The reopening of schools should be lauded. Initially, the government set January 1, 2021, for reopening, but following a decline in the number of Covid-19 infections, there was partial reopening in October 2020.
There have been mixed feelings after schools reopened. Some stakeholders fear that schools could be new breeding grounds for Covid-19, while others say they have no money. Social media has been awash with communication demonstrating that parents “ate” school fees.
Still, it was important that schools reopened. Covid-19 provides lessons for the Education sector, key among them a greater appreciation of critical roles schools play, besides providing safe, supportive learning environments, employing teachers and other staff.
They are an important part of the infrastructure of communities.
When schools closed in March 2020, many parents struggled to work with children at home, which amplified the essential caretaking role schools and teachers play.
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Parents’ gratitude for teachers’ skills and role in the well-being of learners doubled.
Schools help mitigate health disparities by providing critical services, including meal programmes and social, physical, behavioral, and mental health services, which Covid-19 messed.
As communities struggle to take care of vulnerable children and youth, decision-makers have to devise new ways of delivering essential services such as food, education and health care.
Concerned that continued school closure means massive loss in human capital development with major long-term economic and social implications, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is taking similar action via definition of a framework for action to guide them through educational response to the pandemic.
The role schools play is the reason all efforts must be made to protect children against the pandemic.
It is important to note that the guidelines provided by the ministry borrow heavily from the World Health Organisation and Centres for Disease Control recommendations. The guidelines are well-thought out and if strictly followed, schools, which are known to be discipline centres, can better control spread of Covid-19 than homes, where some parents have had little control of children. The risk of school-going children getting infected and in turn infecting the at-risk older parents will be eliminated by following the guidelines.
According to the guidelines, most learning should take place outside classrooms and lecture halls, preferably under trees, to ensure social distancing. If within classrooms, a one-metre distance between desks must be maintained.
Counties and the Ministry of Health should continuously monitor Covid-19 activity nationally and within schools, then update guidance. With Kenyans known to drop guard at the earliest opportunity, there is need for continuous monitoring of schools and communities’ adherence to the guidelines.
UNESCO, through Global Coalition for Education, has been working with organisations to provide continuity of education. Covid-19 must also be seen against the backdrop of the right of children to education, as recognised in international treaties.
The treaties must be considered under the social, cultural, economic, political, legal and educational factors that support or impede it.
With the realisation that the pandemic will be with us for some time, it is important to develop strategies and actions in the fight against it within the framework of children’s rights.
Never before did the central role of education in the economic, social and political prosperity and stability of nations get well understood by the general population than now. As such, more efforts should be put in place to safeguard gains made by the government in resuming normalcy in the education sector.
-The writer is CEO at the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC)