Ministry’s strict proposals for re-opening of schools

Friday, July 24th, 2020 08:50 |
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha interacts with pupils. Photo/PD/File

Parents may have to dig deeper into their pockets to fund their children’s education if the government implements tough new guidelines for primary and secondary schools ahead of their re-opening in January 2021.        

If adopted by stakeholders and implemented by the Ministry of Education, some of the proposals could lead to a closure of a number of schools and a drastic increase in fees due to the amount of money required to put the measures in place.

A draft document prepared by the Ministry of Education titled: “Guidelines on Health and Safety Protocols for Reopening of Basic Education Institutions Amid Covid-19 Pandemic” lists a raft of requirements all schools will be required to implement before resuming classes.

From ensuring constant availability of liquid soap, hand washing facilities, disinfectants, thermo-guns and face masks and enforcing their utilisation, all schools will also be forced to renovate buildings, improve or install age, disability and gender appropriate hygiene facilities such as toilets and bathrooms to ease congestion.

“Where learners or trainees will be in class or lecture halls, institution management will create physical distance between learners or trainees and place desks at least one metre apart from one another, and one metre apart from all doors to avoid any physical contact or air contamination,” the draft states.

In order to avoid congestion in classrooms, schools will be allowed to use prefabricated rooms, tents and multi-shift system to conduct learning.

“Where possible, teachers will be allowed to use tele-screens and zoom facilities in their lessons to avoid congested classrooms,” the ministry recommends.

It will be considered an offence for any learner to share personal items such as textbooks, slippers, shoes, clothes, towels, toothbrush, soap, shoe brushes and beds, among others.

Learning institutions will be required to build more toilets and bathrooms to ensure that more than 25 students do not use a single toilet.

“All learning institutions should have adequate, clean and well maintained toilets at a ratio of 1 door to 25 girls and 1 door to 30 boys with a urinal.

(ii) Toilets should be disinfected three times a day,” the guidelines state.

To ease congestion in the facilities, break times shall be staggered to limit the number of learners visiting the toilet at any time, the document proposes.

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha yesterday quipped when reached for comment on the draft: “It is not going back to normal. We will have to maintain significant levels of social distancing – probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available.

Parents, teachers and students should expect drastic changes when we resume.”

Under the proposed order, schools management will be required to provide all non-teaching staff members such as cleaners, cooks, watchmen, matrons and messengers with personal protective equipment (PPEs) including face masks, hair nets, gloves, clean overalls, and slip reduction work shoes or gumboots.

“Wearing of PPE should be routine in all institution kitchens and dining areas,” the document reads.

Daily basis 

Furthermore, all food handlers will be required to have the requisite food handling certificates and in addition be screened for Covid- 19 symptoms on a daily basis before being allowed access.

“All food handlers shall undergo asymptomatic screening for Covid-19 on a daily basis; those with symptoms of Covid-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, fatigue) should be allowed to seek medical attention,” says the report.

The proposals, if implemented, could also spell the end of boarding schools in their current form as the government shifts focus to day schools in the post-Covid-19 era. 

In the draft, the ministry proposes that boarding schools should be considered as an option for students and pupils from further distances from their homes.

“Our belief in boarding schools has indeed caused a lot of strain on education facilities and must be reconsidered.

After all, though many parents believe in boarding schools, the institutions make up about 14 per cent of basic education institutions in the country,” says Akello Misori, the secretary general of the Kenya Union of Post Primary Teachers (KUPPET) who was one of the members of the 10-member task force that came up with the recommendations.

Misori warned parents to brace themselves for a whole new set up when schools reopen.

The KUPPET boss warned that reopening of schools in the post-Covid-19 era will come with extra challenges and financial burden.

“The government, parents and schools will be required to dig deeper into their pockets.

All the proposals will definitely cost billions to implement. But it is sacrifice we must make for the future of our children,” Misori told the People Daily by telephone.

Under the guidelines, schools will also be forced to replace the current double-decker beds to suit the recommended distance of at least one metre between each occupant to meet the social distancing requirement.

Besides, for the first time in the country’s history, learners and teachers will be required to wear face masks at all times in school.

“All learners or trainees and staff shall wear age appropriate facemasks at all times, and these masks must be regularly changed, particularly for students with developmental disabilities,” the ministry proposes.

In what is likely to eat into the budget of most schools, where water is a scare commodity, it will be mandatory for all classrooms and lecture halls to have access to a hand washing facility with adequate clean running water and liquid soap.

“Safe water sources shall be provided in all institutions with adequate designated hand washing points. 

Water shall be made available through on-site taps, or reservoir at the institutions and containers regularly refilled,” the draft states.

Inspectors from the Ministries of Health and Education will regularly move around the institutions to ensure that the dormitory floors are of appropriate material to enable smooth cleaning and disinfecting and have a good drainage.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary General Wilson Sossion while welcoming the proposals, warned that the government must shoulder the largest share of the burden of the requirements.

“Just as much as we should ensure the safety of our children and teachers, we are worried that the government might decide to pass the whole burden of purchasing all these requirements to parents and school managements.

This must be avoided as the parents are already overburdened,” Sossion said.

Whole burden 

Once learners return to schools, no unauthorised visitors would be allowed in the institutions and events such as career and motivation days would be suspended indefinitely.

Map an emergency health facility that is within 10 km and collaborate with county government to have some health personnel assigned to the institution for regular health monitoring and sensitisations. 

Most schools in the rural areas may have a challenge in meeting a requirement that to map an emergency health facility that is within 10 km and collaborate with county government to have some health personnel assigned to the institution for regular health monitoring and sensitizations.

A number of education facilities in the rural areas are constructed more than 20 kilometres from the nearest health facility.

And before any school is allowed to reopen, a joint team of inspectors from the Ministries of Education, Interior, Water and Sanitation and Health shall visit it to assess all the facilities and give it a clean bill of health.

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