Burden of mass schools reopening

Students of Sironga Girls High School are screened before being allowed into school. [Stanley Ongwae, Standard]

The government has lifted the veil on the true burden that lies ahead of next Monday when all 15 million children will report to schools for first term.

For the first time since March, last year, all classrooms will be filled up from Monday next week as schools start the new academic year.

All children from pre-primary to Form Four are expected to report to schools from July 26 when a new term that will last 10 weeks starts under the revised calendar.

Grade Four pupils transitioning to Grade Five and the Standard Eight leavers joining Form One, who have been home for an entire school term, will now join the rest of learners in schools.

And as Covid-19 fourth wave looms this month and only 85,000 teachers vaccinated, the uncertainty of the school term is real.

Ministry of Health Status report indicates that these are only 25 per cent of teachers have fully been vaccinated against the targeted 330,671, exposing both the teaching and support staff to possible infections.

And with social distancing protocols practically impossible in congested classrooms, the government will rely on teachers to strictly implement wearing of masks and handwashing as a sole means of curbing infections.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha painted the bleak future of schools reopening when he said God will take control as schools open next week.

“We are going into another unknown journey. If we have faith as a nation and as a people, we have nothing to worry about. God will be in control of the process,” said Prof Magoha.

He said: “Even as reports show that we shall have a peak of the fourth wave, the devil will be defeated.”

Magoha spoke as he commissioned 9,000 beneficiaries of the Elimu Scholarship Programme (ESP) at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).

This is the reality that government officials, teachers, and learners face as time ticks towards the normal return to learning.

Primary and secondary school heads said preparations for reopening will require money to make schools ready for learners.

By the close of the day, the government was yet to send money to schools to kick-start the new academic calendar.

Only Sh6.6 billion, which was capitation due for the third term in last academic year, was sent to schools last week.

Ministry of Education insiders said the money will help teachers prepare to receive learners. But school heads said the disbursement will be used to pay debts as the money released late last week was meant to cover last term.

However, Basic Education PS Jwan Julius said the ministry had already made a Sh20.5 billion requisition for both primary and secondary schools.

Of this, Sh14.5 billion will cater for secondary schools. This will, however, not cater for Form Ones as their budget will be factored once they report to schools. The remaining Sh6 billion will be sent to primary schools.

Parents are also staring at the burden of hidden extra costs levied on them by headteachers in sheer breach of fees guidelines.

Magoha said a deliberate decision was made to reduce fees payable this academic year after it emerged that the reorganised calendar will be nine weeks less.

“All national schools will pay fees less Sh8,500 as other categories of schools pay Sh5,500 less,” said Magoha.

Parents have also expressed concern over possible infections among students during the movement of learners.

“We request the government to put adequate measures to ensure the Covid protocols are adhered to for the sake of the children,” said Nicholas Maiyo, national parents’ association chairperson.

The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) said the ongoing recruitment will be fast-tracked and successful candidates deployed to schools immediately.

“The 8,914  teachers being recruited are to start work immediately. And after that, we shall hire another 6,000 additional interns to address the shortage,” said Dr Nancy Macharia, the TSC Chief Executive.

She said as schools open, the role of teachers will be enhanced.

“This will be a departure since October 2020 when partial opening started. We, however, plead with teachers to step up and to uphold high standards of professionalism,” said Macharia.

Dr Macharia said transfers have been limited to ensure stability in schools.

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