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If cases of covid-19 infections shoot up, we will bite the bullet and close schools again
Mwalimu Kahi Indimuli is the Chief Principal at Machakos High School and Chairman of the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association. He explains to MIKE KIHAKI how schools will jumpstart learning, keep kids safe and manage post-Covid challenges
Schools have opened, but Kenyans are afraid of a second coronavirus wave. What will happen?
In case infections shoot up, and they are seen to have originated from schools, we will have no alternative but to bite the bullet and close schools again. Note, however, that our wish is that schools will remain open until the end of the academic year.
Having Standard Four, Class Eight Form Four students in school is very crucial in determining the resumption of schooling for other classes. All schools will be expected to assess their systems based on how students will behave.
Many parents are still keeping their children from school…
We are aware that some parents will adopt a wait-and-see strategy to gauge if the disease will surge before they release their children. The concern, however, is how learners can access knowledge from home.
Is social distancing attainable in schools?
Social distancing is a nightmare of course. I feel we must emphasise more on handwashing, wearing of masks and sanitising because social distancing is difficult to enforce in schools. Children are very social by nature.
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Students in technologically-challenged areas had problems with e-learning. How will they cope?
They are definitely disadvantaged. This is why Education CS Prof Magoha was firm that learning will resume from the point when schools closed in March. This decision was informed by the fact that not all students had the opportunity to follow lessons that were being broadcast on radio.
There are schools in Baringo County that are submerged in water. What is going to happen to learners who go to such schools?
This issue came up in our Covid-19 response committee meetings. Such students will definitely have to be moved. The Ministry of Education has mapped out these schools and is planning where the students will be transferred.
Students and teachers got rusty during the seven months they were out of school. How will they catch up?
Recovery is attainable. At the Covid-19 response committee, we were advised by curriculum experts that the curriculum as designed can be implemented within 30 weeks in a year. Normally, we have 39 weeks with the extra nine weeks taken by midterms, sports, drama, music and other interruptions that occur during normal learning. We cleared 10 weeks in term 1, term two will take 11 weeks while nine weeks will be utilised in third term.
Masks will be a challenge to deaf students because they won’t be able to read teachers’ lips. What will happen to them?
We suggested that such schools be provided with transparent masks to enable learners to see the teachers and read their lips. The government is looking into that.
What new areas of indiscipline do you foresee schools grappling with after this long Covid break?
The biggest problem will be change in routine. Boarding schools have a routine way of doing things from the time of waking up to the time you retire to bed. That routine was broken, therefore, students will find it difficult to fall back into routine. We also do not know what students have been interacting with online and at home, which could have impacted them negatively.
Besides speeding up e- learning, what other advantages did the pandemic bring to education?
Innovation. Some teachers are now training online. We have also learned the weaknesses in our education system.
What is the future of boarding schools in the face of Covid-19? Will parents prefer day schools?
In a rural setting, day schools are brought together within a certain radius, but in urban areas, they are scattered. It would therefore be a challenge for urban parents to access day schools for their children.
What is the role of ICT tutors?
The president said the government will employ interns to help schools on ICT. In my view, they should come in to help schools develop an online system that can stream lessons online.
Homeschooling is becoming a fad. What is your view?
That is a good alternative, but it requires very good home-based facilities and for parents to create time for the children in order to supervise and monitor what they are doing.
The rush to clear the syllabus makes students cram as opposed to mastering concepts. Why do schools do this?
Clearing of the syllabus has lost its true meaning. Many think it is when you tackle every topic from page to page. The syllabus should not be treated like a novel but as a kind of medical treatment where you keep prescribing medicine based on how the patient is responding. In my view, the critical question is: Is the content cleared broad enough to enable a student to face an external assessment?
How then do we produce students who can apply knowledge as opposed to merely regurgitating facts?
The concept of teacher-knows-it-all and students should sit and listen is nonsense and every professionally-trained teacher knows this. Our role is to establish what children know, even when they are not aware that they do, and guide them to build up and expand that knowledge. Cramming for the sake of exams is anchored on quicksand because the children can’t remember a thing when they walk out of the exam room.
Why is it so hard to keep drugs out of schools?
Schools are a reflection of society. Keeping drugs away from schools is as difficult as keeping them away from society. Besides, schools have no legal framework to deal with drugs because students are minors. We have to come up with stringent legal measures for children to know they can be prosecuted if they indulge in or sell drugs in schools.
Debates used to be an integral part of learning. Why did we kill it?
Overemphasis on exams. Debating gave an opportunity for learners to build up knowledge. It was a process to get children to start thinking with confidence.
What is the general picture of fee arrears in secondary schools?
Fee arrears is our biggest challenge because no school will run without money, especially now that we have to put capital-intensive measures in place to protect our children. I urge parents to pay school fees. There is no shortcut.