The government is rolling out a major infrastructure plan in public schools to solve the social distance challenge, which is the biggest obstacle to opening of schools.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has that said a Sh8.2 billion project to construct additional facilities in select schools, is ongoing.
The plan is to construct classrooms and laboratories in targeted institutions as part of a grand scheme to address Covid-19 requirements and ease congestion occasioned by high enrollments.
So far, Sh2.1 billion has been allocated for construction of additional classrooms in secondary schools and another Sh700 million towards improvement of infrastructure in low-cost boarding schools in arid and semi-arid areas.
“The ministry has this year disbursed Sh1.6 billion to 708 secondary schools for infrastructure, spread fairly across the country,” said Prof Magoha.
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He said the ministry has also disbursed Sh345 million to some 30 national schools to improve admission. “This will also ease pressure on demand for form one places in already existing national schools and satellite extra-county schools admitting students across the 47 counties,” he said.
The infrastructure plan received a major boost after President Uhuru Kenyatta appealed to various institutions to use discretionary funds to respond to the immediate and short-term needs of learners.
“Currently, there is an urgent need for construction and equipping of more dormitories, classes, and other amenities to facilitate further ease of learning for our children,” the president said.
Speaking during the State of the Nation Address, the president said the next frontier in the quest to improve education in Kenya is enhancing quality in terms of physical structure and content.
“It is evident that our public day and boarding secondary school infrastructure is overstretched and as a result, our students are suffering congestion in their classes and dormitories,” he said.
Some 12,500 new classrooms and related school facilities will be constructed, Kenyatta said and instructed government agencies to find ways of cutting costs.
“The Ministry of Education and the Ministry Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development will by December 1, 2020 issue a new set of building guidelines for school infrastructure that allows the use of appropriate and cost effective building technologies suited to the varied geographies of our nation,” he said.
The cost of putting up a classroom has gone up through inflated bills of quantities that lead to wastage of resources.
In some cases, school managers guide tender quotations and award expensive contracts that do not return value for money.
The president now says that for every shilling put into school infrastructure, we must seek to obtain more classes built to acceptable standards.
“The intention of these guidelines will be to achieve transparent and standardised bills of quantity that will guarantee value for taxpayers’ money,” he said.
With building bottlenecks resolved, schools will now get additional facilities to allow adequate space for social distancing when they open.
With more than 600,000 desks and chairs already supplied to schools, primary and secondary institutions heads have cautioned that social distancing will be the greatest challenge.
“For now, we only have a section of the learners and we can spread them across the available classrooms. When the rest join in, we will have a serious challenge of space,” said Nicholas Gathemia of the Primary School Heads Association. Kahi Indimuli, the secondary school heads national chairman, said principals will do what is possible within their schools to increase space.
“Once we get money, we are ready to do everything possible to accommodate learners within the Covid-19 contexts because it is our duty,” he said.
Education Chief Administrative Secretary Zack Kinuthia said some institutions maybe required to be creative in finding space.
“They may have to find innovative ways of creating additional space with the money they will receive even if it means temporary shelter,” Kinuthia said.
Some education stakeholders have proposed use of tents as a short-term measure to achieving social distancing.