Let us hold our horses on schools’ reopening

While these are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures, must we put the health of our teachers and learners at risk?

The proposals floated by the Ministry of Education for re-opening of schools need to be re-examined. It is true that learners have borne the heaviest brunt of the closure of the learning institutions. However, this shouldn’t obscure us into rushing into reopening the schools.

Various factors should be at play in arriving at the decision to reopen schools other than examinations and transition. The ministry seems to have been guided by the pressure from sections of the public that have been demanding resumption of face-to-face learning.

Many have argued that since the closure in March, children have been wasting their time at home and that the sooner schools reopen the better. This is convincing but reopening demands varied expert input.

Going through the proposals, it is clear that serious thought has not informed the learning component of schooling. Children want to go back to school and learn, yes. But as experts we should be guided by the quality of the facilitation our teachers are bound to provide.

Will significant learning experiences be attained? Is it not true that what we are doing is too cosmetic and just intended to assuage the public? My opinion might not be the best, but it should be listened to all the same.

First are the new term dates. Can teachers be able to cover the syllabus in less than 10 weeks considering the December break? The second term normally takes 14 weeks and as we are all aware, this is the term that is usually synonymous with strikes. Which magic have we given the teachers now to finish the wide and broad syllabus and begin revision for the summative assessments at the end of the school cycle?

Coupled with the learner-centred instructional approaches that are recommended for teaching at these levels, it will take a miracle for significant learning experiences to be attained. Let’s not command teachers to undertake a task that we know is not achievable.

While these are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures, must we put the health of our teachers and learners at risk? Won’t many experience burnout and other mental-health related problems due to the crash programme?

Second, why should we alter the term dates in our school calendar substantially while we are aware little will be achieved in the undertaking? Why the hurry if effective teaching won’t be realised? The current term dates have been giving ample time for parents/guardians to prepare their children to transit to the next level.

They are also in harmony with those of the East African Community member-states and beginning of academic years for most universities globally. Why can’t we prepare adequately for reopening of schools in a less hurried manner so that we don’t expose sections of our population to Covid-19 risk?

All along we have been waiting for the curve to flatten. At least there are good signs to this end. A little more patience will make everything clear for reopening of schools. At the moment, little has been done in the schools to meet the required health and safety protocols. We have also to bear in mind the issue of reinfections that is a challenge to most countries that were ravaged by the epidemic before us. Our schools are crowded and the rate of spread of the epidemic can be catastrophic.

If you consider our weak health systems and the cancer of corruption which often hovers over anything we do, an outbreak in a school will have unfathomable consequences. A little more time will bring the herd immunity and maybe allow the Education ministry to make the schools, to some degree, Covid-19 compliant.

What happened to planning in Education? Why do we have so many knee-jerk reactions to management? The issue of schools reopening has been characterised by a lot of flip-flopping, unlike the technical and university sectors which have had their issues approached in a very informed manner. In fact, if you visit these institutions, especially the TVETs, you see a high level of preparedness. Can’t the basic education sector and the county–led early childhood sectors borrow a leaf from TVET? I fear the schools will become the new epicentres for the spread of Covid-19.

Most schools are in a pathetic state and not safe enough to admit learners during this Covid-19 season. The truth is that this is the wrong time to reopen schools. Can’t schools be put in order for early next year's reopening as earlier envisaged? 

Parents need time to prepare their children to return to school in terms of fees and other requirements. At the moment most Kenyan households are surviving on a shoe-string budget. Many families are just scrapping through. Re-opening schools is often a nightmare to many parents and guardians. It is worse now with the effects of Covid-19. Getting fees and related monies is out of reach of most parents.

We should stick to the January 2021 date. This will allow stakeholders to put their houses in order to make significant learning experiences realisable. Let’s not be driven so much by exams and transition. We should aim at helping our children to learn. Mere schooling will lead to a lost generation. Every cloud has a silver lining. This pandemic should make us to address the infrastructural and staffing challenges that have been the hallmark of our education system for eons.

-Dr Ndaloh teaches at Moi university. 

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