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Release funds for safety, school heads ask ministry

By Augustine Oduor | January 3rd 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Nereah Anyango, an education official, fits a mask on a pupil at Precious Talents School in Nairobi. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

A hard beginning awaits teachers and learners tomorrow when schools reopen 10 months after closure due to Covid-19 pandemic.

A spot check in some public and private schools revealed varying levels of preparedness, thanks to inadequate funding that has complicated preparation for opening.

Headteachers are also worried that they may not be able to guarantee children’s safety, as they are yet to be trained on the various protocols put in place by the government to stop the spread of the virus.

Heads also cited inadequate expertise among staff to manage virus infection cases, as some of the critical equipment are yet to be bought by the schools.

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Some schools are yet to prepare isolation rooms fitted with basic equipment such as thermo guns, gloves and protective gear, as required by the government.

“We surely do not know what will happen on Monday when schools open. We hope to manage situations as they arise. Without money, each institution has its own level of preparedness,” said Nicholas Gathemia, the Primary School Heads Association chairman.

The statement by Gathemia, who speaks on behalf of all primary school heads, exposes the uncertainty among institutions’ managers hours to the resumption of learning. It emerged that delayed release of Sh19 billion capitation money to schools has further thrown them into a spin, as some institutions are yet to make necessary adjustments to accommodate learners.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said the money would be available this week, but did not authoritatively state whether the National Treasury had committed to releasing the funds.

“We hope that the money will be disbursed to schools next week (this week) when they open,” Prof Magoha said.

Secondary school heads, however, say opening schools without money is a major oversight, as most institutions will be unable to run. Kahi Indimuli, the Secondary School Heads Association chair, told Sunday Standard the Ministry of Education’s plea to heads to negotiate fees payment would further complicate the crisis.

“Parents should just be asked to pay fees and the government should also release the money. Teachers should do their best to protect children in schools and foster a proper learning environment,” he said, adding: “Let everyone play their role if we want a successful resumption to learning and strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols.”

Mr Indimuli said teachers had agreed that keeping social distance in schools would be a challenge, but all institutions of learning should be facilitated to perfect the rest of the protocols.

“Why should we not have handwashing water points, masks, sanitisers and thermo-guns? These should be done to 100 per cent effectiveness, but it is not possible without funds,” Indimuli said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has released strict return-to-schools guidelines that place the greatest burden of Covid-19 to heads.

According to the ministry’s guidelines on health and safety protocols for reopening of basic education institutions amid the pandemic, teachers’ efforts will determine the successful resumption of learning.

The document that contains a detailed checklist of safety protocols for each school requires that headteachers and teachers play critical roles before and after opening.

Overall, the guidelines require schools to ensure that they have hygiene supplies available, including masks, facial tissues and alcohol-based hand rub.

Teachers are also expected to manage Covid-19 cases in schools and ensure learners stay safe. But with minimal efforts put in the preparation of schools, focus now turns to the management of Covid-19 infections, in case of institutions register an incident.

According to the guidelines, if a learner is suspected to have contracted the disease, they should be isolated in a designated room while they wait to be picked up by a rapid response team.

While there, the institutional nurse/matron is expected to administer first aid and keep a clear record of the nature of care given and the time administered.

The isolation room is supposed to be cordoned off after the ill person leaves and opened later for proper cleaning and disinfecting.

But school heads say their staff have not been properly trained on how to manage the virus’ infections in schools.

They say only a few institutions have nurses or medical practitioners within them.

The Ministry, however, insists that each school must be attached to a medical facility.

Headteachers propose that each school needs to have a clinical officer to help manage emergency cases.

“We strongly feel that we must go back to days when we had sanatoriums in schools fully sponsored by the government,” said Indimuli.

“This is critical because we are dealing with the lives of children and if the government cannot sponsor this, they should then allow parents to do so to protect their children,” he added.

Teachers said asking them to manage isolation centres and to also teach would be a major drawback. “These teachers do not have any medical or nursing background yet they are supposed to man the isolation centres. This is not a joke,” said Mr Gathemia.

Suspected infection

Schools will be expected to monitor new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, fever of 37.5°C, chills, muscle ache, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell among learners.

The guidelines require that high-touch surfaces in the isolation rooms be cleaned and disinfected. Areas where the sick are known to have been and items they touched are also to be disinfected.

These may include individual desk, bed, recently used toys and other shared equipment, reads the ministry’s document.

“In case of suspected infection among teachers and non-teaching staff, the institution management will inform the County Rapid Response team for further action and advice any staff member that is sick to stay home and follow the prescribed guidelines,” reads the guideline.

Indimuli said schools also need money to institute proper waste management processes.

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