Postponing reopening of schools is not an option, even if it means that learning will take place under trees, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has said.
The tough-talking CS yesterday told parents to prepare their children to report to school on Monday, and advised them to ignore those who are trying to sow doubts that resumption of learning will be postponed.
Speaking at Mjini Primary School in Murang’a during an inspection tour, Prof Magoha said the Government is keen on re-opening learning institutions and that teachers are expected to be innovative to ensure there is social distancing.
Magoha said teachers in schools without sufficient classrooms should explore other options such as outdoor learning, depending on the weather.
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“Nothing will stop the reopening of schools come Monday next week. The government has to ensure that all the learners in 34,000 primary schools will resume learning,” he said.
Look for space
But even as the CS issued his orders, an estimated 340,000 teachers were grappling with the complexities and challenges the new year has in store for them as they try to recover the lost academic year and protect over 10 million learners under their care for 11 weeks without the usual mid-term break.
A report by a teachers’ union revealed that at least 50,000 teachers are needed in public schools to accommodate the learners, even as the school managers struggle to look for space and desks for the children.
Magoha had held a meeting earlier with education representatives and senior interior and coordination officials on how to ensure 100 per cent school attendance.
The CS ordered that learners with special needs be accorded extra attention to ensure their safety.
The government, he said, had done everything possible to facilitate the resumption of learning after schools closed for nine months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are assessing the preparedness of the schools. As the government we cannot continue holding the children at home as this will be a waste of time,” he said.
He criticised leaders opposed to the reopening of schools, saying they are “seeking political mileage as they will ensure their children will be in class.”
“Parents should not listen to such people who are out to mislead them for their interest in politics.”
On the safety of learners, Magoha called on parents to ensure their children have masks as recommended by the Ministry of Health to stop the spread of the airborne disease.
“There will be free masks distributed to needy children. The ministry will ensure that learners from the slums of Kibera in Nairobi, Kiawara in Nyeri and Kiandutu in Thika are among those that will benefit.”
On the national examinations, he said there were plans to relocate candidates from private schools that had closed down to public institutions to continue with their studies.
“The candidates will sit for their examinations in public-run schools through efforts by the Ministry of Education and Kenya National Examination Council,” said Magoha.
In a detailed report of the tough task that lies ahead, teachers said learners will require psychological support as they resume classes next week.
They said they would seek to retain children in school to reduce the number of dropouts, rush to cover the lost academic year and ensure compliance with Covid-19 protocols.
Details of the challenges that lie ahead are contained in an end-of-year report by the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet)
Titled ‘Hard Work Awaits After School Reopening in 2021’, the report reveals that children who may have lost their parents, guardians or siblings to the coronavirus disease will require guidance and counselling.
“Besides losing parents, breadwinners and loved ones, many learners have suffered economic and social trauma that will affect them for years,” said Kuppet secretary-general Akelo Misori.
So far, at least 1,667 Kenyans have died from the virus with 96,251 infections recorded by close of business yesterday
The report also notes that some learners will come from homes where they experienced domestic violence during the prolonged break.
“Stigma associated with this pandemic, including child abuse, pregnancies, juvenile crime and recidivist behaviours, will be a reality in our institutions, affecting learners and teachers,” said Mr Misori.
The official said schools would also require programmes to take care of the mental health of teachers “who have undergone immense stress during the period.”
Misori asked teachers to be accommodating and to protect their students’ secrets.
“When adolescents confide in counsellors, they should be confident that their conversations will not seep into the staffrooms or in any way interface with their studies and relationship with teachers.”
Hard work, he said, still remains on full coverage of the school syllabus and helping the Government to transition children to restore the academic calendar.
“Teachers will devise ways of recouping the time lost, including through holiday and weekend tuition. After missing out on?an entire academic year, schools will strive to ensure no more days are lost again by our learners,” said Misori.
The union also advised that the crash study programme must be balanced with extracurricular activities to keep students engaged and relaxed to avoid unrest.
“The government should disburse capitation funds for the 2020 academic year to schools to help the institutions prepare for the reopening,” said Misori.
The official also warned that the teaching staff will be overstretched and called for more tutors to be hired.
“In Kuppet’s estimate, to maintain current staffing levels, Kenya needs 50,000 new teachers in 2021 and a further 15,000 every year for the subsequent five years.”
Misori said that private schools will also need more teachers to cater for new classes and a heavier workload related to the creation of virtual content, and for health and environmental management in schools.
Teachers will also be required to make plans to receive learners and guarantee their safety and health during their stay in school.
The rules are contained in the ‘Guidelines on Health and Safety Protocols for Reopening of Basic Education Institutions amid Covid-19 Pandemic’, which put teachers at the heart of successful management of the disease.
Their roles will range from ensuring hygiene, security, creating adequate space for social distancing and enforcing all Ministry of Healthy guidelines.
They will also ensure that learners, staff and parents wear face masks in the school compound.
Misori said the Government had repeatedly pledged to supply reusable face masks to all learners but noted that no school had confirmed receiving supplies.
From next week, teachers will be required to communicate to parents and learners on the measures put in place to guarantee their health and safety.
Teachers will also be required to streamline transport management systems to prevent transmission of the disease, and provide weekly progress report on the status of their institutions.
The guidelines compel teachers to follow up on all cases of absenteeism and work with officials from the Ministry of Interior to reduce the dropout rate.
The Kuppet report notes that having spent a lengthy period away from school, learners will face difficulties readjusting to the system.
“Many will show weaker mastery of curriculum content. Students who lost their parents, or those from poor families affected by Covid-related job losses, will face difficulties raising school fees; while those who suffered abuse, became pregnant or have delivered babies may show aggression or withdrawal,” said Misori.
Under the ministry’s Covid-19 guidelines, teachers will be required to ensure that right class sizes are maintained to ensure adherence to social distancing.
Kuppet also observed that additional classrooms, laboratories, libraries, desks and dormitories will be necessary to meet social distancing regulations. “In underserved areas where privately funded schools may have collapsed, public ones will require greater infrastructure to cater for learners transferring from moribund institutions,” said Misori.
The ministry document says that availability of liquid soap, hand-washing facilities, disinfectants, thermal guns and facemasks, and enforcement of their utilisation will be the work of teachers.
The union also wants water and sanitation facilities for regular handwashing to be made available.