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Primary and Secondary Schools might not reopen in September. Is Kenya being a little too careful?

Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus once told his nation that they should ‘drink beer and wash their hands with it’. As ridiculous as that is especially coming from the head of state who is supposed to lead his flock by example, Belarus continued with football matches with fans attending despite the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Irrespective of the numbers involved, is Kenya being a little too careful with COVID – 19?

Soaring cases of COVID-19, Kenyans starving in lockdown areas, students seemingly at home ‘indefinitely’ and many people rendered jobless. So far, there are over six thousand recorded cases of the novel coronavirus and cases seem to be always increasing. The six thousand cases it has to be said include those who have recovered those who have died and those undergoing treatment. However, it has to be said, fingers crossed, that the Ministry of Health has done a great job so far and President Uhuru Kenyatta cannot be left out in this regard.

Prof George Magoha has asked TVET colleges to start preparing for resumption. As he had earlier hinted, TVET colleges seem to be at an advantage in terms of resuming learning in the new normal. Basic learning institutions like primary schools and secondary schools may not resume until next year. This is because Principals feel they may not be able to cope with handling the coronavirus. New Covid-19 cases are on the rise across the country. This means the September reopening date will only be for TVET colleges, to begin with, and they will resume partially, prioritizing final year students. This is despite our neighbors Uganda and Tanzania members of the East African Community already resuming learning in schools.

It seems schools are not prepared to reopen in September according to Principals. This can be looked at in a different way as school Principals might be looking to get the assurance of financial backing from the Ministry of Education. Teachers employed by the Board of Management have not featured in the Ministry’s plans as they only hide behind the new teachers they will employ. The 10,000 new teachers are in no way sufficient to cover for over 130,000 teachers required. This means the existing BOM teachers are the ones filling in even after the ‘10,000 teacher hiring’ plan.

If the schools reopen next year, what is in it for the government? Will they pay the personal emolument money to schools? How will principals pay salary areas to support staff like security guards, cooks, and what have you for that long a period? What will happen to those school employees if schools will have nothing for over nine months or more? If these employees give up with schools, how will school property be secure? All these questions will be addressed by the ministry, that is, ‘if’ it is something they will even consider.

The biggest conundrum is still how you fight COVID-19, but the prospect of reopening next year for primary and secondary schools will hurt many students. It will mean repeating a complete academic year of learning as there will be no promotions to the next grade. These students were in schools for only two months and two weeks meaning there will be no possibility of promotions to the next class.

National examinations will be done next year as from April to May and rumor has it that candidates may return to school in as from August or September to start preparing for the examinations. Universities will also be allowed to decide on how they will reopen by themselves as per their academic calendars. Health Officials from the Ministry of Health will also be ‘invited’ to check on how universities are coping with the pandemic. It is expected that sanitizing stations, plenty of running water, and facemasks will be provided by universities adequately. Why Health Officials will have to be ‘invited’ instead of check-in at random and assess how the institutions are coping is potentially questionable, but the ministry can only do so much in this regard.

While attending a meeting with principals at the Kenya Trainers College from Central, Nairobi, and North-Eastern Region, Prof George Magoha updated the press on the latest plans by the ministry. “We met with stakeholders and part of our engagement was a success. We came up with many proposals that will boost the resumption of learning,” said the CS of the Ministry of Education.

He insisted that physical and social distancing would be the greatest challenge. “Kindly bring students in shifts and allows others to finish their examinations,” he added. He also said that the institutions would have to make masks on their own and provide sanitizers to students.

“We are approaching a competency-based curriculum with TVET. We want more students in the institutions to use their hands and employ themselves and others as well,” he added, stressing the importance of TVETs. He implored the TVET institutions to be used, as they are required.

For secondary and primary schools, he said that the government could not risk the lives of students by opening and getting the children sick.
“We cannot have a situation where we resume and then they contract the coronavirus,” said Prof Magoha.

The CS said the government will maintain health guidelines protocols, saying that tertiary institutions used as holding centers for Covid-19 will be fumigated and no new patients will be admitted to allowing students to resume. Sh. 8.8 Billion from the World Bank will support developing infrastructure in schools, said the CS.

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