Teachers back to school as re-opening uncertain

Teachers at Daisy Special School in Kakamega County dust students’ wheelchairs in preparation for a possible reopening. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Teachers made a nostalgic return to schools in preparation for the gradual re-opening of the institutions, but no date was set in the president’s address.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha and the national education stakeholders have been sent back to the drawing board after it emerged that President Uhuru Kenyatta was not convinced by the reopening details.

Hanging on the safety of the school-going children, the president said more thought must go into how the learning institutions will be reopened.

“Let us not focus on when they will reopen, but how schools should reopen to protect the lives of our children,” said Uhuru.

The president cautioned parents and other stakeholders against rushed opening of schools, saying the mechanisms of how their children will safely go back to schools must be agreed upon.

“Let us not fight over the lives of children. Let us think over the health and safety of the children first before we reopen,” Uhuru said.

This means that Magoha may call another stakeholders conference to fine-tune reopening measures before a roadmap is issued.

The statement is a major setback to the efforts of the Education Response Committee and Ministry of Education officials, who had for months worked out reopening modalities. 

The team had worked out scenarios for phased reopening that would see national examinations done in April next year.

The team had also proposed tentative reopening dates. Uhuru yesterday dismissed calls for when to open schools, saying emphasis must be on children’s safety.

“I, therefore, direct the Cabinet Secretary for Education to issue the calendar for the resumption of 2020 academic calendar, strictly bearing the foregoing in mind,” said Uhuru.

National Parents Association national chairman Nicholas Maiyo said the phased reopening was the only solution that will guarantee the safety of the children.

“We have always said that it is safety first for the children. But we are sure it shall be this year because next year will be too expensive for parents,” said Maiyo.

Kenya Private Schools Association national chairperson Mutheu Kasanga said the fine details of opening schools and possible scenarios had been worked on by the committee and presented to the Cabinet Secretary.

“The how is what the committee has been working on and we are now confused because inspection of schools and preparations had been going on,” said Kasanga.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Secretary General Akello Misori said the announcement by the president marks the beginning of the full reopening of the economy.

“As teachers, parents and workers, we fully support government efforts to ensure a steady but healthy return to normalcy,” said Misori.

He said all Kenyans have been affected by the measures for the containment of Covid-19 and asked the government not to abdicate its responsibility of helping parents during the upcoming reopening of schools.

This as it emerged that some schools had not met the Covid-19 protocols of erecting hand washing points with few additional classes put up to help in enforcing the social distance headache. 

Calls for the speedy release of Sh13 billion capitation funds also intensified.

After more than six months break occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, tutors trooped back to the neglected institutions, which will require some rehabilitation before they can become habitable for learners.

But as the teachers returned, calls were enhanced for the immediate release of the capitation funds to facilitate the required preparations for the admission of students.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) says the monies will help schools put proper measures in place for reopening, including purchase and installation of water tanks and buying of face masks.

Omboko Milemba, who is Kuppet national chairman, said schools have not received their capitation since March this year.

“The government had not disbursed capitation for a second and third term and part of first term allocation to schools. It is high time the funds are released to help in preparation for reopening,” he said.

Addressing The Standard in Kakamega yesterday, Milemba argued that schools would require just Sh1 billion to procure at least a pair of reusable face masks for learners across the country.

Kenya Primary School Head Teachers Association (Kepsha) Kisumu branch chair Elly Ondiek reported that a number of public schools were in a sorry state. This, he said, was after some rogue villagers vandalised classrooms in the absence of watchmen, who had stopped guarding the institutions for lack of pay.

Teachers in the county were confronted by rusty and dilapidated institutions with school compounds overrun by long grass and bushes. Some buildings now have leaking roofs as the schools had become ghost institutions.

Some of the institutions had turned into grazing fields and cowsheds for villagers, with livestock now replacing learners in classrooms.

The County Director of Education, Isaak Atebe, said set guidelines by the Ministry of Education have been given to the school heads, which should facilitate the reopening process.

“Teachers should carry out an audit of the state of schools and raise the findings with relevant authorities for easy follow–up,” Atebe explained.

A spot check at various schools in Meru revealed that all teachers had reported back to their duty posts except those on maternity leave and those who retired during the extended break.

At the DEB Township Primary School in Meru, 10 teachers were in the teachers’ lounge, catching up after the long break and envisioning the challenges that will be brought forth by the new way of life.

Outside the school building, casual workers were busy clearing weeds and overgrown grass even as the school gate remained closed.

At the Meru Primary School, the teachers were in a staff meeting to mark the resumption and discuss preparations in anticipation of President Kenyatta’s briefing on reopening.

“The most critical classes at the moment are Standard Four, Seven and Eight. Those ones we can handle at the moment, but if the whole school reopens at the same time, we may be forced to teach in shifts where the lower classes that do not have exams coming up interchange and come to school a few days a week so that we can get enough classes to put them in,” said the headteacher, Judith Ntumbari.

She urged the government to send at least five Kazi Mtaani beneficiaries to each school to help with preparations for reopening as well as in menial tasks after reopening.

In Meru South, the teachers union was calling for fast disbursement of the capitation funds. Addressing the media, the branch Executive Secretary Albert Mutani said the money will come in handy in preparation for schools reopening.

“Government has not released any funds for schools the whole of this year and as a result, we cannot hire workers to undertake these tasks,” said Mutani.

He said schools whose dormitories were used as isolation centres require intensive refurbishment and this will require them to have enough funds to hire the necessary workforce.

In Machakos County, TSC director Anne Wachira said there was no reported cases of unauthorised absenteeism by teachers.

“If anything, any absenteeism could be normal ones like those related to sickness which were taken care of officially,” she added.

But on his part, the Machakos/Kathiani/Mavoko sub-counties Knut Secretary Juda Wewa said despite all teachers having reported back on duty, they were faced by many challenges especially the pathetic conditions of the schools.

“Yes, our teachers have reported back to school but the prevailing situation on the condition of the institutions is wanting,” he said.

He called on the government to inject money to the schools for repair and maintenance.

[Augustine Oduor, John Shilitsa, Olivia Murithi, Mactilda Mbenywe and Victor Nzuma]

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