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Last week, the Kenya Women Teachers Association (Kewota) presented views to the education response committee deliberating on the best possible response scenario for the basic education sub-sector following closure of schools in March to curb spread of coronavirus.

In presenting our views, we took care to gauge the perceptions and viewpoints of teachers, who are the frontline workers and therefore will be impacted more by the decision to re-open schools. Our members were overwhelmingly against the immediate opening of schools.

Instead, they proposed a phased approach, starting with only candidates to be allowed back in July. It is well known that women form the majority of teachers handling the Early Childhood Development classes. They are therefore tasked with taking care of young children, who would conceivably have trouble understanding the science behind the prevention and infection of the virus.

Children have a default position of playing games as part of their social DNA. How do you enforce the discipline of social distancing in such cases?  Against the backdrop of rising Covid-19 cases, controlling such children would be a nightmare and if allowed, all the gains on the fight against the virus would be eroded.

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Our members further recommended a proposal to consider the opening of schools in September 2020, subject to overall health consideration of success in the flattening of the virus curve. We resolved to give a 90-day allowance for the government beginning now, to put in place health and safety measures for teachers and learners before schools can be re-opened.

Bearing in mind that disruption to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact, allowing candidates to return to classes first makes sense in an effort to minimise the potential disruption as they prepare for their examinations.

Our 90-day grace period affords ample time for the State to put in place health and safety measures that will make it possible for a conducive learning environment for our teachers and learners.

During this period, we expect to have in place policies to protect students, staff, teachers, who are at high risk due to age or underlying medical conditions. There are plans to cover absent teachers and continue remote education to support students unable to attend school, accommodating individual circumstances to the extent possible.

It is the duty of Kewota to ensure the welfare of its members, who are frontline workers on duty when schools re-open. To actualise this, four elements were contained in our report to the task force. These are appropriate health policies; the re-design of classes to reflect social distance; adoption of safe measures for transport and disinfection of schools that were previously used as quarantine centres.

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We expect, for instance, the deployment of trained medical personnel in all schools working in 24/7 shifts and a toll free line in every major county health facility where schools can report or seek medical attention in times of emergencies. In fact, we envision containment measures in every school in regards to the disinfection tunnels that Governor Hassan Joho deployed at the coast

Our proposals contained a call for the government to take the opportunity to put measures aimed at improving teacher-pupil ratio in our schools. It requires urgent attention, because the equity gap in education is made worse by the shortage and uneven distribution of professionally trained teachers, especially in disadvantaged areas.

Teachers have a fundamental call to guarantee quality education and they should be empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, motivated, professionally qualified, and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.

We are also giving the government time to build and upgrade education facilities that are sensitive to disability and gender and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments.

 - Writer is Secretary General of Kewota.

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