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The State should assure all learners of safety in school

 ECDE teachers arrange chairs in a makeshift classroom in Ukhunda village after classrooms were flooded following heavy rainfall. [File, Standard]

Schools reopen for second term tomorrow amid uncertainty following the devastation caused by floods.

While President William Ruto directed that children resume studies from tomorrow following advice from meteorological experts, tens of thousands of learners in at least 1,600 schools cannot access the institutions due to damage to infrastructure.

In some areas, roads and bridges were destroyed presenting transport challenges. There have been mixed reactions regarding whether it was prudent to reopen schools, after an earlier indefinite suspension, with some arguing that prolonged closure meant it will disrupt the academic calendar.

Others felt that if children continued to stay at home, we may see a repeat of the outcomes brought by Covid-19 pandemic such as teenage pregnancies, child marriages, alcohol and drug abuse and child labour.

However, there are those who argued that safety and security of learners is paramount.  In our view, however, the focus should now shift to ensuring the smooth resumption of studies while ensuring the safety and security of all learners.

In this regard, the government has come up with guidelines to ensure the 3.5 million learners are shielded against disaster situations while in school.

While the government has placed the burden on teachers and parents, it should also play its part by ensuring schools have the capacity to respond to emergencies. For instance, the Ministry of Education has instructed schools to conduct necessary repairs and maintenance to address any damages caused by adverse weather. 

According to the circular, it also wants the institutions to develop and implement strict safety protocols, including measures to mitigate the risk of flooding and ensure the structural integrity of buildings.

This is likely to be problematic because Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu wants headteachers to use the Sh23 billion they got as capitation in late March, while the school heads counter that they money went into offsetting pending bills they had incurred after a prolonged delay in releasing the funds.

In a situation such as the one we are confronted with, these never-ending feuds between school heads and the ministry are unacceptable.

What is more, the ministry expects the schools not to turn away students who do not have fees. While we acknowledge this is a positive measure, especially given the flood's impact on households, including loss of lives, we must also ensure it does not undermine schools’ ability to keep learners in school as well as their disaster response preparedness.

While MPs have been urged to finance the reconstruction of schools, we hold that the national government cannot escape what is purely its responsibility. The government must keep all learners safe while in school. 

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