There’s no education crisis, let children stay home

Monday, July 13th, 2020 00:00 |
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha. Photo/PD/File

Amos Kaburu       

The Kenyan public never stops amazing. It never disappoints. It is hard sometimes to tell what Kenyans want.

On March 23, 2020, the hashtag #IStandWithItaly topped the hawk-eyed and largest organised online community christened KOT (Kenyans On Twitter). 

Churches and mosques literally suspended programmes to pray for Italy. Kenyans petitioned Brand Kenya to put the three colour flag of Italy on the symbolic towering KICC. 

Because of what was happening in Italy, Kenyans united in one accord to live true to the words of the national anthem (I doubt a third of the almost 50 million Kenyans can sing the second line of that stanza). 

Profile pictures, WhatsApp statuses and all online platforms in Kenya trended what was seen as the worst side of Covid-19.

The country was united in viewing coronavirus as the monster that threatened the very existence of this great nation of long distance runners, the world’s leading exporter of tea, the land of invention for mobile money, just to name a few. 

The country listened keenly as Health CS Mutahi Kagwe spoke emphatically of why it was important to adhere strictly to the protocols issued by his ministry. Kenyans admitted that they were duty bound to fight since “anyone and anybody could get infected”.

 Fast-forward to July 6, 2020. The economy is partially reopened, save for the education sector. When the Education CS walked down the steps of KICD the following day and issued an 18-minute statement, the hopes of anxious parents vanished instantly. 

And a whole sub-sector of private schools and entrepreneurs was thrown into a spin. What looked like a logical decision has now become a subject of simmering debate on whether it was the right decision. 

Almost a week later and the calls for reconsidering the decision are gathering pace. Kenya is now trending globally for doing the unthinkable; canceling a whole academic year. 

I have been taken to task locally and internationally to comment on this decision. On the one hand, is a government responding to the fears of an “overprotective parent community”.

After all, when it boils down to individual responsibility, which parent would want their 14-year-old son to board a matatu from Kwale to go to Kitale to continue with learning when across the ferry, the Health CS just announced a record number of 447 infections from slightly over 3,000 samples tested in a single day? 

Amidst the concerns lies the stark reality that reopening schools is basically transferring the responsibility of care from parents to an overstretched teaching community, faced with their own fears following the history of mass condemnation.

Remember a teacher who was found guilty of professional negligence when a learner slid into a pit latrine in school?

The principal of a national school was sent packing for failing to protect a young boy who was molested by older students in the hostel when they were supposed to be asleep in the dead of the night? 

These are the same teachers who are supposed to take care of the over 15 million children, most who can hardly follow simple protocols from the ministry of Health.  

It’s easy to argue that the economy has opened and education is not unique. However, there is a stark difference; unlike other sectors where adults are involved and scope of influence is specified and limited, it is not the same in education where  there is full transferability of responsibility. 

It, therefore, makes perfect sense that parents and the overzealous KOT should remember the #IStandWithItaly hash-tag and ask whether they are ready to embrace the breaking news of “32 form two students in Kingeero Mixed Day Secondary test positive for Covid-19 today”.

  • The writer is the Manager for Action and Advocacy at the People’s Action for Learning Network — [email protected] 

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