A Member of Parliament is the latest stakeholder to criticise the Ministry of Education’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic that has paralysed learning in learning institutions.
National Assembly Education Committee chairperson Florence Mutua yesterday accused the ministry of failing to offer leadership.
“A key ministry like that of Education that is looked upon by thousands of Kenyans should not be blowing hot and cold. We need a clear stand on issues,” said Ms Mutua.
The Busia Woman Representative joins a long list of education stakeholders who have previously railed at the ministry for “creating confusion” in the crucial sector, citing “inadequate consultations, inept messaging and lack of direction.”
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According to the stakeholders, five months after President Uhuru Kenyatta shut all learning institutions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, the ministry has been responsible for raising anxiety levels in parents and learners owing to a poor communication strategy.
Even as the ministry came under fire, it emerged that Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has convened another stakeholders’ meeting for September 14 to review the reopening measures.
Those who are expected to be in attendance include members of teachers’ unions and associations, parents’ bodies, Teachers Service Commission (TSC), religious organisations and representatives from the Ministry of Health.
The meeting follows a court ruling that suspended the TSC’s roll-out of a community-based learning programme in which teachers were expected to engage children and help them acquire practical life skills.
Justice James Makau stopped the programme after a parent accused the ministry of failing to subject it to public participation.
But nothing has elicited more debate and disgruntlement than the fate of national examinations and failure by ministry officials to fix a firm date when schools will reopen and learning can resume.
A well-attended education stakeholders’ meeting in July, chaired by Prof Magoha, resolved to declare this year’s academic calendar lost due to Covid-19 ?restrictions.
The meeting agreed that this year’s national examinations be suspended to next year September, dealing a major blow to 1.8 million candidates who were expected to sit this year’s KCPE and KCSE test papers.
The meeting also resolved that universities and colleges embrace online teaching with physical reopening limited to institutions that will have complied with the Health ministry’s Covid-19 protocols and regulations.
But one month after the stakeholders’ resolutions, only two private universities and three middle-level colleges have put in place measures to comply with reopening protocols.
Most universities have not mounted online lessons several months after Magoha directed them to do so to recoup lost time.
No preparations are underway in primary and secondary schools to expand spaces for social distancing and to erect hand-washing points ahead of reopening.
Yet, communication from top Education officials has continued to signal early reopening of schools, thus fanning more confusion among the sector players.
Even though the July stakeholders’ resolution has not been reviewed, Magoha has over time given conflicting information on possible resumption dates for schools and colleges.
Speaking last month in Makueni County, the CS said the ministry was keen to get children back in schools. “We are observing the curve and when it hits five per cent in the next three weeks, we can then sit down and make hard decisions together.”
And speaking in Meru last week, Magoha said the ministry was monitoring the infection curve for the next two weeks, further fanning speculation that schools may open in November.
Sector players who drafted measures to guide the resumption of opening schools, however, say that a final recommendation to open institutions must come from the same committee.
“We have never sat again to review the resumption of learning measures that would inform some of the pronouncements that have been flying from some ministry officials,” said an official who is not authorised to speak on behalf of the stakeholders.
National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo said despite the conflicting communication coming from the ministry, the opening of schools must be pegged on the Covid-19 infection curve.
Sector players are now raising questions whether the ministry has made the necessary arrangements for reopening now or next year.
Mutua decried the uncertainty for the negative effect it was having on children, parents and teachers.
“We must prepare our children psychologically if they are to open in November or January,” the MP said, adding that candidates would require guidance on sitting their examinations and the transition to secondary school or college.
“We need less meetings and more action, more so on ensuring we have the right infrastructure and necessities in place,” said Mutua.
Former TSC Commissioner Cleopas Tirop also accused the ministry of failing to offer strategic leadership. “Even before coronavirus, schools were overcrowded. Yet nothing is going on in schools now.”
He added: “There was a need for a complete paradigm shift. And the ministry leadership has not done that.”
Primary and secondary school heads yesterday said they are yet to receive capitation money that would help them make arrangements to open schools.
Among the conditions for reopening set by stakeholders is reducing physical contact in learning institutions by having fewer learners to lower the chances of contracting Covid-19.
Stakeholders resolved that social/physical distancing would be the most critical factor in ensuring the safety and health of learners.
Also needed will be hand-washing points and soap and/or use of sanitisers, wearing of face masks and monitoring of body temperatures.
“As we speak, we have not received any money two weeks after they announced the cash had been released,” said Kenya Secondary School Heads Association chairman Kahi Indimuli.
It has also emerged that mistrust is building between school heads and teachers employed by boards of management (BoM) after the ministry announced it had released cash to pay the tutors.
Money has been sent
“The teachers feel that money has been sent and we have refused to pay. We have lost two heads over stress-related cases because the ministry says money has been sent yet it has not been received by them,” said Mr Indimuli.
Mutua called on the ministry to clarify payment of salaries of BoM teachers.
“We cannot confidently say that BoM teachers are paid yet they are out there dying of depression and the ministry has the money and should work with the heads and principals to ensure their staff get paid,” she said.
She added that the National Assembly had done its work of approving the budget. “We cannot keep on talking about a curve flattening when we are not doing things in preparation for reopening.”
Amid the confusion, the education sector is yet to chart a clear direction on teaching and learning in higher institutions, with each university beating its own path.
Only a few universities have kicked off online lessons, raising questions about the level of preparedness and quality of leadership in the institutions.