Ministry fires stern warning on food and water safety in schools

Kapsabet School

Workers prepare to serve a meal at Kapsabet Boys High School in Nandi County on May 05, 2022. The government has warned schools to ensure the food and water students consume are inspected for safety. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu has warned administrators to ensure the food and water students consume while in school is inspected for safety following the outbreak of diseases in some schools last term.

The Ministry of Education is expected to issue a circular giving guidelines to schools on water and food safety.

“We are asking everyone to be very cautious with the food and water that our students take, taking into consideration the few schools where we’ve had problems because of contamination. Make sure it is properly inspected regularly by experts to ascertain that it is fit for human consumption,” Mr Machogu said.

Three students and a teacher died at Sacred Heart Mukumu Girls High School after suspected consumption of contaminated water and food at the school. The school was also closed prematurely after more than 300 other students got sick, with a number of them being hospitalised.

The Ministry of Health linked the infection to Enterotoxigeic E coli and Salmonella Typhi after tests on samples were conducted by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri). According to Kemri, Enterotoxigeic E Coli is transmitted through food or water contaminated with animal or human faeces.

Butere Boys High was also closed following the outbreak of a similar infection among the students.

Millions of learners in primary and secondary schools will from tomorrow open for the second school term which is traditionally the longest and busiest in the school calendar. It is also the opening date for trainees in teacher training colleges.

The learners have been on a two-week holiday and this term will run for 14 weeks up to August 11, 2023. The learners will go back to school against a background of issues that affect the basic education sector.

Recently, there has been an increase of reported cases of corporal punishment and Mr Machogu put on notice teachers who still physically assault students. In some cases, learners have ended up with serious injuries.

The second term opens at a time when many households are reeling from the weight of a depressed economy that has seen the cost of living shoot through the roof. School heads will also have to grapple with the rising prices of foodstuffs, electricity and other running costs.

“There are variances between our budget estimates which we used to give fee structures and the current market prices, yet we cannot adjust the fees mid-year. Furthermore, the government capitation has remained at Sh22,244 per learner under the Free Day Secondary Education (FDSE) since 2018 despite inflation over the years,” a principal in Kiambu County told Nation.

The situation is worse for the Free Primary Education (FPE) where capitation has been stuck at Sh1,420 for 20 years. The funds for both the FDSE and FPE are disbursed at the ratio of 50:30:20 across the three school terms.

Many parents also owe schools millions of shillings in unpaid fees. “The lack of adequate funding has a direct effect on the quality of teaching since this money is meant for tuition,” the principal said.

The Kenya Secondary School Heads Association presented a memorandum to the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER) requesting for the capitation to be raised to at least Sh30,000 per learner.

For junior secondary school, the government has set a capitation of Sh15,042 per learner to cater for capacity building, textbooks, laboratory materials, stationery among other materials. Although the funds are managed by primary school heads where JSS is domiciled, they are not to be used to meet primary school needs.

Kenya Primary School Heads Teachers Association Rift Valley Region Chairman Patrick Kitur called on the Government to release capitation funds ahead of re-opening of the institutions.

“Junior Secondary School kicked off in earnest early this year despite some challenges as we strive to implement the competence-based curriculum. We need to speed up the hiring of teachers for smooth running,” said Mr Kitur.

He spoke at Thingithu Secondary School in Laikipia County during the official opening of the Seventh Annual KEPSHA conference attended by over 2,000 delegates drawn from across the Rift Valley Region.

“We expect all learners to report back next week for the beginning of the second term. For now, insecurity is not a major challenge with the security operation still ongoing in the volatile areas,” Mr Kitur said.

Speaking during the conference, Laikipia County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri said calm had been restored in areas earlier declared dangerous and there was no reason for learners to fail to report to school.

“We have received heavy rainfall but no infrastructure or school building has been destroyed. So we do not expect any pupil to have any excuse for not reporting back on Monday,” said Mr Kanyiri.

A spot check over the weekend in Nairobi and across the country showed parents flocking to bookshops and uniforms outlets to shop for their children ahead of the opening.

“My daughter is in Form Three. We’re shopping for her uniform because she has outgrown the clothes we bought her when she joined Form One,” Jane Njoki, a parent at a School Outfitters outlet in Nairobi CBD said.

Candidate classes will also be involved in mock examinations as they prepare for the national examinations at the end of the year. The learners in Standard Eight will be the last group to sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education which was first done in 1985.

It has been replaced by formative assessment under the CBC.

During the term, there will be various school-based assessments administered by the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec). These are for learners in Grade 3, 4, 5 and 6.

It is widely expected that the Teachers Service Commission will announce the recruitment of more teachers as promised by the Kenya Kwanza regime to bridge the 116,000 shortage. So far, 30,000 teachers have been recruited this year.

The government has been engaging the teachers as interns and also on permanent and pensionable terms in an exercise that has exposed the high unemployment rate among trained teachers as hundreds of thousands scramble for the few vacancies.