Teachers back calls to suspend, reset exams

Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion during yesterday’s press conference in Nairobi. Groups warn that with the current Covid-19 trends, it would not be right to reopen schools then risk lives of learners. [David Njaaga, Standard]

A proposal to reset national exams has been floated in a report that also suggests that candidates should sit the tests between January and April next year.

The report released yesterday proposes that new exam questions be set to address gaps in syllabus coverage that will be occasioned by prolonged closure of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) should reset national exams since the syllabus will not be covered adequately and promptly,” reads a joint report by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) and Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).

And once new exams are set, Knut proposes that candidates sit Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams in January next year. The 2020 exams had been scheduled for October and November.

“The world will not come to an end if we suspend examinations. KCPE and KCSE are not a ticket to heaven,” Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion said.

About 14 weeks will have been lost by June 4, the tentative school reopening date set by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha. And with Ministry of Health reports that the coronavirus infections may peak in August, more learning time is set to be lost.

The report says that administering the exams according to the scheduled timetable will be untenable, since the period allocated for practical exams has since lapsed, thus calling for an extension of the assessment period.

Manageable levels

“In light of this, we call on the government not to reopen schools until such a time when the pandemic will be fully contained or brought to manageable levels,” reads the report. The blueprint has the input of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Doctors Union (KMPDU), Forum for African Women Educationalists – Kenya and Elimu Tuitakayo Network.

Written tests

Some 1.8 million candidates were registered to sit this year’s exams. KCPE exam was programmed to start on October 27 and KCSE written tests slated to begin on November 2.

Sossion, Constantine Wasonga of Uasu, George Kegoro of KHRC and Boaz Waruku, the programme manager at the Africa Network Campaign on Education for All released the report.

The findings came after the team unsuccessfully lobbied to be included in the government’s Education Response Committee led by Dr Sara Ruto that seeks to advise on the reopening of all basic learning institutions, teacher training colleges and adult education institutions.

Yesterday, Sossion said Kenyans should not focus on basic education and exclude higher education. “There will be a great deal of human rights abuses if the process of school resumption is mishandled for reasons best known to the policy makers,” said Sossion.

He said parents are not willing to release their children to schools until they are sure the infections curve has been flattened. However, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Prof Magoha insist the exams timetable remain unchanged. 

Authors of the joint report hope their recommendations will be considered by the Covid-19 Education Response Committee. The report has proposed partial opening of schools, with candidates given priority by admitting them in nearby schools.

The rest of the classes, the report says, should only resume learning after coronavirus infections have been contained. Knut says authorities should consider nullifying the entire academic year and having learners repeat classes rather than risk lives of children by hastily reopening schools. “We would rather have all our children stay at home safe and alive and repeat a year instead of forcing them to schools so that they can die,” Sossion said. 

“Upon reopening of schools, coverage of the curriculum should resume from the point of coverage as at March 15, being the last date students attended lessons before the president ordered schools’ closure,” says report.

The report says to avoid the spread of Covid-19 from hotspots to other areas, students and teachers should remain in their home counties. “Teachers Service Commission (TSC) should re-organise staffing to ensure zero movement,” reads report.

It wants national and extra-county schools to only admit students from the home counties. This, the report adds, may only be extended to nearby counties provided they do not have reported case of the virus.

Cautious thought

It says a decision on reopening schools is a process that requires skillful, careful and cautious thought.

“Reopening of schools, colleges and universities should be transparent, phased out and coupled with clear communication with the input of public health professionals, frontline healthcare professionals, educators, academic staff and the unions,” reads the report.

Overall, the report rules out reopening of schools for the rest of learners, saying safety and personal health come first.

“With the current trends of Covid-19, it would not be right to risk 15 million learners,” it says.

Pitching the case for prolonged closure for other learners, the report says reopening of schools involve travelling, particularly for secondary and tertiary institutions, which could create an avenue for the spread of Covid-19.

It says learners in lower classes may not adhere to rules such as social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing due to their ages.

“Covid-19 control can’t be maintained in our learning institutions considering the number of students. It‘s even more challenging in boarding schools with overcrowded dormitories and dining halls,” the report says.