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State to buy Sh2b desks as schools prepare to reopen

By Augustine Oduor | September 12th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha (centre) with Basic Education PS Belio Kipsang (right) and Interior PS Karanja Kibicho try out the new desks expected to be used in schools. [Courtesy]

Schools have six weeks to prepare for reopening as plans to address the social distancing headache in primary and secondary institutions kicks off Monday.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has directed all County Directors of Education to ensure some 622,000 desks, lockers and chairs are made and delivered to schools by October 19.

The government has set aside Sh1.9 billion under the Economic Stimulus Programme for the supply of the locally assembled furniture to public primary and secondary schools countrywide.

This, as it emerged that schools will erect tents to create additional spaces for learning and boarding, and also use available sheds within the compounds for classes as the government races against time to achieve the social distancing protocols ahead of reopening in January.

Boarding schools will be required to convert their spacious dining halls into dormitories to create additional space for learners.

Schools have also been directed to use the maintenance and improvement vote head received during this year’s First Term to improve facilities. Each institution received about Sh4,000 per student, and it has emerged that some schools have already had their projects approved to start.

These details emerged yesterday during a meeting chaired by Prof Magoha at the Kenyatta International Convention Center (KICC).

Interior PS Karanja Kibicho, Basic Education PS Belio Kipsang, county commissioners, their deputies and county directors of education were also present.

Magoha said 30 primary and secondary schools in each sub-county would be given money to manufacture and deliver desks, lockers and chairs.

Each of the selected primary schools will receive 70 desks, while secondary schools will get 50 lockers and chairs.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Associations chairman Kahi Indimuli yesterday said most schools had sufficient desks, and that the urgent concern was space.

“The few schools that do not have desks can be mapped to be allocated desks. Our major issue is space. Schools that do not need desks can be facilitated to expand spaces,” said Mr Indimuli.

Magoha has several times admitted that ensuring social distancing is maintained in basic learning institutions remains the ministry’s biggest headache.

Major milestone

The development to fast-track sitting arrangements and create space marks a major milestone in the preparation for schools, with stakeholders now focusing on staffing of teachers.

The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) is presently recruiting nearly 11,000 tutors. It, however, emerged that with the Covid-19 protocols, more staff will be needed as class sizes would be split into two or three.

Up to Sh1 billion of the Sh1.9 billion will be used to make lockers and chairs for secondary schools, while the remaining Sh900 million will be used to make desks for primary schools.

The government will today unveil a prototype of a special desk for primary schools, which will assist learners to comply with social distancing protocols.

Each pupil will have a personal desk that has space to hold books and a large writing surface.

The desks will be spaced to achieve the one-metre distance as prescribed by the Health ministry.

Schools’ opening protocols will require the desks to be arranged in rows facing forward and away from the doors to minimise face-to-face contact between the learners.

The new-look desks will eliminate the old seating arrangements in primary schools where four or five pupils would squeeze into a single bench.

Secondary schools will retain the locker and chair sitting arrangement.

Each of the primary school desks will cost Sh2,500 while the secondary school lockers and chairs will cost Sh3,800.

The new desks will be assembled locally in a plan that will bank on grassroots structures to identify and pay qualifying suppliers.

Interested jua kali workshops, artisans or small and medium-sized enterprises involved in carpentry at the sub-county level will be required to register for the jobs.

“The deputy county commissioners will lead their teams in confirming the quality of the furniture and compliance with the specifications with the prototypes, and ensure proper labeling before delivery to schools,” said Magoha.

The county and sub-county committees will ensure that the benefiting schools are well distributed geographically.

Schools with large student populations will be given first priority during selection of the benefiting institutions.

Non-registered schools and institutions that are already benefiting from other donor support, well-wishers or funding from the constituency development fund will not be considered for the project.

Magoha said the government had instituted various risk mitigation strategies to prevent corruption in the project, adding that he would lead inspection tours to ensure the furniture is supplied according to the delivery terms.

“This is not the time to ask ‘what’s in it for me?’. We are doing this for our children. As far as this project is concerned, there is nothing we cannot address. If there are bottlenecks, talk to us directly–not the usual bureaucratic practices,” he said.

Mr Kibicho said the project presents another opportunity to rely on national government administrators.

“It is their responsibility to ensure there is integrity and transparency in this project. It is their responsibility to ensure that anybody who has been contracted delivers these furniture within the timelines set,” he said.

Schools George Magoha Education
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