private schools should strictly adhere to reopening of the stated Grade Four, Class Eight and Form Four.

He also said participation or otherwise in online classes during the pandemic period should not be used in any way  to disadvantage any learner. 

Parents have  been forced to dig deeper into their pockets to raise fees, buy new sets of uniforms, face masks, soap and sanitizers for their children.

They also said the cost of taking children back to school was too high and that adequate preparation was needed including transport from one county to another.

James Kimani, for instance, said the children are not psychologically prepared for resumption of studies, warning that a rushed reopening may cause a spike in cases of indiscipline.

Kimani was afraid that some students are likely create a situation in schools so they can be sent back home.

“The government could have just allowed resumption of studies in January 2021, we don’t have the money required and children are not ready,” said Kimani.

Another parent, Susan Mureithi wondered if their children will be safe saying the government has not given them assurances that the disease is under control despite the flattening curve.

Mureithi noted that schools abroad that had rushed to reopen are closing again after a spike.

“Government advisers are misleading the president, why reopen when the year is almost coming to an end, I foresee a catastrophe in the education sector,” said Mureithi.

Peter Muriuki decried transport crisis with fares skyrocketing as commuters and students will be jostling for space in public service vehicles.

According to him, parents continue to feel the negative effects of the pandemic and doubled transport prices will be inevitable as they have to send their children back to school. 

“My son is traveling to Machakos and the fare plus the upkeep will take a huge toll on my finances, bearing in mind I lost my job amid the pandemic, this is just hurting,” said Muriuki.

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