Union sets fresh conditions for new school term to start

Children playing on a tree log along Muranga road. [Stafford Ondego/Standard]

Teachers have given their employer a range of measures that should be taken ahead of the reopening of schools.

Top on the list is the call to Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to quash the delocalisation policy that transferred teachers to work away from their homes.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) now says in the wake of coronavirus, teachers should be allowed to work within their locality to minimise travelling that could lead to the spread of Covid-19.

In a seven-page letter to TSC CEO Nancy Macharia dated June 12, the union says to avoid the spread of the virus from hotspot counties, teachers should be posted to work in their localities.

“The delocalisation policy should be repealed with immediate effect to allow teachers to serve in their localities. TSC should reorganise staffing to ensure zero movement,” said Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion.

During the eighth address on the coronavirus situation, President Uhuru Kenyatta said learning institutions may reopen starting September 1. He also asked the Ministry of Education to issue the new school calendar by mid-August.

Mr Sossion said TSC has about three months to plan for reopening of schools by instituting critical staffing changes.

Working near homes

According to him, localisation of teachers should be the norm in the era of Covid-19 where they are posted near their home schools or areas they have established homes to reduce travels.

In his letter, Sossion said chances of increased corona spread are high as teachers will move from one station to the other using diverse means of transport. “Rural teachers posted in locations far away from their families or homes tend to take extended weekend breaks to visit their families,” he said.

Before schools open, Knut wants TSC to roll out an induction for teachers on mitigation, safety and effects of the virus.

“The commission needs to start preparing teachers emotionally, psychologically and professionally on how to deal with Covid-19 and possible stigma associated with the pandemic,” said Sossion.

Teachers also want treatment facilities set up to handle cases that might arise. At the same time, Knut wants TSC to give teachers in high-risk ages of 55 and above and those with pre-existing medical conditions special attention.

In pushing for proper care for the old, Knut makes reference to World Health Organisation report that says the death rates start to increase for patients aged 50 and above. According to WHO, people under 50 years who are infected have a death rate of 0.2-0.4 per cent while for those who are 50-59 years, it is 1.3 per cent. Sossion says 50,000 teachers fall under high-risk ages and proposes that TSC develops proper guidelines for their deployment.

And for northern frontier counties, Knut wants TSC to implement an affirmative action plan for Mandera, Wajir and Garissa and parts of Tana River to raise staffing numbers. Still, Knut wants TSC to review the staffing norms in all schools, saying more than 400,000 additional teachers will be required to effectively implement social distancing among learners.

An analysis by Knut on the required teaching staff under Covid-19 protocols suggests that some of the existing class sizes be divided into many streams, with the number of teachers tripled.

New realities

Sossion said a proper class size under the corona ‘era’ should have a maximum of 15 learners and argues that the existing staffing formula be reviewed to reflect the new realities.

Presently, the existing staffing norm provides for one teacher per class of 50 children plus 2.5 of the number of classes in a sub-county. This means that in a school of class 1-8, the number of streams per class depends on pupils enrollment.

If a class has 50 pupils, it only requires one teacher. Beyond class size of 50, the norms prescribe that a class is divided into two streams.

“This is inconsistent with the Covid-19 reality of social distancing protocol and related mitigation measures hence needs to be reviewed,” said Sossion. The same is expected to apply for secondary schools. The staffing in high schools is based on curriculum offered. The current set up approves teaching load per teacher is 27 lessons per week.

“This arrangement will have to change depending on the availability of teachers in each school and how classrooms will be configured in the wake of Covid-19,” said Sossion.

To shore up the staffing numbers, Knut proposes that all qualified and registered teachers employed by schools boards be absorbed by the TSC. And all the intern teachers hired by TSC be elevated into permanent and pensionable staff to bridge staffing gaps.

TSC data presented in Parliament in March revealed that the commission has a shortage of 125,615 teachers. Of these, 95,258 are for post-primary education teachers and 30,357 for primary schools.

However, with increased enrollments due to 100 per cent transition, the present teachers are overworked.

President Kenyatta recently said 10,000 teachers would be hired under a new stimulus package as part of measures to mitigate the corona effects on education. The president also announced that 250,000 new desks manufactured by local artisans will be delivered to schools to boost institutions infrastructure in readiness for reopening.

The additional teachers to be hired under the stimulus package will bring the number of new teachers employed to 15,000. So far, the commission has received Sh3.2 billion to recruit 5,000 new teachers on permanent and pensionable terms and 10,000 teacher interns. TSC had projected to employ 40,000 interns at a cost of Sh4.8 billion and another 25,000 new permanent and pensionable teachers at a cost of Sh15.4 billion.

Projections by TSC, however, seem to hint that the teacher numbers are still low seen against the massive enrollments in primary and secondary schools. And with the expected expansion of classroom sizes after corona virus pandemic, more teachers will be required.