Back-to-school headache ahead of key meeting

Sunday, September 13th, 2020 22:12 |
Education CS George Magoha interacts with learners at Milimani Primary School in Naivasha, . Photo/PD/FILE

Irene Githinji and Mathew Ndung’u 

Education officials were yesterday mulling whether to re-open schools before January next year, following a decline in Covid-19 infections amid protests by headteachers that learning institutions were ill-prepared to resume learning.

Sources in the Education ministry revealed that health officials had given the all-clear for schools to re-open after the country witnessed a steady decline in the rate of infections. 

But headteachers maintain that learning institutions are ill-prepared to enforce the strict Covid-19 guidelines such as social distancing among learners.

The dilemma comes ahead of today’s high-level meeting of education stakeholders to determine school’s re-opening date.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha is expected to review recent coronavirus trends and consider whether to reopen schools or not.

“Following the Presidential directive on convening the National Consultative Conference to chart the country’s post Covid-19 future, stakeholders in education sector need to deliberate and give their input on this critical issue,” Magoha said in a letter inviting key players to the meeting.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Association yesterday maintained there are several measures that must be put in place before learning can resume.

Chairperson Kahi Indimuli said public secondary schools will not be able to achieve social distancing if schools resume, hence the need for a clear-cut plan to deal with the big number of students.

“Much as we would really want to have our children back in school, we must be given a concrete way forward by the Ministry of Health, which will help us do the work instead of falling back in the middle,” Indimuli said.

There is also divided opinion on whether or not a partial reopening model should be embraced.

“There has been debate on partial reopening, probably it would be fine starting with Standard Eight and Form 4.

Those are proposals that have been put forth and every country has had final years given first priority,” Indimuli said.

He, however, said that as the partial re-opening option is explored, there is need to look at when the rest of the classes should resume and modalities to be adopted; whether to wait until January, which is part of the discussions to be held today.

He said it is not a bad idea to start with examination classes after all, because the education system has put emphasis on exams, and if it is not done, transition from primary to secondary schools and university will be a challenge.

Funds challenge

“If there will be any agreement in the meeting, it must be deliberated on another level.

The ministry must look at the proposals made and how they can be implemented and after that, the CS can give the way forward,” explained Indimuli.

The Kessha boss said the ministry officials have been conducting assessment of basic education institutions to identify risks and gaps. They will make  a report on what is expected.

He said schools have also been grappling with funds challenge because the government has not disbursed money as promised.

Kenya Primary School Heads Association chairman Nicholas Gathemia echoed Indimuli’s sentiments, saying priority should be given to infrastructure for schools, including shortage of desks.

“The outcome of the meeting depends on how the CS will guide us. For us headteachers, we work with policy guidelines and so far we have not been given any on how to move forward,” Gathemia said.

He is, however, against the proposal for partial reopening, saying it should not be experimented with children.

“Reopening should be pegged on the advice of medics and not experimenting with our children.

A class one child is the same as a class 8 or Form Four; they must be given equal opportunities, let us not talk about experimenting with Form Fours,” he explained.

Gathemia said some cartels want schools reopened because they have seen a ready market for their goods, but said teachers will implement policies as advised.

He also said capitation must be brought at the right time, saying public schools depend on it to operate.

“Capitation should be improved. We need to be told how to operate because right now, a majority of schools in Nairobi are at risk since security firms have withdrawn for lack of payment,” he said.

Today’s meeting comes amid anxiety among Kenyans on when learning will resume following a steady decline in Covid-19 infections over the last two weeks.

Much as he has been firm that reopening will be in January, Magoha said the decision was not cast on stone and the ministry will continue to seek advice from health officials on the best way forward.

 “The media has continued to religiously write what I have not talked about reopening.

You keep asking me the same question then you go and portray my responses in a very different manner,” Magoha said last week.

Yesterday, Technical and Vocational Education and Training Director-General Kipkirui Lang’at said at least 60 per cent of Technical Industrial Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training institutions across the country, were ready for reopening after conforming to the government protocols.

Lang’at said that the over 90 institutions have for the last three months been working on stipulated containment measures in readiness for reopening.

Speaking while on routine check on the progress of preparedness at Thika Technical Training Institute, Langat said a section of institutions were still unprepared and urged them to hasten the process to ensure they are not left behind.

Unlike basic learning institutions where learners have to be programmed in an orderly mode of study, Langat said technical institutions will have flexibility in teaching various subjects.

“We can have classes starting early, others can run late and the institutions can offer classes even during the weekend,” he said.

In the last two weeks, the Ministry of Health has put infection rate for coronavirus disease at about 5 per cent or less.

Last Friday, the CS met County Commissioners and County Directors of Education to discuss modalities within which desks for primary schools will be undertaken.

The government has allocated Sh1.9 billion to produce and distribute desks to 15 public primary and secondary schools, in each of the sub-counties under the Economic Stimulus Programme for locally assembled desks for schools. 

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