The success of efforts to contain coronavirus pandemic will determine the school calendar and administration of national examinations.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said the safety of learners and teachers in schools and colleges will be critical, adding that reports from countries that rushed resumption of learning have registered setbacks.
“As such, the ministry will desist from focusing on school reopening dates and instead give priority to putting in place solid mitigation measures for the sector ecosystem,” said Magoha.
He asked Kenyans to be aware that some painful decisions will be necessary based on infections data provided by the Ministry of Health.
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This means that children may stay home longer provided infections of the virus continue to soar.
“All stakeholders must now prepare to face the reality of a likely extended closure of schools given that the government will never sacrifice the health of our children at the expense of an education that can wait to be offered at a later time when safety and health of children can be guaranteed,” said Magoha.
The CS was speaking yesterday at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) after receiving an interim report of the Education Response Committee that proposed opening of schools in September and writing examinations in February next year.
Magoha termed the findings and proposals of the committee as ‘very interim’ and said they will be reviewed to capture new realities.
“They will panel beat it until it captures the true realities of the prevailing circumstances of the pandemic,” Magoha said. KICD chairperson Sara Ruto chairs the stakeholders committee.
Magoha set up the committee to give critical advise on the reopening of all basic learning institutions, teacher training colleges and adult education institutions.
The committee comprises representatives of secondary and primary school heads, private schools, international schools, Kenya Special Schools Heads Association and parents’ association.
Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Council of Churches of Kenya and Muslim Education Council are also members.
Teachers Service Commission, Ministry of Health, Kenya National Examination Council and Ministry of Education are listed as ex-officio members.
Magoha yesterday said the rising infections have posed a serious challenge that is being monitored by health experts before schools reopen.
“The ministry wishes to note that the Covid-19 situation obtained during the time when the committee collected views from all stakeholders has sharply changed this week when the infection rates have hit three digit figures,” said Magoha.
He said the proposals of the committee will, however, be shared with the National Emergency Response Committee this weekend to ensure further consultations that will inform the school calendar.
“These consultations will also take into consideration the fact that the current government restrictions announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta will expire on June 6,” said Magoha.
He said the ministry takes seriously projections by the Ministry of Health that infections will peak in August.
“The ministry takes these projections seriously, especially in view of the fact that more than 350 of our schools are currently designated as quarantine and isolation centres,” said Magoha.
He, however, said his office will make a substantive communication on schools calendar by June 4. This is when the 30 days holiday he extended on schools opening shall lapse.
Magoha said schools opening will not be a switch on switch off affair. “It shall be a carefully thought out methodical process that must guarantee the safety and health of all learners, teachers and staff.”
The CS said the ministry will from now on focus on coming up with strong mitigation measures that will be required in schools once they reopen based on the recommendations of the committee and those provided by the Ministry of Health.
“We have embarked on a number of activities that will ensure schools have the safe health and safety facilities when they open,” said Magoha.
Stakeholders have raised questions on whether schools without running water will have the infrastructure fixed to enable hand washing, which is a critical mitigation factor to spread of the virus.
Part of the proposals contained in the interim committee report is that the government must adopt proactive measures on learners’ health.
The report proposes meeting the standards on social distancing, making protective wear such as face masks available to all students, and ensuring public health hygiene.
The report advocates that proper induction on use of the protective equipment must also be done to ensure correct use by teachers, students and staff.
It proposes that arrangements must be made to cater for schools without water to support the hand washing protocol.
Proper equipment such as temperature guns to monitor learners’ health status must be made available once schools open.
The committee also wants schools infrastructure to be improved to check class sizes for proper social distancing. The adjustments must target sanitation facilities such as water points and latrines or toilets. All classrooms must be properly ventilated to ensure free flow of air that would curtail spread of virus in case of an infection.
The team proposes that teachers must be trained on new teaching methods to include use of ICT.