Activists fight in court over whether children should return to school

T he government shut schools to curb coronavirus in mid March. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • They opposed the reopening of schools without consideration of guidelines issued by UNESCO.

Seven activists have moved to court to stop reopening of learning institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The activists, Michael Otieno, Evance Oloo, Mary Akach, Irene Ojwang, Robert Oluoch, Millicent Adhiambo and Evans Odhiambo claim that many children from poor and rural areas are disadvantaged by the ongoing virtual learning.

In the suit filed against the Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, the Attorney-General and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), the activists argue that there are learners who lack access to electricity, have special needs or have been affected by floods besides the Covid-19 pandemic.

They opposed the reopening of schools without consideration of guidelines issued by UNESCO.

“Recognising that the concept of education is the most fundamental duty and necessity in any democracy, children are the supreme assets of any nation being the greatest gift to humanity, they deserve equality, right to life and highest standards of attainable health status,” they said.

According to the UN guidelines on reopening of schools amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, public health and socio-economic factors must be central to national and local authorities’ decisions on this matter after assessing the associated benefits as well as risks to education.

UNESCO, UNICEF, World Food Programme and World Bank have already indicated that the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about many unprecedented risks to children’s education as well as their well-being even though there is no enough evidence on disease transmission rate.

In the said guidelines, governments have been urged to prioritise education for all children including the marginalised and strengthen distance learning and establish support for reopening of schools.

Governments have also been urged to consider how various school going children, teachers and communities are coping with the pandemic in various contexts and how decision makers can best give support while considering risk factors on one hand and benefits of classroom learning on the other.

According to the petitioners, most parents have been affected by the pandemic and the cost of virtual learning besides settling bills, feeding their children and supervising their learning at home has been overwhelming.

They want the case certified urgent and the ongoing broadcast on learning programmes to primary and secondary students as set by KICD be temporarily suspended.

They also want the timetable set by KICD to be halted and any plans by the government to reopen schools suspended until when the institutions will be pandemic compliant.