The closure of schools in March 2020 after cases of Covid-19 were detected left the government with tough choices.
The Ministry of Health was compelled to set up strict containment measures that include keeping social distance, regular hand washing and mandatory wearing of masks in public places.
Clearly, this could not be enforced in congested public schools which lack enough classrooms, adequate desks, water and teachers. The realisation of that led to the hurried closure of schools as a safety precaution.
The solution to this problem lies in the government’s commitment to putting up extra classrooms in public schools as a means to attaining social distance requirements.
In line with the Covid-19 containment measures, a classroom should not have more than 20 students, but the truth is that public schools cannot cope due to lack of sufficient classrooms and even desks.
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The reopening of schools on January 4, 2021 exposed the lack of preparedness on the part of the government in ensuring learning institutions are safe for learners and teachers alike.
While it had at least nine months to build extra classrooms, there is little evidence, if any, that the government gave this issue the seriousness it deserves. As it is, most schools have to contend with congested and dilapidated classrooms in which up to four pupils share a desk.
Covid-19 remains a threat and the government must pull out all the stops to ensure school environments are safe. It is not enough for the Cabinet Secretary of Education to make promises which the government does not follow through or keep.
Both must put action where their words are. The National Treasury’s disbursement of Sh17.6 billion for the construction of 33,000 classrooms in public schools by the end of the 2020/2021 financial year, which is June 2021, should be turned into reality.
Kenyans want to see evidence of action so they can be reassured that learners’ needs and safety are being taken care of.
Most schools have however managed to set up water points and provide soap with which learners can wash their hands.
For many parents, provision of face masks remains a challenge and the government should step in. In the meantime, where the weather permits, schools lacking sufficient classrooms should resort to teaching outside while a lasting solution to the infrastructure and furniture headache is being sought.