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Teachers are in greater danger than learners

By Wilson Sossion | November 16th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Teachers are powerful agents of policy reform in the education sector. That is why it is important to involve them in all decision-making processes relating to education and their wellbeing.

In the course of the coronavirus pandemic teachers should be in the forefront deciding when and how to reopen and run schools, as they are equally affected by the disease. Already, tens of tutors have succumbed to Covid-19 related complications.

Teachers are expected to participate in drafting new policies and structures that will influence their performance in school during this difficult period. However, while fulfilling this mandate, they should be guided by a risk-based approach to maximise the educational and health benefits for students, teachers, support staff and the wider community, and accordingly help prevent the spread of the virus. Before reopening of schools, teachers were inadequately prepared because there was no training at all.

Before schools started reopening partially in June, WHO, Unicef, Unesco and International Federation of Red Cross issued guidelines on the prevention and control of Covid-19 in learning institutions, measures that apparently Teachers Service Commission (TSC) failed to bring to the attention of teachers. This could have contributed to the deaths of teachers as everyone seemed concerned with the safety of learners. No one seemed to care about the health and wellbeing of teachers.

It should be noted that although learners are at risk, teachers are even at higher risk. The death of Mohammed Khamis, the principal of Tononka Boys High School in Mombasa, together with several other teachers’ countrywide, are clear indication that teachers are most vulnerable. The lives of teachers, just like any others’, need to be protected.

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When learners contract the virus they expose teachers to the disease. Some of these tutors are in their 50s, the high-risk age; while others suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, renal challenges, cancer, to mention a few. Already, dozens of teachers are admitted to various hospitals suffering from Covid-19. This is causing fear, anxiety, panic and stress within the teaching fraternity.

At least 90 schools countrywide have reported cases of coronavirus. The number of cases are likely to increase. This is a major concern for teachers, considering that most of the learners are asymptomatic. This means you cannot tell who is infected unless they are tested.

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) is extremely concerned about teachers getting exposed to the virus. In day schools, children return home daily and intermingle with locals in various social activities. We are concerned that when students and teachers get infected they may end up passing the virus to their families and even communities.

A single infected student can cause a lot of harm in a school, especially to the ageing teachers and those with underlying ailments. Schools are being hit by the virus every other day.

We need proper guidelines from the ministries of Health and Education on the way forward, particularly on how to handle teachers with underlying health conditions and the ageing ones.

Knut supports the initiatives by the government to reopen schools in line with Unesco, Unicef and World Bank Group’s recommendations. However, we still insist that the government guarantees the safety of teachers in school.

Though the number of teachers who have succumbed to the virus might appear marginal, we have nevertheless lost part of our teaching force. We should not allow another teacher to die. Before schools are fully reopened in January, teachers should be sensitised on Covid-19 prevention and control strategies.

The ministries of Education and Health, in partnership with TSC, should regularly sensitise teachers about Covid-19 protocols and offer weekly updates, as the pandemic evolves. The TSC should be at the forefront in championing the wellbeing of teachers, and give them protective gear, as tutors are also frontline workers.

The government should assess what can be done to limit the risk of teachers getting exposed to the virus as they (teachers) are always in direct physical contact with learners. The commission should also get enforce the ‘stay at home’ policy for students, teachers or staff with symptoms. It is also necessary to link schools to local health facilities.

The Ministry of Health should create a checklist for teachers, students and non-teaching staff to decide who should and should not attend school. The checklist should include underlying medical conditions and vulnerabilities so as to protect students, teachers and school staff. I should also have recent illnesses or symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 to avoid spreading the virus.

In respect of the myriad challenges facing the education sector, and to ensure successful reopening of schools next year, the national government should allocate adequate funds for infrastructural development and refurbishing of existing buildings. If that is not done, the fight against the scourge will be in vain.

Mr Sossion is a nominated MP and Secretary-General of Knut

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