School heads dilemma ahead of January 4 reopening date

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020 00:00 |
State kicks off review of schools structure guide.

With only two weeks left before schools reopen on January 4, teachers and parents are at a loss on how they would enforce the social distancing rule amid deafening silence from the Education ministry.

This is because the government is yet to disburse infrastructure development funds to learning institutions, to construct additional classrooms and dormitories to meet Covid-19 containment measures.

More so, the government is yet to disburse funds for free secondary and primary education as well as money to mitigate effects of Covid-19, leaving headteachers in a quandary.

Teachers are grappling with how they will accommodate the huge population of students, at a time most schools are facing overcrowding occasioned by the 100 per cent transition policy implemented in 2018, without construction of additional classrooms.

National schools with huge populations such as Pangani Girls, Maseno, Maranda, St Joseph’s Kitale, Alliance Girls and Boys, Nairobi School, Kenya High, Precious Blood Riruta, Lugulu Girls, Kamusinga, Mangu, Starehe Boys Centre, Lenana, Kakamega, Asumbi Girls and Kisii School, are likely to experience serious overcrowding leading to social distancing challenges.

Kept in the dark

Yesterday, a source at the Education ministry said Maranda in Bondo, Siaya county and St Joseph’s Boys in Kitale, with populations of more than 3,000 students, may require in excess of Sh200 million each to put up adequate infrastructure.

“The government has not assisted them at all to expand the existing infrastructure in the face of Covid-19.

They have been left to their own devices,” the source told People Daily.

Parents have also been kept in the dark over school fees structure amid reports school heads might be forced increase fees, in order to put up extra buildings and purchase equipment required.

According to the law, a school can only increase fees with the express authority from the Ministry of Education, through the County Director of Education.

“The government would have done parents a great favour if it came out clear on the issue of schools fees early, to enable schools to send parents the structure before Christmas,” said Moses Nthurima, the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers deputy secretary general.

Nthurima blamed the government for doing little to kick-start preparations in schools ahead of the January reopening.

 The official now wants a special audit at the ministry of to authenticate use of funds disbursed by the National Treasury.

“The government has each year been releasing billions of shillings for education that does not leave Jogoo House.

Where does the money go? The same case applies to this Covid-19 issue, where the government says it has released money but there is nothing on the ground,” said Nthurima.

Big challenge

And President Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent plea to governors and MPs to use their Education budgets and National Government Constituency Development Fund to expand spaces in schools to meet the Covid-19 protocols has fallen flat, after the National Treasury failed to disburse funds to the two entities.

While governors are complaining that Treasury has not disbursed funds for the last three months, MPs have been forced to reschedule their development plans until a time money would be released.

With time fast running out, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has maintained a studious silence while the National Treasury is experiencing a serious cash crunch, leaving teachers to their own devices.

Efforts to get a comment from Magoha yesterday failed as the CS was said to be out of the country on official duty.

However, the chairperson of the Education Committee in the National Assembly, Florence Mutua, stated: “Sh1.2 billion was released in September for infrastructure. Sh800 million is to be released soon for the same.

So the various schools that have got support must move with speed and put up additional infrastructure for the basic education sector.

We must remember that apart from Covid-19, the 100 per cent transition has brought a lot of challenges in regards to infrastructure.”​​​​​​

Yesterday, the chairman of the Kenya Secondary Schools Headteachers Association, Kahi Indimuli, said social distancing would be difficult to achieve in schools without additional classrooms.

“It is a big challenge that we still don’t know how we shall tackle... Although the government released some funds for smaller preparations like water points, no funds have been released for infrastructure development,” said Indimuli.

The official confessed that almost all schools are inadequately prepared for reopening due to failure by the government to release funds.

He singled out boarding schools which would face a serious challenges in terms of classrooms and dormitories.

Also to express misgivings was the Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion, who confessed that the level of preparedness for schools ahead of reopening was wanting.

“The rate at which things are moving, I don’t think teachers will be ready with the learning process.

There is no infrastructure development on the ground despite the government’s spirited decision to go ahead,” Sossion said.

Teachers interviewed told the People Daily that apart from providing desks for some schools and constructing water points, the government had not done anything else, particularly on infrastructure.

They warned that as things stand, the issue of social distancing may remain a pipe dream.

They want Magoha to come out and lead from the front. Most teachers are now mulling offering lessons in shifts or ignoring social distancing should the government fail to provide funds.

In the shift proposal, secondary and primary school heads said classes will have to be split into three or four to comply with the social distancing requirements.

The government allocated some Sh1.9 billion under the Economic Stimulus Programme for the supply of locally assembled desks to both public primary and secondary schools.

School heads said most institutions had enough desks and cited lack of adequate space to place the desks for learning as the biggest challenge.

“Most of the schools have desks. The few that don’t have can be mapped out and allocated. However, what we really need is adequate classrooms to space the desks,” said Indimuli.

He appealed to the government to release funds for free education to enable headteachers to plan accordingly.

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