How village schools are struggling to cope with Covid-19 health protocols
What you need to know:
- At the school gate, a water container is strategically placed for visitors to wash their hands.
- Prof Magoha, in his announcement on schools’ reopening, said the Ministry of Education would provide face masks to needy students.
- But Mr Otakamong says he is yet to receive any support of that kind from the government.
Behind the huge stones in Lurambi Constituency in Kakamega County, pupils of Elukho Primary School jovially play during their morning break.
These are the Grade Four and Class Eight learners who were recalled back to school after a seven-month break occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Only two out of 10 pupils are wearing facemasks, one of the Covid-19 containment measures set by the government for schools’ reopening.
At the school gate, a water container is strategically placed for visitors to wash their hands before entering. Similar handwashing areas have been established within the compound.
Schools and all learning facilities had to be closed in March because of the rising numbers of Covid-19 infections in the country.
But in October, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha directed that schools be reopened and Grade Four, Class Eight and Form Four students report back.
On Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that the rest of the learners will resume schooling in January 2021 following a sharp rise in infections since October.
“From the time we opened there has not been any facilitation from the government. I and the teachers in this school started preparing to identify places for washing hands. From the time the learners resumed on October 12, the first challenge we had was the face masks. A majority of children came without the face masks,” says Mr Mathew Otakamong, the headteacher of Elukho Primary School.
“What the children said is that they heard over the radio that the government was going to provide face masks for them in school. So the children were expecting the school to provide face masks which we did not have.”
Mr Otakamong said he had to send home three-quarters of the pupils who had reported back to school without face masks.
But that did not yield much as most of them are from needy families.
Prof Magoha, in his announcement on schools’ reopening, said the Ministry of Education would provide face masks to needy students.
But Mr Otakamong says he is yet to receive any support of that kind from the government.
“For headteachers who are heading a school that is in the interior or in a remote village, we are faced with different challenges every day, and Covid-19 has made things even more difficult in terms of ensuring the safety of the children and making sure they continue receiving their education,” he said.
The school was, however, able to provide water and soap for washing hands.
But then came the challenge of ensuring the pupils keep their face masks on all the time while in school.
Cat and mouse game
Oftentimes, Grade Four pupils play a cat and mouse game with their teachers.
They promptly wear their face masks appropriately when a teacher is nearby and, while on their own, they remove them.
The headteacher said it is difficult to ensure that the pupils have their masks on especially when they are playing during break time.
He added that even though the government released money schools, it is being used to cater for normal operation costs during the term such as paying for electricity and support staff.
Face masks are not their only big challenge.
No tap water
Having inadequate supply of water is another major problem. Due to the school’s geographical location, access to tap water remains a pipedream.
They rely on rains since the nearby stream is 100 kilometres away.
“We have a tank but it is dependent on rain. If it does not rain, then getting water becomes a problem. The school itself has no water. Now we have to ask the pupils to bring water from home. So if it rains we are safe,” said Mr Otakamong.
Currently, Mr Otakamong says the school has a population of 137 pupils — 73 Class Eight candidates and 64 Grade Four pupils.
Concerns over the preparedness of schools and adherence to Covid-19 prevention measures still abound. This is in the wake of rising cases of Covid-19 infections in the country, signalling a possible second wave of the disease.
At another school, Emusala Primary, the situation is not different.
Headteacher James Okello has similar challenges with his counterpart at Elukho Primary School.
“We received Sh92,000 in the general-purpose account that is to meet the requirements of the school and not the Covid-19 situation. And remember from March up to the time the money was released, I have got support staff who needed to be paid and I paid them,” said Mr Okello.
Very little money
After meeting all these requirements, the school remained with very little money to meet the required protocols.
For example, the school needed to purchase two thermo guns to take temperatures of pupils and teachers.
For handwashing, they had to improvise by requesting teachers to bring 20-litre plastic containers.
Luckily for the school, a borehole had been sunk to ensure a constant supply of water.
“We heard about desks. This school is an integrated school. We have special needs pupils but no one has talked to us about it. These are the mental and cerebral palsy cases. We hear about desks being given to us here in the interior or in villages but we don’t see anything,” said Mr Okello.
A majority of his learners do not have face masks.
“The truth of the matter is that Covid-19 is real, it is taking a toll on everybody. This means the more we keep these pupils in schools without the government ensuring their safety through the provision of some of these things like face masks, soap and sanitisers, then our schools will start becoming the breeding grounds for this disease,” says Mr Okello.
“As much as all schools need the attention of the Ministry of Education, I wish that they would just shift their focus for a little while to schools that are in inaccessible areas in the villages,” said Mr Okello.
“As teachers, we are ready to perform our duties but the problem is that meeting the Covid-19 protocols is a herculean task. And if they decide to bring over the other lot remaining at home, it will be a case of God for us all and everyone for himself,” said Mr Okello.
Luckily for the headteacher, reopening for the other learners has been pushed to January.