Dilemma on whether to reopen schools persists

Thursday, May 28th, 2020 00:00 | By
Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development chairperson Dr Sara Ruto at a past event. Photo/PD/FILE

Public expectations that schools could reopen next month have been dealt a major blow following disagreements among members of a taskforce appointed to look into the issue, with some outlining challenges that need to be addressed first.

Sources familiar with the deliberations told People Daily the team is in a dilemma whether to recommend reopening of learning institutions or advise the government to extend the current closure.

 But as members of the taskforce chaired by Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development chairperson Dr Sara Ruto grapple with the issue, it emerged that 70 per cent of presentations to the 10-member committee favour immediate reopening of schools.

 “About 20 per cent of the proposals presented to the taskforce called for the partial reopening of schools while the other 10 per cent want schools to remain closed until the coronavirus pandemic is contained,” a member of the task force, who spoke in confidence, said yesterday.

The team was supposed to complete its technical work this week and prepare a report for Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha, to guide his decisions on normalising learning.

However, the committee is now grappling with the challenge of coming up with recommendations that take into account views of various stakeholders in the sector.

The team is also alive to the fact that further delay in reopening schools could lead to a transition crisis because the country is currently implementing the newly-introduced Competence Based Curriculum (CBC).

Endanger lives

 “If we don’t reopen schools as soon as possible, what would happen to pupils who are in Grade Four and are supposed to upgrade to Grade Five next year?

Remember, also, that pupils currently in Class Eight are supposed to move to Form One next year, and if they don’t, we shall not have form ones next year,” Kenya Union of Post Primary  Education Teachers (Kuppet) chairman Omboko Milemba, said yesterday.

According to Milemba, who is also the Emuhaya MP, failure to reopen schools would affect transition from and to grade 3, 4 and 5 and classes 6, 7, 8, and Form One which would remain a crisis for some time.

 All schools in the country were ordered closed on March 15, two days after Kenya announced the first coronavirus case.

Yesterday, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) urged the government not to bow to pressure to reopen learning institutions, saying the move would endanger students’ lives.

Addressing a press conference in Nairobi yesterday, Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion and officials of the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), joined in calls to have the national examinations pushed to the first quarter of 2021.

 Sossion said parents are not ready to release their children until the Covid-19 curve is flattened. 

“Partial reopening of schools especially for candidates will be dangerous. Moreover, the world will not come to an end if we suspend the national exams,” Sossion said.

Undergo testing

At the taskforce, sources said the committee was mulling whether to take the risk and recommend reopening of schools in the face of the “sluggish testing of individuals suspected to have the virus”.

To this end, majority of the members have insisted that they would not consider a return to class without a stringent coronavirus test and trace regime.

“Rushing to reopen schools at the moment could be suicidal to our children. Bearing in mind that our schools accommodate children from across the country, are we going to test all school-going children before re-admitting them?  What parameters shall we use to determine students who are safe and those who pose a risk?” the taskforce member posed.

Questions also abound whether the government will make it mandatory for teachers and non-teaching staff to undergo testing for the virus before schools are reopened. 

Prof Magoha appointed the taskforce on May 12, to look into the possible reopening of schools following the coronavirus pandemic. The committee was also tasked to explore ways of restoring normalcy in the basic education sector calendar.

Apart from Dr Ruto, other members of the committee are the chairman of the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association Indimuli Kahi, head of the Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association Nicholas Gathemia, the CEO of the Kenya Private Schools Association Peter Ndoro and the chair of the Kenya Parents Association Nicholas Maiyo.

 Also in the team are Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops representative Augustine Muthigani, Kenya Association for Independent International Schools official Jane Mwangi, National Council of Churches of Kenya’s Nelson Makanda, Muslim Education Council’s Sheikh Munawar Khan and chairman, Kenya Special Schools Heads Association Peter Sitienei.

 Dr Ruto declined to comment on the reopening issue, only insisting that they were progressing well.

 “We are almost through with our work. Why don’t you wait for the final report?” she said.

Bear burden

 Although the Ministry of Health is yet to give the green light to reopen schools, a section of members of the taskforce believe most learning institutions countrywide lack conducive environment to restart learning.

 For example, almost 70 per cent of learning institutions experience water shortages, and therefore cannot guarantee running water, which is one of the prerequisites of avoiding the  infection.

 Moreover, the taskforce is divided on who, between the government (through schools) and parents, should bear the burden of purchasing sanitisers.

Besides that, most of secondary schools have boarding facilities, which brings the headache of how to deal with the issue of congestion, which has been aggravated by the 100 per cent transition goal. Another challenge found by the committee has been whether the current rainy weather conditions can allow some classes to be held in the open.

 Differences of opinion in the committee emerged a day after former Prime Minister and ODM leader Raila Odinga warned that the government would be putting millions of lives at risk should it rush to reopen schools.  “...  It is better to postpone the examinations and save the lives of our children,” Raila said in an interview with Milele radio station on Tuesday.

 Also joining the debate was the chairman of the Council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya, who believes that it would be difficult for the young learners to adhere to containment regulations.

More on News