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Social distance nightmare as public schools fail to take in new students

By Standard Team | Jan 5th 2021 | 6 min read

Students in class at New Ogenya Primary School in Nyando, Kisumu County, yesterday. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

It was a day of anxiety as learners returned back to school yesterday, after a long break since March last year.

However, some of the students kitted with uniforms of schools they hoped to transfer to were turned away as the institutions were full to capacity 

And as public service vehicles (PSVS) cashed in on learners travelling back to schools, some traders make a kill selling merchandise ranging from stationery, uniform, masks and sanitisers.

PSVs that ply from Nairobi to upcountry seized the opportunity to increase fares, disregarding a pledge by the Government that this would not happen as they had an understanding with Matatu Owners Association.

Francis Mwangi, a clerk for Nanyuki Cabs Shuttle, said they were charging Sh700 to Nanyuki, Sh400 to Karatina and Sh500 to Nyeri, an increase of between Sh100 to Sh200 from the fares they were charging before Christmas.

Hiked the fares

“We understand many parents have no money due to effects of Covid-19 and we have slightly hiked the fares due to social distancing rule that requires us to carry less passengers,” said Mr Mwangi.

Most of the shuttles along Accra Road that ply the Nyeri- Laikipia route were charging around Sh400 to Karatina, Nyeri Sh500 and Laikipia Sh700. They lamented that the Nairobi-Nanyuki train had taken away business from them.

“Normally the bus stages are busy during such times but now see there are no parents and their children. The train is charging Sh200 to Laikipia thus many went for it,” said Dennis Irungu, a staff of Nyena Sacco.

On Embu–Meru Road, business was good as shuttle companies like Unique Shuttle were charging about Sh1,200 to Chogoria while Kensliver was charging Sh1,000 to Maua.

“Back to school business is there because children have to go back to school though there are few travellers. We are charging Sh1,000 up from Sh800 to Maua. We normally give priority to those going to Meru and Maua than to Embu,” said Gerald Theuri, Kensliver’s operations manager in their booking office off Accra Road, Nairobi.

Easy Coach customer care supervisor Betty Mutinda noted that they have fixed fares of Sh1,650 to Bungoma and Kisumu and Sh1800 to Busia and the buses are fully booked.

Kenya Railways in a statement to newsrooms on Sunday said from Monday they with increase passenger train services.

“The corporation is set to resume full operation tomorrow (Monday) on Nairobi Commuter Rail Service and Madaraka Express. Because of reopening schools, the corporation will run an additional trip between Athi River and Nairobi Central station on the Nairobi Commuter Rail Service in a bid to provide a quick means to getting into and out of town for Mombasa Road users and also run an additional train between Mombasa and Nairobi on the Madaraka Express,” said Kenya Railways Managing Director Philip Mainga.

He added: “Kenya Railways will also run a special back to school edition train between Nairobi and Nanyuki that will depart from Nairobi at 9am Monday and making the return trip on Tuesday 5am at 9am from Nanyuki station, stopping at intermediate stations to pick customers, charging Sh200 up to Laikipia.”

Uniform shops, especially those along River Road have recorded increased sales.

Hellen Jonathan, a mother of two was at a Uniform distributor making some last-minute purchases when The Standard caught up with her.

Ms Jonathan said that her children have grown big after staying at home for ten months.

“It’s been a year of a lot of change. The boys are now chubby because they have been home with mum resting and being taken care of. Now, we are in a rush to prepare them for the resumption of schools, and we have to buy a new uniform that fits,” she said.

Learners in Kenya High School in Nairobi will be returning to a school that has changed in line with Covid-19 protocols. Besides signs warning students, staff and parents of hazards, others remind them to keep a social distance. While handwashing points line the paths.

The school was designated as a quarantine centre following the outbreak of coronavirus in the country in March last year. Yesterday, the dorms that were holding patients were empty as the school prepared to welcome learners back today.  And parents seeking admission of their children to Olympic and Mwiki Primary Schools in Nairobi were yesterday turned away.

At Olympic Educations Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said it could no longer take any more due to its population of 4,793 learners.

“Why did I start here. This is the largest primary school in the country. With over 4,700 children, and therefore they require special attention. The second point is that it is within the slums. So we are going to give more support in terms of ensuring that the children are being taught,” Prof Magoha said a visit to the school yesterday.

Apart from overcrowding, the CS noted all was well and the students were masked.

“We have been working with our partners to arrange for temporary classrooms, but still it cannot accommodate every student, we ask that you try next year,” said the School’s Parents Association Chairman Fred Odhiambo.

Had to compromise

He added: “For those who had sewn uniforms, we are sorry but there’s nothing we can do.”

Odhiambo asked the parents to try Ayany, Kibera, Jamhuri or Joseph Kang’ethe, all of which are public primary schools within Kibra Constituency.

Janet Achieng, a parent from Kibera is seeking admission for her children who are in Grade One and Two. The children were in one of the public schools that were demolished along the railway line in the area.

“I was hoping my children would be accepted here because I have put a lot of effort to buy uniforms and books. I have use all my money and I will not afford to go through that process again,” Achieng said.

It was a similar script at Mwiki Primary School where parents who were seeking admissions for their children were asked to wait.

Peter Mulama, also had two children he wanted to join Mwiki Primary School. The public school in Githurai, currently has 3,500 learners.

In Taita Taveta, most schools had to compromise on social distancing among other safety health protocols due to lack of desks, classrooms and toilets.

“It has become difficult to implement social distancing as our school is already filled to capacity without adequate desks and classrooms among other relevant infrastructures which has remained a major challenge for years,” noted Mwasambo, a former Knut Branch Executive Secretary.

At the same time, dozens of students were stranded in Voi and Taveta towns due to lack of transport and hiked fares.

“As am talking to you now, my son is stranded in Voi town due to lack of transport. We do not know how our children will reach their respective schools,” noted Priscah Mwadime, a parent in Voi town.

At Limuru Model Primary School, hundreds of parents accompanied their children.

Inside the school handwashing points with liquid soap dotted the grounds to make sure that pupils washed their hands before getting into the classrooms. Teachers moved from class to class to make sure that all pupils wore masks.

The turn up in the school was 100 per cent posing a headache of social distancing. Mary Kareith the principal of the school said that during the assessment for the preparedness for Covid-19 the Ministry of Education officials suggested that an extra 26 classes be constructed to meet social distance.

“We are back to school with the same population we had before Covid-19, this is a school with 1,600 pupils and an additional 278 early childhood pupils, this has made social distance as directed by the government a serious challenge which we are brainstorming on how to handle,” Kareithi said.


[Reports by James Wanzala, Anyango Otieno, Kirsten Kanja , Isaiah Gwengi, Kevine Omollo, Stephen Rutto, Irissheel Shanzu, Allan Mungai, Renson Mnyamwezi and George Njunge]


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