Low turn out, no masks as learners troop back to class
The first day of reporting to school received an average turn-out across the country as hundreds of schools grappled with social distancing challenges and lack of face masks for learners yesterday.
As national exam candidates and Grade Four pupils across the country trooped back to class, some parents expressed anxiety over what awaits them because most schools had few or no water points while others did not have thermoguns.
A spot check showed thousands of learners in Grade Four, Class Eight and Form Four arrived at schools without face masks despite the government’s directive that all children must shield their faces all the time.
The development came as Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha declared it would not be possible to give all learners free masks and will only provide for the less fortunate.
Consequently, the cost of masks has been transferred to parents, some of who can barely feed their children, even as Magoha said each learner requires at least two reusable masks to use for about six months.
“The government has made it extremely clear that we may not have to provide masks for all the children and the position is that we will provide masks for the less fortunate children.
So all those parents who can afford Sh70 to buy two masks which are reusable for six months should go ahead and buy them,” said Magoha, when he monitored the re-opening of school in Nairobi.
“Parents are encouraged to get safe masks from Rivatex or elsewhere but to say that the government should provide is taking us back. We will continue to provide for the needy children,” he added.
Similarly, the locally assembled desks that the government promised are yet to get to schools.
Magoha said the government’s position after National Parents Association (NPA) chairman Nicholas Maiyo called for support in provision of tasks. He said a spot check of the first day in school for learners found that a majority of them wore disposable masks, which would be a toll order for most parents.
“The only challenge parents have at the moment across the country is the issue of social distancing and for that matter we request the Government to avail the rest of the children with quality reusable masks, certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs),” said Maiyo, who accompanied Magoha in monitoring school reopening.
“In the morning, we were in Nairobi Primary and we saw most of the children wore disposable masks, which is very expensive for us parents because one disposable mask costs Sh30 so to have children in school for a whole month we need a lot of money for that purpose,” he added.
He, however, said the decision to gradually re-open was bold to keep the children busy as opposed to dealing with the challenges they have faced for the past seven months.
Magoha also reached out to corporate organisations to support the government in getting masks for children, saying more will be required as the rest of the classes resume learning.
“As we prepare to open all schools, we will need more masks for the less fortunate children.
I challenge other corporations that in Kenya the gold standard is our children and as we reopen we ask them to move with us, since I have said social distancing will be a challenge so they must be masked,” he stated.
Education PS Belio Kipsang echoed similar sentiments, saying quite a number of children did not have masks while reporting to school yesterday morning.
The CS and PS received a million masks from KCB bank and some were distributed to learners at Olympic Primary School in Kibera, Nairobi.
“When the children were arriving this morning, we saw a number of them without masks meaning this exercise, and the support we have received from KCB, is so critical.
We are sure some of the things we are seeing in Kibera could be recurring in other schools countrywide,” said Kipsang.
In Mombasa, wearing masks proved a difficult task as most learners reported without them.
Khadija Primary School head teacher Purity Macharia was concerned that almost half of the learners had no masks, and said parents could not provide them due to hard economic times.
Although she said the school has adhered to health regulations among them provision of water for washing hands, many learners do not have the mask.
“We have a serious challenge because many who reported to school did not have masks.
We could not send them back home because it is not their fault. And because we do not have financial capacity, we are appealing to well-wishers who can provide masks for those who can’t afford to help us,” said Macharia.
“Many of them have told us their parents cannot provide masks. Some of them cannot even put food on table and that is the biggest challenge we are dealing with.”
In Nyanza, there was a very low turnout of learners in the majority of schools.
Both public and private schools in the region were also struggling with the social distancing requirement, though a majority of learners had masks.
It was also a low turnout in Kajiado and Nakuru counties as only a handful of learners showed up.
“Few learners have reported with face masks and some have assorted sanitisers.
Some said they were told by parents that hand washing is much safer than sanitising. There is a lot of confusion,” said Jeremiah Maloi of Enkigiri Primary School in Kajiado.
In Nakuru parents were reluctant to release children despite being notified to bring their children to school.
At St Paul’s Primary, head teacher Peter Gichimo admitted that the numbers are low as compared to the registered pupils.
“It is a bit chaotic, though we are trying to manage the situation. Some students came without proper uniform and face masks and we had to step in to provide where we can,” said Gichimo.
In Kiambu, one of the most populated schools, Mwiki Primary School, was dealing with the social distancing challenge and lack of masks. Head teacher Joseph Kamau said learners will have to share desks due to congestion.
In Nyamira, it was the same script as the majority of learners reported without masks and the teachers were at a loss on how to assist them.
Parents in the county asked the government to assist in providing masks since they are financially incapacitated.
In Trans Nzoia, there was a relatively positive turn out but parents decried the short notice issued by the government, saying it was not adequate to raise school fees and buy other necessities for boarding students.
In Kisii, there was a good turn out as most learners reported to schools as expected.
KARI Primary School head, Abed Maseno said 90 per cent of the pupils reported and complied with the prevention measures on social distance, washing hands and wearing masks. Reporting by Irene Githinji, Oliver Musembi, Evans Nyakundi, David Musundi, Christine Musa, Harrison Kivisu, Noven Owiti and Robert Ochoro