Parents and teachers are questioning the government’s plan to partially reopen schools to let candidates prepare for national examinations, yet some of the institutions have been designated as isolation centres for Covid-19 patients.
Last month the government listed 460 schools, mostly boarding, and colleges, that would be turned into emergency medical facilities, with a bed capacity of 138,220, should the number of coronavirus patients balloon and overwhelm the country’s health facilities.However, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s announcement that the 1.2 million Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education candidates will be recalled to sit tests has added further confusion.
Given all schools are examination centres, it is not clear how government would have candidates back in school and at the same time use the same facilities as isolation centres. The notice designating the schools as isolation centres listed national, extra county and county schools, all which have candidates.
Headteachers, who were already reluctant to allow the use of schools as isolation centres, now point out the contradiction of recalling candidates yet their institutions are supposed to serve as temporary medical centres, with authorities already dispatching imported hospital beds to equip them.
The irreducible minimum dilemma for the government will embolden parents and teachers, who are opposed to the partial opening of schools until the pandemic is put under control. Those who spoke to The Standard on Saturday yesterday said they were not ready to release their children, even if they are candidates scheduled to sit examinations this year.
Parents Association national chairman Nicholas Maiyo yesterday said he had received pleas from guardians countrywide that schools should only open once the virus is contained. “No parent will allow their child back to school before coronavirus is contained. Parents are afraid, the government must contain the pandemic first,” he said. He wants the use of schools as isolation centers looked at critically, saying it may create an unnecessary panic that might distract learning.
Already, teachers’ unions have rejected use of schools as isolation centres unless proper guidelines are issued, saying the move would entrench stigma among learners.Parents, however, maintain that resumption of learning in schools will depend on the trend the coronavirus curve will take and the safety steps the State will employ.
Uhuru said this week that his administration would issue specific guidelines on how the candidates would resume learning.
He said Education ministry would inform Kenyans on how best to navigate the issue. “We will elaborate soon in more details to allow the candidates ample time to prepare for the examinations,” he said.
Education CS George Magoha said his teams were working on scenarios to be rolled out to mitigate effects of Covid-19 on school calendar.
Teachers have proposed that if partial opening is to succeed, it must happen before end of June, putting more pressure on the government to contain the virus spread.“The planned use of schools as isolation centers should be dropped to secure the learning environments,” said Kahi Indimuli, the national chairman of the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association (Kessha).
Kenya Primary School Heads Association (Kepsha) national chairman Nicholas Gathemia said primary school teachers would resume teaching once their safety and that of pupils was guaranteed.“If they assure us of safety in schools we shall support the government initiatives,” said Mr Gathemia.
Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and their secondary schools’ counterparts Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) want the involvement of teachers to find a solution. Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion has written to Prof Magoha proposing that teachers be included in developing Covid-19 education responses.“To be successful, Covid-19 responses need to be developed with the full involvement of teachers and their representative organisations,” said Mr Sossion.
Kuppet secretary-general Akello Misori has instructed union branch executive secretaries to obtain information from principals and other school officials.“You should obtain data from as many schools as possible in your county between April 27 to May 3. You should report your findings not later than May 6,” said Mr Misori.
In his letter dated April 22 to Magoha, Sossion says the unions, Kepsha and Kessha must be involved.Sossion also wants the Education ministry to come up with a special stimulus package, fully supported by Treasury, to cushion parents, guardians and boards of management against high cost of school operations brought about by the partial lockdown.Knut says by the time normalcy returns, many Kenyans will be poor, with many not able to afford school fees and other related costs.
“More resources are required for this particular budget and the government alone cannot manage the challenge,” said Sossion.