What you need to know:
- Learners, teachers and parents are bracing for tough times as schools implement the Covid-19 protocols.
- Some schools have directed parents to ensure they pay full school fees.
More than 15 million learners are expected to return to school tomorrow, some for the first time in nine months, amid uncertainty among teachers and education officials on how to run the institutions during a pandemic.
While some have put in place some hygiene facilities, including sanitising points, hand-washing points, thermoguns and extra toilets to deal with Covid-19, the majority of learning institutions are grappling with infrastructural inadequacies, which experts warn is a recipe for chaos.
In most schools, lack of classrooms, desks, water, toilets, and dormitories is a stark reality even as Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha yesterday exuded confidence that there was no cause for alarm.
Learners, teachers and parents are bracing for tough times as schools implement the Covid-19 protocols in the learning institutions.
This situation has occasioned directives by some institutions to parents to go an extra mile to protect their children by buying them expensive masks, sanitisers and other equipment. This even as many parents admit that sending the children to school is a hardship after losing livelihoods to the vagaries of the pandemic.
St Albert’s Ulanda Girls School, for instance, had procured labelled facemasks with the principal Phenora Buyengo saying they had told parents to purchase the masks at school.
The Migori County-based institution also wants every child to part with an extra Sh2,000 which has been earmarked as infrastructural development levy, which parents have protested.
“It is unfortunate that the administration came up with the vote head and fixed it as part of first-term fees. The move has now put an additional burden on parents and guardians as they are considered not to have completed their fees for the first term,” said one of the aggrieved parents.
In the Coast region, some headteachers are demanding money from desperate parents from private schools who seek their children’s admission in public institutions. Some parents claimed they are being asked to pay between Sh5,000 for pupils and Sh10, 000 for secondary students before admission, an amount which is not receipted, raising questions on its legality.
In Kwale, a parent told the Sunday Nation that a principal demanded Sh10, 000 for admission of his child to a national school. Some schools have directed parents to ensure they pay full school fees despite the Ministry of Education informing school principals not to send away students with fee arrears.
On Saturday, Prof Magoha warned school heads against forcing learners to carry sanitisers or medical masks and imposing extra levies fees. He said the government expects schools to provide soap and sanitisers and install handwashing points for learners in strategic places.
“Schools asking learners to carry their own sanitisers must stop,” Prof Magoha said at Kibera Secondary School when he received lockers and chairs for the school ahead of tomorrow’s opening.
The CS retaliated that the school fees guidelines must be adhered to. On facemasks, Prof Magoha asked parents to make them part of school uniform.
Aside from the levies, most parents have had to shop for new sets of uniform as the children have outgrown the old ones. Businesses have taken advantage of this to raise prices.
According to Mr Hevrone Maira, a proprietor of Tagache Uniforms in Awendo town, the hike in prices was occasioned by a high demand after students went home.
“There is a general price increase but a majority of our clients who make bulk orders are given a discount,” Mr Maira noted.
Mr Peter Odero, a bookseller in Migori town, said the sales have been affected by roadside vendors whom parents are now turning to owing to the low prices. Despite the government supplying desks, chairs and lockers in schools, Prof Magoha said social distancing remains a mirage.
Wearing of masks
“If you expect to see 1.5-metre distancing in a classroom, it will not happen. We are emphasising on wearing of masks and availability of water and soap in the institutions,” he said.
The CS said a classroom would ideally have a maximum of 20 learners and asked school heads to provide spaces even in tents and under trees.
According to the Ministry of Health and Education health protocols, as the schools reopen, the heads should ensure that the learners are safe by fully implementing the health guidelines: thermometers for temperature checks at the gate, facemasks and sanitation.
The health guidelines also dictate that breaks and playtime, and physical education be avoided.
Prof Omu Anzala, a microbiologist at the University of Nairobi, said there is a likelihood that the learners will be getting the virus at home and bringing it to school.
“So as we put in the safety measures in school, we should continue preaching the message of continuation in observing of the public health measures,” he said, warning that outbreaks in schools will be inevitable.
Prof Anzala told the Sunday Nation that children so rarely develop severe symptoms cautioning that if the measures are not in place, then the opening might pose a much greater risk to teachers, family members, and the wider community than to students themselves.
Earlier reports by the World Health Organisation revealed that, in countries where learners went to school and schools did not modify class sizes or make other substantive adjustments, several teachers died of Covid-19 complications.
Early data from European countries suggest that, when local infection rates are low, opening schools with some precautions does not seem to cause a significant increase in infections and deaths.
In Israel, infections among children increased steadily after schools opened. However, it was not clear whether the rising caseload was contributed by the reopening of the schools. Most of the schools sampled by the Sunday Nation showed that they are not ready to implement the health protocols.
On Saturday, Kenya Union of Post Primary Teachers (Kuppet) chair Oboko Milemba said schools were ill prepared for reopening.
“The Ministry of Education should supply sanitisers, handwashing stations, and at least three masks to each of the learners in primary and secondary schools," he said, adding: “We are urging the Ministry to release funds to schools.”
Kenya Primary School Heads Association’s (Kepsha) Nicholas Gathemia expressed the fears that safety measures have not been put in place.
“Primary schools are not well facilitated, we are asking for proper funding to enable us implement the safety protocols,” said Mr Gathemia.
Ministry of Education director general Elyas Abdi acknowledged that schools are not well funded and asked the administrators to find ways of implementing the health protocols.
Secondary school heads who spoke to the Sunday Nation revealed that they face challenges of social distancing in dormitories and classrooms.
“We are supposed to ensure that learners are not congested in dormitories, however in the prevailing circumstances, it will not be possible as no new infrastructures were built during the pandemic,” revealed a Principal in Kiambu county.
“Our infrastructural capacity may not accommodate all the learners. We are seeking alternatives that include converting classrooms into dormitories and using tents to accommodate more students, ” said Migori Boys High School principal Mr Billy Ogolla.
Masara Secondary principal Daniel Aloka said the teachers will conduct learning in shifts. Kadika Girls Secondary School despite a newly constructed 300-bed dormitory, Mrs Roselyn Ochieng, the school head expressed concerns of understaffing and a possibility of receiving back expectant students.
“Apart from staff shortage, it is worrying that some of our girls may report back while expectant although we have set adequate measures to accommodate them should that be the case,” Mrs Ochieng said.
County director of Education Elizabeth Otieno said there were plans to provide tents to be used as open-air classrooms to cushion students from the spread of Covid-19.
The Kenya Private Schools Association chief executive Peter Ndoro told the Sunday Nation that it has been an expensive process to prepare schools for reopening.
“We expected the Sh7 billion grant promised by the government but it never came,” said Mr Ndoro.
But Prof Magoha said the government could not release the grants because of hard economic times.
The Kenya National Union of teachers (Knut) secretary general Wilson Sossion asked the government to quickly address the nurses strike and ensure they are back to hospitals to address any cases of Covid-19 that may arise in schools.
“Schools will need support from doctors and nurses and the government should ensure they resume work ahead of schools reopening,” said Mr Sossion.
Kenya national parent’s association chairman Nicholas Maiyo said the government must ensure that children are safe by funding schools properly.
“To support the initiative to keep our children safe at school, as an organization we have resolved to avail affordable, yet high quality masks and that all parents will be required to purchase two at Sh50 each,” said Mr Maiyo.
Teachers too will have a hectic school year with an unprecedented four terms.
While the majority will begin their second term, Grade 4, Standard Eight and Form four learners who had reported back on October 12,2020, will be starting the third term.
Four-year-olds who will be joining the school for the first time are expected in July when the 2021 school calendar starts.
Teachers are worried that a majority of learners cannot remember what they learnt nine months ago.
Meanwhile, spome schools in the Rift region may not even open. In Elgeyo-Marakwet, Liter girls' secondary school which was adversely affected during the Chesegon landslides is yet to be constructed on a new land which was identified by community members.
“Relocation of Liter Girls has been slow given the fact that schools are reopening soon and students are not assured of where they will learn. We hope the school will be up and running soon to make learning comfortable in the area,” says county KUPPET secretary John Chesergon.
This happens as the national government announced an allocation of Sh100 million for reconstruction of the school at the new place raised ground which is safe should the area suffer landslide disasters again.
Comfortable for learning
“The government has allocated Sh 100 million for building the school afresh. We are confident that with the funding, the school will get a new face on a secure place which is comfortable for learning,” says county director for education Mr Japheth Masibo.
Mr Masibo said meanwhile, learners will be redirected to nearby St Paul's Kapkondot secondary school where they will take their studies as preparations for reconstruction of the intuitions take shape.
Asked how students from two institutions will fit in one school and still maintain social distancing, the director said all factors were considered before the decision was arrived at.
"St Paul's Kapkondot school used to have many students but due to insecurity issues, many parents pulled their kids from the schools leaving it underpopulated. We therefore have enough rooms to hold all the students,” said Mr Masibo.
According to the director, Cheptany and Mungwo primary schools which were also affected by landslides will receive support but in the meantime, learners will be relocated to nearby schools should the structures prove dangerous.
At the same time, locals in the banditry prone counties in the North Rift enjoyed a peaceful festive season as security agencies and provincial administration stepped up efforts to tame the runaway insecurity menace in the region.
For the past two weeks, few incidents have been reported in the porous areas with locals celebrating the festivity devoid of fears of being attacked by armed criminals.
Uneasy calm was slowly returning to the insecurity prone area in the region with residents beginning to go about their normal activities.
Richard Chepchomei, an elder from Baringo North called on the government to ensure that they intensify patrols especially along the border areas when schools reopen to ensure that learners report to their institutions without being attacked.
“It is our prayer that the perennial banditry attacks in the North Rift region are tamed once and for all. As schools resume on Monday, we appeal to the government to also ensure that learners travelling to schools in the banditry prone areas arrive safely. We have had incidences of armed criminals especially along Chemolingot –Kapedo road laying ambush and attacking motorists,” said Mr Chepchomei.
He noted that patrols were intensified along the border areas with all volatile areas secured and to ensure sustained peace, buffer zones to be manned by officers were also set up in the affected areas to ensure peaceful co-existence between the warring communities.
Turkana County Police Commander Samuel Ndanyi assured locals in the banditry prone Turkana East Sub-County of their security and promised that they will continue with the security operation until all learners resume learning next week.
“Apart from the festivity, we have also put proper measures to ensure that learners in the banditry prone counties resume learning peacefully. We have intensified patrols along the porous Kapedo, Lomelo, Lokori and Kamuge areas and we will not call off our security operation in these areas until we ensure that school going children are also safe in their respective schools,” said Mr Ndanyi.
Additional reporting by Winnie Atieno , Pius Maundu,Evans Kipkura, Onyango K’onyango, Florah Koech, Oscar Kaikai Ian Byron, Victor Raballa and George Odiwuor