Parents in tight spot as schools set to reopen in coronavirus era

Many parents and guardians are struggling as they prepare to take learners back to school tomorrow.

The re-opening follows closure of the learning institutions in March after the country recorded its first case of Covid-19.

Those expected to return to class, according to a directive by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, are Grade Four, Standard Eight and Form Four learners.

But in keeping with government guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus, parents are expected to spend more.

New requirements include mandatory wearing of masks, monitoring of learners’ temperature, handwashing points and general observance of high levels of hygiene.

Already, some schools have made it clear that they will not accept students back unless they have masks with school labels, and have even directed them to specific shops to buy them from.

No choice

But most parents and guardians yesterday said they were caught unawares by the directive to resume learning, but have to comply.

Those found shopping at Uniform Distributors Limited along River Road in Nairobi noted the one-week notice to prepare themselves and the children was not enough.

Jackline Nyawira, a parent at Kahawa Sukari Presbyterian School who was at Kidbos Uniform Junction to buy school uniform, said the directive by the government came at a short notice.

“It is only today (Saturday) that I got the opportunity to come and buy what is required. They should have at least given us a month, but now we have no choice but do what we can,” Nyawira said.

At Bata shoe shop, along Kenyatta Avenue, the Rev Francis Kairu who was buying shoes for his Grade Four daughter lamented that the government should have given sufficient time.

Ann Mwangi, who has a child in Class Eight, noted that there was a challenge because she was not prepared.

“We were given only three days to prepare ourselves yet we will need school fees. There are many other requirements. My child will have to report with a box of washable masks, among other things. It is a difficult time,” Mwangi said.

She said she needs at least Sh50,000 to ensure her daughter comfortably settles in school.

In Kakamega, parents started streaming into stores as early as 7am to buy stationery and uniforms.

Most parents argued that the CS failed to take into consideration effects of coronavirus on families, adding that most of them will not manage to pay school fees.

Jacinta Karithi, a parent of a Grade Four pupil at Kakamega Primary School, said it was time children got back to school despite other concerns they had.

“The CS is right. It is time our children got back to school. What was worrying us as parents was the issue of fees, but they have urged us to let all learners go back to school irrespective of fee status. We hope that school heads will take heed,” Kariithi said.

Her sentiments are shared by Joan Amillo, a parent of a Standard Eight pupil at Nabongo Primary School in Kakamega, who said the challenge most schools will face is in observing social distance.

Since the announcement on the dates of re-opening of schools last week, the business of traders selling bags, uniforms and other learning materials has been booming.

Joseph Nyinzi, a trader in school bags, said since Tuesday, he has been making up to Sh6,000 a day.

In Busia, Bahati Uniforms located along Busia-Kisumu was open but there were few customers. The owner, Lilian Bahati, attributed low sales to hard economic times parents are facing due to coronavirus.

In Kisumu, uniform and shoe traders recorded increased sales, with many hiking prices of commodities as parents and students flocked retail outlets.

Long queues were witnessed in bookshops and uniform outlets and in the banks for those who were paying school fees.

A spot check by The Standard revealed that prices of school items had been hiked.

Alice Akinyi, whose daughter is set to report Kisumu Girls’ High School, lamented that she had to take an emergency loan to cater for her shopping.

Schools too are not finding it easy to meet the requirements.

Some of the immediate concerns for the schools was the reconnection of amenities such as water and electricity which had been disconnected due to non-payment of bills since April when the schools were closed.

“Teachers have reported that the schools still have the old normal. They are facing challenges adapting to the new normal of the Covid-19,” said Akello Misori, the Kuppet secretary-general.

The Kenya Private Schools Association is optimistic that learning institutions will cope with the new demands.

“We had started a bit early to put in place certain measures that were required, especially those that did not need a lot of money.

“We are hopeful that with the phased re-opening, we are able to progressively prepare and close the gaps as we move along,” chief executive Peter Ndoro said.

The term that begins tomorrow will run for 11 weeks. Learners will then get a one-week break in December and resume in January.

Legal challenges

The schools are also set to resume even as legal challenges against their re-opening mount. There are at least two court cases which are challenging the reopening of schools.

In a case filed on Wednesday by Michael Kojo and Evance Oloo, the two activists based in Homa Bay want the court to suspend the phased re-opening of schools since a number of the learning institutions have not put in place necessary measures to ensure the spread of Covid-19 is minimised.

The High Court in Nairobi has also ordered CS Magoha to convene a meeting of stakeholders in the education sector before schools re-open and a report detailing resolutions made during the meeting be filed in court before Wednesday, October 14.

(Report by Jennifer Anyango, Allan Mungai, Ignatius Odanga, Simon Oyeng and Mactilda Mbenywe)

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