What extension of school closure means

Pupils in a classroom. The adjustment in term dates could mean extra pressure to parents to raise fees. [iStockphoto]

The academic journey of this year’s Form Four candidates has been a roller coaster.

The odds seem to be stacked against them as they face a second major disruption to their school life as they prepare to sit their national examination.

Schools have been shut down in the lead-up to their KCSE exam as was the case when they sat their KCPE exam.

In 2020, schools closed for eight months due to Covid-19 - between March and November - and candidates took their exams in 2021.

Education experts predict that a similar delay might be witnessed this year.

The indefinite closure of schools, announced by President William Ruto on Friday, raises concerns about the ripple effects of the shutdown.

Four years after the Covid-19 disruption, schools yet again face uncertainty.

Kenya National Union of Teachers chairman Collins Oyuu said the ministry will have to relook at the academic calendar and consider changes in KCSE exam dates.

The ministry is yet to issue any guidelines on a reviewed calendar.

“The ministry will likely factor in the time lost and try to recover it inside of this year. So we might see KCSE done late into December,” Oyuu said.

National Parents Association (NPA) chairman Silas Obuhatsa noted that the ministry would need to adjust the calendar to factor in the lost days.

However, he expressed optimism that this year’s disruption is likely to be mild.

“The CS should act swiftly and give timely updates on reopening when the situation improves that includes any adjustments to the calendar and accounting for those who might not be able to return to school,” Obuhatsa said. However, Obuhatsa notes that the adjustment in term dates could mean extra pressure on parents in sorting out fees.

This, he says, is because the period between one term and the next will be quite short.

Besides the delay in the academic calendar, schools have also suffered the destruction of infrastructure from the ongoing rains.

While the extent of destruction varies, Kenya Primary Schools Association chairman Johnson Nzioka noted that each school had braced some impact from the rains.

“Each school has been impacted differently. Some mild others severe. The details are in the reports delivered to the Ministry of Education, maybe priority should be given to those severely affected first while repairing,” Nzioka said.

Data from the Ministry of Interior shows that some 1,967 schools have been affected by the rains.

While announcing the indefinite closure of schools, President Ruto called on MPs to prioritise the renovation of schools damaged by rains using the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) kitty.

However, Ruto has been criticised for failing to offer remedies for threats children face while out of school.

Kenya Women Teachers Association Chief Executive Officer Benta Opande warned that the school closure could lead to similar effects witnessed during the Covid-19 disruption.

She warned that girls were particularly vulnerable to abuse due to the displacement caused by floods and being out of school.

“Sometimes these schools act as a safe haven to protect children, at the moment if you look at families more so women and girls who are displaced are now exposed to twice as much danger,” Opande said.

She, however, agrees that the closure of schools was the right decision but called on the government to issue guidelines that will safeguard children even when they are away from school.

“During the Covid period we saw a rise in teen pregnancies and increased dropout rates perhaps those are things the government needs to have stopgaps for,” she said.

The adverse effects of school shut down during the Covid-19 pandemic were captured in a report commissioned by former President Uhuru Kenyatta released in 2021 indicating over 375,000 learners quit school.

The report titled ‘Promises to Keep: Impact of Covid-19 on Adolescents’ indicated  165,000 adolescent girls, aged between 10 and 19, were either married or pregnant.

Opande further called on counselling of learners upon returning to school.

Educationist, Janet Ouko Muthoni, asked the Ministry of Education to conduct a research on learning gaps when learners return to school.

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