A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the heads of parents whose children will have to commute to school every day as a number of institutions are not keen to offer transport.
The demands brought about by social distancing, especially rules in public transport coupled with the scarcity of school buses and abnormal traffic along some of the country's major arteries presented a logistical nightmare that some schools were unwilling to deal with.
“We got a note from the headteacher last week saying the school bus will only be available for preschoolers. I have to find a way to get my daughters to school by 7am every day. I do not have a car, so I am trying to figure out how to find someone to drop and pick them every day. It is chaos,” says Titus Waweru, whose daughters go to school in Mirema along Thika Road.
Many schools that previously provided transport and meals for learners have withdrawn the services as the school managers struggle to enforce Covid-19 containment measures.
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“Parents are advised to use an alternative mode of transport when and if possible, to ease the pressure in using buses during the pandemic,” read a notice from St Jude Catholic School.
Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) Chief Executive Officer Peter Ndoro summed up the situation as a nightmare.
He says on Sunday, they had a meeting with the Ministries of Health, Education and Transport to try and come up with new protocols that will allow school buses to carry learners to full capacity without necessarily being subjected to the stringent social distancing rules. He also confirmed that several private schools have either cancelled offering transport to learners, while some have hiked fees to sub-contract other transport companies to meet the needs.
“In the absence of an agreement, it will be chaos and a nightmare. There are more than 670 registered private schools in Nairobi and most of them provide transport. If they get overwhelmed because they cannot make many trips, and they do not have enough buses, the cost will have to fall on parents,” said Ndoro.
He argued that as long as other measures such as fumigation of the buses and using sanitisers before and after getting into the bus are adhered to, the learners will not be at risk.
But President Uhuru Kenyatta, through the head of Public Service, maintained that public and private vehicles must maintain a 60 per cent capacity in line with the national Covid-19 containment measures. He issued the communication yesterday to facilitate the reopening of all schools and guarantee the well-being of the learners.
The option of transporting the learners in shifts is not viable due to the heavy traffic jams that are experienced in the city. It would take several hours for a driver to make a round trip. Things get even more complex for learners plying routes that are under construction such as Mombasa Road and James Gichuru-Rironi road.
Caroline Njeri who provides private transport in Waithaka, Dagoretti, says demand for the same has spiked. Since the resumption of studies was announced, she says her phone has not stopped ringing as desperate parents seek solutions to avoid a looming crisis.
“I can only carry half capacity. I am doing Kinyanjui Primary School only, but I get desperate requests from parents and headteachers begging me to take more routes,” she said.
She added that she has doubled the price, and in routes where she was charging as low as Sh2,700 per month, parents now have to pay more than Sh5,000.
“The cost of fuel has remained the same, so if you are going to transport less people, you have to recover the cost,” said Njeri.
Some parents have now resorted to taking their children to boarding school to avoid the daily hustle of finding transport for them. Patricia Mulema says the risk of putting children in public transport and exposing them to coronavirus and sexual predators has made her seek alternative schools for her three children.
“The thought of having them commuting every day and waking up before 4am to get to school on time is too much. There are not enough public schools in Donholm where I stay,” she said.
Other than transport, a majority of school heads in day schools have also cut down on meals they used to offer. Parents have been told to pack lunch for learners to avoid congestion in dining halls since most schools do not have huge halls that would allow social distancing while eating.
Moreover, most schools lack the capacity to hire extra staff to help in serving meals and coordinating the meals sessions.