In the wake of Covid-19, the main focus of education stakeholders should be the efficiency and effectiveness of the health systems in educational institutions. This is because they form part of the much-touted Education 2030 Agenda.
Education is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and is essential for the success of all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlights education as a stand-alone goal (SDG-4) and also includes targets on education under several other SDGs, notably health; growth and employment; sustainable consumption and production; and climate change.
Hence, health systems in our educational institutions are paramount, and not negotiable. To win the confidence of parents to send their children to school and colleges, the government is obligated to secure the health status of these institutions.
It is now a trend world-over for governments to secure the health systems of learning institutions. The initiative is fully backed by Unesco, Unicef, World Food Programme and World Bank – as part of the Global Education Coalition.
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We should therefore not limit our thinking and actions to Covid-19 and its aftermath. We should reason together and act in unison and in tandem with the rest of the world where coronavirus cases are handled just like any other diseases.
It is against this backdrop that the government should not limit School Response Committees to the containment of Covid-19. The government, through the Ministry of Education Science and Technology and that of Health in liaison with line agencies, should think broadly and act big by establishing bodies with professional mindsets, and with a wide scope of functions and powers named Health and Wellness Advisory Councils in each school to deal with any emerging health issues.
In the wake of Covid-19, and with the possibility of other deadly diseases emerging in future, governments in Europe, Asia, Central and South America are in the process of assisting learning institutions to establish Health and Wellness Advisory Councils. Kenya should not be left behind.
Hence, the Kenya Education Recovery Programme, which is already in top gear, should include the establishment of the National Health and Wellness Advisory Council, under whose umbrella county, sub-county and school advisory councils will function with clear, well-defined and elaborate mandates, unlike the Covid-19 School Response Committees which are narrow in structure and confined in mandate and functions.
The Health and Wellness Advisory Council should be a collaborative group of representatives from school administrators, trade unions, Teachers Service Commission, Kenya Primary School Heads Association, Kenya Secondary School Heads Association, County/Sub-county Education Boards, Parents Association, Ministry of Health, religious organisations, county governments, boards of management and other relevant entities.
The council would work closely with government agencies to review, monitor, develop, implement and update school health situation, wellness, nutrition and physical activities policies.
Though the Education Response Committee has put much emphasis on Covid-19 and has recommended the reopening of schools and colleges, it should remain crystal clear that with no substantive council anchored in law to advise on the health and wellness of teachers and learners, efforts by the Ministry of Education to effectively enforce Covid-19 containment measures will run a cropper. Hence, making schools safe and habitable for learners and teachers will be an impossible mission.
Although Covid-19 has temporarily disrupted teaching and learning, it has also offered a window through which we can redefine our education system, besides acting as a stimulus to broaden our way of thinking and planning as we strive to be part of the Education 2030 Agenda.
To be more precise, it is instructive to note that the mission of Health and Wellness Advisory Council is designed to promote life-long wellness of learners, teachers and the non-teaching staff by supporting a healthy learning environment.
The School Health and Wellness Advisory Council’s goal is to provide constructive feedback and input to the sub-county, county and the national health and wellness coordinators to support this foundation of healthy living.
All school council’s efforts should be aligned with the National Health and Wellness policy and strategic goals as approved by the National Health and Wellness Advisory Council.
The council is to advice the school on developing nutritional guidelines, health and wellness goals, and initiatives that reflect public health model which consists of eight health components representing comprehensive health education; physical education; school health services; school counselling; nutrition services; health school environment; school site health promotion for staff; and Family and community involvement in school health.
The decision to reopen schools and colleges prompted by falling national daily new coronavirus cases and positivity rate in September did not suggest that we were out of the woods.
Much more needs to be done in terms of preparing for any eventuality or second wave of the pandemic, including emerging challenges associated to the scourge.
Talk is rife among health experts and some government officials on the need to prepare for a spike due to complacency and lack of concern among Kenyans.
Safe reopening of schools and colleges will largely depend on the collaborative measures put in place by the government and school communities, including establishment of Health and Wellness Advisory Councils.
-Mr Sossion is a nominated MP and Secretary-General of Kenya National Union of Teachers