Corona proves toughest exam yet for Education CS Magoha

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 00:00 |
CS Magoha.

George Albert Omore Magoha has always excelled in almost every assignment he has been tasked with. 

 The University of Lagos-trained surgeon is credited with spearheading radical reforms at the University of Nairobi where he served as vice-chancellor.

Magoha was appointed to the position after he scored the highest points among applicants, becoming the first VC of a public university to be hired through an open competitive process. 

 After he retired from the university, he was appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to chair Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) in 2016 and instantly earned national admiration for coming up with systems that nearly ended the chronic cheating in examinations. 

 In March 2019, Magoha was appointed Cabinet Secretary for Education, a position he took up with gusto, dismissing claims that he is dictatorial and mechanical in approaching issues.

Top Professor

 “I am definitely not mechanical. I am a top grade professor. I work from the backroom. I am a surgeon; I identify the problem then deal with it and leave. I don’t expect to agree with everyone, if you agree with everyone it is a problem,” he once said.

 A man known for delivery on his tasks, Magoha is now caught between a rock and a hard place.  

The surgeon has been tasked to make probably one of his most delicate decisions in his public service life: To find a way to re-open schools amidst the coronavirus pandemic. On his surgical table are lives of millions of Kenyan school-going children.

 Magoha, who undertakes assignments with surgical precision, has repeatedly declared that failure is never in his vocabulary and that he personally gets things done as opposed to delegating.

Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams in session last year. Photo/PD/FILE

 With minimal disposition to modesty, Prof Magoha declares himself apolitical and averse to lobbying, implying that he has never been on the wrong end of the roll of honour.

 Now in charge of the Ministry of Education docket for the last 15 months, Magoha admits he has never seen anything like coronavirus, which has brought immeasurable impact to the sector, in his more than 41 years of practice.

However, much as there is a proposal for partial reopening of schools in September, Magoha seems not convinced yet, given the fact that the coronavirus case load is rising significantly.

 “The elephant in the room is the situation of physical distancing, but we are getting solace from the fact that the disease is still increasing, bottom line is that we will not open until the disease has stopped increasing and stabilised for 14 days,” Magoha said on Monday.

 “When it (stabilises), health experts and our ministry will assess and report to the President the risks we are likely to take. For now, I do not think the President will be happy to open schools when we are still spiking.”

He also has to face critical challenges including ensuring students and teachers are tested, availability of adequate testing kits, provision of masks to all, ensuring proper use and regular changing, adequate supply of clean water, soap and sanitisers in all schools.

 While appreciating Magoha’s dilemma, experts who spoke to People Daily yesterday were divided on the best way forward on schools.

 Former Jaramogi Oginga University lecturer, Dr Ogone Obiero, argued that the government should explore ways of re-opening learning institutions, saying the virus is here to stay.

 According to Obiero, the Education ministry should issue strict protocols to deal with the situation, failing which the country might wait  “forever” before schools can resume.

 “Let government enforce measures that will contain the disease. We do not know how long it will take to end this but the caveat should be a raft of strict precautions taken seriously to mitigate its spread. Schools have to open,” Dr Obiero said.

 He added that it was not possible for the government to build more classes at the moment and it should try improvising with tents and revise periods of learning as it studies the situation.

 “We should work with proposed September date but first start with examination classes in primary and secondary so that there is adequate space for physical distancing. Then there should be controlled movements in and out of schools and should anything arise we can always close schools,” he added.

According to him, the government should also do away with cessation of movement in parts of the country otherwise it will be disastrous for the economy by end of the year.

 Prof Ken Onkware, a senior lecturer at Masinde Muliro University, supported Dr Obiero, saying  the proposal to partially reopen schools in September should be taken seriously.

 For universities, he says, reopening should start with fourth years who are almost graduating before moving to the other students as well as examination classes in primary and secondary schools.

 “There will be enough space to practise social distancing if we are to open schools partially,” said Prof Onkware.

Against rush

 However, educationist Amos Kaburu warns against any rush to reopen schools.

 “What we have is a health crisis and we need to lower the infections first. The CS should take a moment and monitor the situation silently as they work out an elaborate plan,” Kaburu said in an interview.

 He said the CS did the right thing by appointing a taskforce to explore ways to reopen and their report must have advised accordingly.

Other stakeholders have insisted on the need to allow the situation to be brought under control, saying exams should not be a key determinant for resuming learning.

Already, the process of assessing the status of schools and colleges is underway as the ministry of Education explores possible strategies for gradual reopening.

 Magoha says his ministry is seeking to reduce contact in learning institutions by having fewer learners as a way of reducing infections and avoiding any fatalities that may be associated with reopening of institutions.

 Public health experts have cited the cases of Finland,  South Korea, France, China and Denmark, as examples of countries which saw a spike in infections after re-opening learning institutions.

 Last month, Magoha said possibilities are that standard eight and form four candidates will sit their national examination by April next year should schools resume in September, as questions linger over the effects of a re-organised education calendar. 

 Magoha said much as there is a presidential directive to consider partial re-opening of learning institutions in September, the decision may change as informed by prevailing circumstances of coronavirus infections.

 For a man who has excelled in most of his public endeavors, when to reopen schools must be a difficult exam even for a surgeon with four decades of experience in the operating room.

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