School heads face problem of space as learning starts

Mary Charo, a parent, volunteered to clean classroom at Kasani Primary School in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

As parents and pupils made final touches in readiness for the start of the second term, a spot check by The Standard showed that there was a state of unpreparedness in several parts of the country. 

In Embulbul Primary School, in Ngong, Kajiado County, the board of management and parents were organising a fundraiser to put up temporary classrooms to ensure learners observe the social distancing measures.

Board chairman Hamisi Ramadhani said the school had more than 1,500 pupils and needed more than Sh13 million for the project.

Mr Hamisi added that pupils might learn under an acacia tree in the compound if they won't have raised the money before next week.

"We will have no other option since the number of learners is big. We are also expecting others from private schools that have been closed down due to Covid-19 constraints," he said.

And in Kisumu, six schools marooned by floods in Nyando will not reopen tomorrow. This after rising waters from Lake Victoria rendered the institutions inaccessible for the last 10 months.

The hardest hit is Ogenya Primary School, with a population of 700 pupils. By yesterday, residents from the surrounding community were busy constructing make-shift classrooms and a staffroom on higher ground.

County Director of Education Isaac Atebe confirmed that Kandaria Primary and Secondary, Ombaka Secondary, Ogenya Primary, Oseth Primary and Nyamurundu Primary schools would not reopen.

Mr Atebe said learners had been directed to alternative learning institutions.

"We have made arrangements with the hosting schools to ensure health protocols are adhered to," he said.

The director said Ombaka and Kariandaria Secondary schools would receive Sh10 million each to facilitate relocation, while Ogenya and Kandaria Primary schools would each receive Sh4 million.

"The relocations are a temporary measure as the Ministry of Education explores permanent solutions," he said.

Atebe confirmed that a multi-agency team would ensure that all schools reopen. "Any hitch that comes up will be dealt with to ensure a seamless flow of learning."

Migori Primary School headteacher Moses Maranda said due to the high number of learners, it would be a challenge to practice social distancing.

The school has more than 2,500 learners, Mr Maranda said, and the challenge is how they will be divided among its 35 classrooms starting tomorrow.

"Even if we let our learners study under trees, the desks we have will not be enough for them," he said, adding that they were also expecting new admissions from private schools that closed.

In Nakuru County, selected schools have each received 50 additional desks and chairs from the government.

St Maria Veronica Girls School principal Grace Maina said the institution, which has 650 learners, recently hired two teachers but needs an additional six.

"We had 10 classrooms and have completed the construction of four new ones. We have two laboratories and two tents, which will create another four classes. But we don't have enough teachers to attend to all the new classes created," said Ms Maina.

Menengai High School principal Richard Ngatia said they had four extra classrooms.

"We were luckily in the process of constructing two new classrooms, which are now complete. We have converted a dining hall with a sitting capacity of 60, which was previously used by teachers, and a multipurpose hall into classrooms," said Mr Ngatia.

Face challenges

Kenya Secondary Schools Headteachers Association chair Kairi Ituuru warned that primary schools in Meru County faced challenges setting up washing points and adhering to social distancing requirements.

Mr Ituuru, the principal of Antuanduru Mixed Day Secondary School, said his school had bought and installed handwashing equipment at the school gate and outside classrooms. He added that there are plans to convert an incomplete hall into a classroom for form one students.

At Githwariga Primary School in Nyeri town, headteacher Jackline Gichuru said they were ready to welcome pupils after receiving desks from the national government.

Ms Gichuru said there had been an influx of pupils from private schools seeking admission after their institutions were shut due to financial constraints.

"We have set up several handwashing points, but the new pupils could complicate adherence to social distancing guidelines in classes," she said.

At St Peter's Mumias Boys High School, there was signage warning of the importance of observing social distance and sanitising to avoid spreading Covid-19.

At Ebubole Primary School in Mumias East, head teacher Josphat Kweyu said: "We have no funds to keep the compound clean, but we will work to have the overgrown grass cut before we reopen as communicated by the Ministry of Education."

In Mombasa, the headteacher of Kashani Primary School in Kisauni said the new sitting arrangement would be a challenge. "I have 1,146 pupils and eight classrooms. I do not know how they will fit."

County Director of Education Moses Makori said there were more than 30,000 learners in public primary and secondary schools in the county.

At Concordia Primary School in Mtopanga, one of Mombasa's public schools with the highest number of pupils, its untidy classrooms were locked.

"We have had to dispose of some of our properties to get our children back to school. Things have been tough," said Julius Saha, a parent.

At St Joseph Boys in Kitale, construction of a multi-storey dormitory and eight new classrooms was still on course as the school works to accommodate its 2,341 students.

Principal Wilson Yego told The Standard parents had funded the construction of the dormitory while the national government paid to build the new classrooms. The dormitory and classrooms will accommodate 300 students.

"We are expanding some structures and erecting additional water points ahead of reopening. Social distancing will be a challenge due to the high number of students,” said Mr Yego.

In West Pokot, a survey showed that while most schools had not built new classrooms, a few installed additional handwashing points.

Kapenguria Boys High principal Moses Ndeda said social distancing would be a challenge, but at least students would be able to keep their hands clean.

Kapsabet Boys High chief principal Kipchumba Maiyo said it would be difficult to achieve social distancing due to lack of extra classrooms. "So far, we have only installed handwashing points at the gates, administration block and classes; and supplied enough water mainly for hygiene."

Kapsabet Girls's principal Mary Kiprop said they had bought sanitisers and face masks to supplement what parents would purchase for their children.