Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has told Parliament that candidates will sit national exams in April next year should schools re-open by September.
The CS, however, warned that should there be delays beyond April 2021, it would be difficult to salvage the academic year and learners would have to repeat classes.
Prof Magoha said although the ministry favoured September reopening, the decision wasn’t final since Covid-19 infections could occasion prolonged closure. President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered schools shut in March when Covid-19 cases were first detected.
“We are looking at the calendar so that we know at exactly what time we can reopen schools and have candidates sit exams. If we opened in September then we might do exams in April. Beyond that it won’t be feasible to do the exams,” the CS said.
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It means the 2019 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education candidates could become the first group to fail to write the crucial exams in a year.
“If the national exams won’t be done by April 2021, then we must be prepared for what I don’t want to say at the moment,” Magoha added.
He explained that suggestions to reopen in September did not entirely come from the ministry, but from various stakeholders after consultations.
“We did not make this decision by ourselves. After getting views from the public through different stakeholders, we came to an agreement that schools can be reopened only if the right measures will have been put in place,” said Magoha.
The CS, however, said the reopening was not guaranteed due to the rising coronavirus cases. The infections could peak in September and October. “Although our plan is to open schools in September, as of now I cannot say if that will be possible. At this stage, the numbers are going up, and we might have a peak in September or October,” Magoha told members of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Covid-19 chaired by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja. A source familiar with proposals on the matter said ministry officials were reluctant to “bite the bullet” and communicate to the public the hard truth that learners will have to repeat classes since the academic year cannot be salvaged.
Sakaja was, however, opposed to proposals to reopen schools this year, arguing that it will cause panic since the virus is yet to be contained.
According to Sakaja, the State should consider writing off the current academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It is only practical to open schools next year. Let us be real. There is little going on. As much as the virtual programes are going on, we cannot say they are effective,” said Sakaja.
Magoha said consultations were in progress and within two weeks, there will be a clear outline on whether the schools will reopen in September. Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang said part of the reason the ministry is advocating for reopening is that not everything in the syllabus can be taught by the book.
“It is only in schools that there are designated areas for practical subjects. They cannot be facilitated at home. Once schools are back on, that is where we will invest more of our energy,” said Kipsang.
The PS said proper measures will be put in place to ensure learners are safe when classes resume. “We will ensure students are masked and proper hygiene maintained. Once we conclude that schools can be reopened, we will take a minimum 30 days to ensure everything is in place,” he said.
During this year’s Madaraka Day, President Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Education to formulate a new calendar on the reopening of schools.
Schools were shut in mid-March in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus and since then, some institutions have opted for virtual learning, which has eluded learners in rural areas or places without electricity and Internet connectivity.
“So what about the vulnerable in the community who cannot access radio, television, or even the online classes? They are missing a lot,” Turkana Senator Imana Ekal said.
But according to Magoha, all schools will resume classes from where they left once learning resumes.