Parents, and teacher's headache as schools reopen next week

School-going children walk back home after they found their school Kantafu Primary in Matungulu, Machakos County closed on April 29, 2024. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Parents are staring at school fees and transport headaches as President William Ruto ordered the resumption of learning on Monday next week.

The safety of learners in schools during rains, health issues posed by broken sanitation facilities and poor learning environment are some of the challenges parents and teachers will face.

Whether parents will get fees reprieve, questions of recovery of lost learning time and psycho-social support for children who lost family members to floods were also listed among fears.

But on Tuesday, President Ruto assured parents of the safety of their children. He said the decision to reopen schools was made after the weatherman confirmed the rains will subside in the coming days.

“All parents are now advised, based on the assessment of weather experts and the government, that it is safe for our children to go back to school,” Ruto said.

He spoke at State House Nairobi during a meeting with grassroots leaders from Kajiado Central and Laikipia North constituencies. The decision comes after the government postponed reopening twice, as heavy rains continued to pound the country.

According to the second term calendar, learning was to resume on April 29, 2024.

However, the Ministry of Education postponed the exercise for another week as the effects of the heavy rains escalated. Although the Cabinet endorsed reopening of schools on May 6, Ruto postponed the exercise indefinitely.

He cited the looming effects of heavy rains and threats posed by strong winds, including Cyclone Hidaya.

And on Tuesday, Ruto said it is now safe for children to resume classes following advice from the Meteorological Department. But yesterday, parents questioned whether the destroyed schools will have been repaired by Monday.

National Parents Association chairman Silas Obuhatsa urged the ministry to release capitation to schools ahead of Monday. “The government must release money in time so that schools can start immediate renovations of damages caused by heavy rains. This money will also support school operations so that pressure is not put on parents,” said Obuhatsa.

Parents argued that some classrooms were swept away and sanitary facilities brought down, posing health risks.

Marooned, Burgei Secondary School in Rongai, Nakuru County, on April 5, 2024, after the River Rongai breached its banks flooding into homes and schools due to heavy rains in the area. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Bridges and roads connecting some of the schools were also destroyed by the water and some parents questioned safety of their children.

President Ruto however said the government will work with development partners to repair damaged roads.

Also, some parents said they will suffer double payment of transport cost having incurred some expenditure when communication from Education Cabinet secretary Ezekiel Machogu on postponement delayed.

The high cost of living and the devastation caused by heavy rains, parents said, have rendered them poorer economically making it hard to pay fees in time.

Obuhatsa said some households lost property to floods while some were displaced and must be considered. “We are coming from a challenging time that has seen some families lose property and it will be fair for them to get leniency in fees payment,” he said.

Questions also emerged about whether plans have been made for children displaced by floods to resume physical learning and be accorded psychosocial support.

Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) secretary general Collins Oyuu said: “Schools should engage counseling departments to assess the ell-being of learners because some come from families that lost their members and need emotional and psychological support."

He called for staggered reopening for those who may not resume lessons on Monday.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) secretary general Akello Misori welcomed the decision but asked for the immediate release of capitation.

"Let money be sent to schools before Monday to give teachers an easy time to receive learners. If not done we shall be moving from one crisis to another," said Misori.

The Standard established that top Ministry officials will from Wednesday tour the country to assess the level of damage and preparedness for reopening.

Machogu will lead his officials to regions affected by floods. In his earlier circular, dated May 3, 2024, addressed to Regional, County, and Sub-County Directors of Education, Machogu urged all stakeholders to prioritise the safety and well-being of learners, teachers and the school community.

He directed schools to indicate the number of learners unable to attend school due to transportation issues, the impact of weather conditions on their families' livelihoods, and those internally displaced.

The CS further directed school boards of Management (BoM), headteachers, and principals not to host learners and teachers in life-threatening environments.

Kenya Private Schools Association national chairman Charles Ochome said extended closure was exposing institutions to financial burden and risked to default on salaries and loans.

“Schools need some extension to cover for time lost but in the absence of this we shall make local arrangements to recover through remedials,” Ochome said.

Yesterday, President Ruto said the government will release funds to the National Government Constituency Development Fund for the rehabilitation of schools damaged by floods.

He also announced that Friday has been gazetted as a public holiday to remember those affected by the floods. 

On Friday, Ruto said an extensive tree-planting programme will be launched to conserve and restore the environment and begin to reverse the challenges of climate change.

“On this day, we will plant trees and remind ourselves that the solution to climate change is taking care of our environment,” he said.