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COVID-19 status to determine the reopening of schools says Prof. Magoha

Education CS Prof George Magoha on Friday said COVID-19 will determine the reopening of schools in the country. This was after Education stakeholders met also on Friday to discuss the reopening of all learning institutions in September. The education ministry believes that new COVID-19 cases will peak and then relatively drop for a period of 14 consecutive days before September.

He also reiterated that the reopening of schools will be reliant on advice from the Ministry of Health. “As a physician, I will tell you that we should open after we have reached the peak (in terms of new infections), stabilized and then cases started coming down for 14 days,” he said. “No country has dared to reopen when COVID-19 infections are still on the rise.”

Prof George Magoha said that the biggest challenge or “the elephant in the room” as he put it, is physical and social distancing in learning institutions. This is amid ongoing consultations and consideration of various options and not a solid strategy agreed on yet.

“COVID-19 is still on the rise since March 15 when all learning institutions were closed. The government is going to work as if we are to open on September 1,” he said.

The CS said that what gives a glimmer of hope to the current situation is that Technical and Vocational Training Education Institutions (TVETs) have a higher chance of reopening as compared to secondary and primary schools. Infrastructural challenges and congestion in primary and secondary schools given as the reasons crippling the dream to reopen secondary and primary schools.

“We have looked at TVET institutions and they have a better chance of survival in terms of achieving social distancing. Like universities, they offer a variety of courses and they can adjust their programmes and open in shifts much more easily than secondary and primary schools,” said Prof Magoha. He was at the Kisumu National Polytechnic where he met TVET principal from the Western Region.

“It is easier for TVETs and universities because they can decide which aspects to open so that they can achieve social distancing. But how do you achieve that in primary schools?” he told a press briefing after the meeting.

The production of masks will not be a problem anymore as there was assurance from Principal Secretary in charge of TVETs Dr. Julius Juan. He pointed out that TVETs can make them on their own. The CS spoke following concerns from parents and other stakeholders that institutions are not prepared to reopen in September.

Last Wednesday Prof Magoha said that the Ministry of Health had proposed a classroom to have a maximum of 15 to 20 students, suggesting the use of erected tents to accommodate learners to cope with the obvious need for additional rooms. But the move would be impractical as there is obviously congestion already in schools with classes having up to 60 students or more in classes.

For primary and secondary schools the CS said that the government has considered many ideas to ensure the safety of learners, even increasing learning facilities, which he said is unreasonable. The ministry of education also threw readmitting students in shifts away as it has taken years to build even what we currently have.

The CS also said that the suggestion of admitting half of the existing leaners was unconstitutional. “It will not achieve social distancing. Besides, what criteria will be used to select students to come to school and those that will stay at home?” posed the CS.

Prof George Magoha also said that overhauling of the school calendar is not practical given the East Africa Community protocols. “We are senior members of the EAC and it would mean the President will have to consult with the others. If they will not agree then it is not something we should even waste our time on,” he said.

TVET institutions will only reopen upon certifying COVID-19 preparedness by physicians that the government has approved. Prof George Magoha also said he was working on the assumption that most students attending TVETs are day scholars.

To address the shortage of teachers in schools, the CS said that the government will employ an additional 10,000 interns and 5,000 permanent teachers and will continue to address the issue of shortage of teachers in schools. He said that TSC has a budget of sh. 266 million which is the single most significant part of the budget, bigger than what the Ministry of Education has.

The CS dismissed calls by KNUT to scarp the reacher’s delocalization policy so that teachers return to their home counties due to COVID-19. He termed it as petty politics.

“I have practiced medicine for many years and I have never seen anything like COVID-19. It is a stranger to all of us. Therefore, it is not an opportunity for anybody to bring petty politics in the process. We do not know how the disease behaves. I fail to understand why such a suggestion would be made by anyone,” he said.

“Some of these arguments do not deserve any of my attention at all. Things have changed but whatever we do our main focus is our learner and their teachers. Let’s leave politics out of this, this is a serious matter,” he said.

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