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No social distancing as rains hamper learning in the open or under trees

By Saturday Standard Team | January 16th 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Mud walled classrooms at Pan Paper Primary School in Lugari collapsed recently leaving 780 learners without a place to study. [Standard]

Bad weather, teacher shortage and challenges in enforcing social distancing are among teething problems schools are grappling with two weeks after learners resumed classes.

Since the end of last week, most areas in North Rift are witnessing short rains and chilly weather that have made it hard to conduct lessons out of classrooms as recommended by the Education Ministry as part of measures to curb Covid-19 infection risks.

Some teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity said classrooms are congested but due to the prevailing cold and wet conditions, it would be unhealthy to expose children by having lessons under trees.

“We have surrendered to fate and opted to have lessons in the usual classes. Staff are also overstretched, and it will be unattainable to split classes into several streams due to shortage of teachers,” a teacher told the Saturday Standard.

One of the teachers said apart from the social distance requirement, which is impossible to attain, most primary school pupils do not put on masks, and they have to be reminded.

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There are also shortages of desks and learners share what is available.

Stephen Misoi, the executive secretary of Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Nandi County branch, urged MPs to give priority to education infrastructural development in Constituency Development Fund (CDF) allocations.

“If Covid-19 protocols are to be observed, no school will effectively meet the requirements. Populations in schools have exploded.

“With the prevailing rains and the cold weather, the health of children will be affected if classes are held outside,” Misoi said.

“It is our prayer that Covd-19 vaccine will be available as soon as possible as promised by the government and teachers and learners will receive the jabs.”

In Western Kenya, hundreds of pupils scramble for the little available space in makeshift classrooms at Pan Paper Primary School in Kakamega to avoid being rained on.

The structures have old, corroded iron sheets as roofs and learners are exposed to untold dangers.

on their roofs, exposing the learners to untold dangers.

“We had to look for poles and erect the structures after the mud-walled classrooms we had collapsed recently,” said Roseline Wabwile, the head teacher.

Wabwile said they have been conducting classes under trees “but the erratic weather has made it hard for us to carry on with lessons in the open. We have been experiencing early morning and afternoon showers, making learning a nightmare.”

The school has 780 pupils, including early childhood education class, and requires at least 11 classrooms to accommodate them all, Wabwile said.

“We only have one permanent classroom occupied by our 29 KCPE candidates. The rest have to learn under the tree, sometimes, we follow the shed to neighbours’ farms during lessons,” she said.

The only classroom was built using CDF money in 2014/15 allocation.

New learning centres

In Busia, some schools are closed and pupils have been transferred to new learning centres.

One of the affected schools is Musoma Secondary in Budalang’i Constituency, which is submerged following floods experienced in the area last year.

The students were moved to Lugare Teachers Training College, which is also yet to open.

Parents and teachers have urged the government to intervene and have the school opened.

Nonetheless, learning continues at neighbouring Musoma Primary School, despite stagnant water covering the field.

Busia Woman Representative Florence Mutua called on the Ministry of Education to consider Budalang’i a hardship area.

Mutua, who is the chair of the National Assembly Education Committee, said some students have to board a boat to schools every day.

In Naivasha, the humanitarian crisis in estates that are flooded due to rising waters of Lake Naivasha has deepened, with at least 20 schools closed and 15,000 families displaced.

The most affected institutions are private schools in Kihoto estate and 1,000-odd students have had to seek places in congested public schools.

According to Ann Njenga, the Nakuru County Disaster Management chief officer, at least 20 private schools in Kihoto, most of them ECDEs, are closed because of the floods.

“The closure of the private schools has caused another crisis as there is only one public school in this estate and we are working with the Ministry of Education to address this,” Njenga said.

Peter Tum, the Labour Principal Secretary, on Wednesday said teachers and the provincial administration should be accountable for pupils who are yet to report to school.

Tum was touring Baringo County to assess the situation of schools. He was in the company of his counterparts Ochieng Okoth (ICT and Innovation) and Joseph Irungu (Water and Irrigation), Government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna and Baringo County Commissioner Henry Wafula.

“No child should be left at home as others are studying in schools,” Tum said.

Schools in Turkana County are also grappling with poor infrastructure, which has hampered adherence to social distancing.

At Lopangae Primary School in Turkana Central, pupils are huddled inside small manyattas after strong winds destroyed temporary classrooms recently.

There is no modern classroom in the school, and pupils share few manyattas while others study in open fields.

Pupils of Loruk Primary school in Baringo North using a boat to access the school. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

No latrines

Teachers who declined to be named due to fear of reprisal said the pupils do not have latrines and often relieve themselves in the bushes.

The teachers say they have 300 pupils, but only about 100 have reported and others are still at home because of lack of food in the school.

Grade Four pupils are in a manyatta, while Grade Three learn in the open field. Pupils in grades One and Two have been taken to a shed of a nearby church.

At Canan Primary School in Lodwar town, Munina Bonaya, the Education Chief Administrative Secretary, found pupils sitting in dusty classrooms as the school grapples with social distancing.

Other schools like Emanman Primary and Lokwamosing Primary both in Turkana East sub-County, learners study in incomplete classrooms.

Some pupils do not have masks and teachers have a hard time enforcing the Covid-19 protocols due to high level of poverty the area.

Peter Magiri, the Turkana County Director of Education said they were aware of the situation.

“We have ordered the school head teacher to give us the report concerning mentioned issues.

“If he had given us the report earlier, we would have forwarded it to the responsible offices for a quick action,” Magiri said.

[Titus Too, Ignatius Odanga, Simon Oyeng, Antony Githaiga , Yvonne Chepkwony, Mike Ekutan and Bakari Angela]

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