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Teachers face daunting reopening challenges

By Mwangi Mumero
Monday, October 12th, 2020
Pupils in class. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

As phased opening of schools begins, educationists are calling for emphasis on better training, professional development and leadership skills for teachers in the face of Covid pandemic.

Every fifth day of October, every year, the world commemorates World Teachers Day, a day used to acknowledge and appreciate the teaching profession.

However, this year’s celebrations were unique as the profession has experienced challenges occasioned by the novel coronavirus.

The pandemic has significantly added to the challenges faced by already over-worked, yet highly under-paid teachers, especially in the private schools.

These challenges, educationists fear, will be more pronounced as schools reopen today following the Ministry of Education directive that Competency Based Curriculum Class Grade Four, Class Eight and Form Four learners return to school.

They say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students physically distanced and prevent further spread of the virus have not been answered.

And they feel that their own lives, and those of the family members they come home to, are at stake. 

The teachers will also be meeting students  scarred by the pandemic in various ways.

Some students have suffered abuse, teenage pregnancies, others have lost parents through death or divorce occasioned by lost jobs or businesses among other maladies.

Reports indicate that cases of teenage pregnancies, rape and other child abuse issues have been on the rise during the long period of school absence.

“Without urgent action and increased investment in teacher training, a learning crisis could turn into a learning catastrophe,” warns Audrey Azoulay, director-general the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on the role of teachers during an online conference to mark World Teachers Day last week. 

In Kenya, over 300,000 teachers are returning to class after seven months in a changed environment where social distancing, wearing a mask, sanitising and cleaning of hands are the new normal.

Prepare teachers

 “The Teachers Service Commission needs to start preparing teachers emotionally, psychologically and professionally on how to deal with Covid-19 situation and the possible stigmatised teaching environment that is created by the pandemic,” observed Wilson Sossion, Secretary general, Kenya National Union of Teacher calling on the employer to consider all aspects of teacher staffing as schools reopen.

Already, teachers have been in schools for the last three weeks preparing for school reopening even as issues of social distance among learners remain a challenge.

“To build a resilient teacher workforce in times of crisis, all teachers should be equipped with digital and pedagogical skills to teach remotely, online, and through blended or hybrid learning, whether in high, low or no-tech environments,” noted Azoulay in statement, also signed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) director general Guy Ryder. 

In a recent circular to school principals and headteachers, TSC called for the development of innovative strategies designed to offer psychosocial support to learners, parent and other stakeholders.

Teachers too, feel they are unprepared in this area and will require expert training. “It is a tough call advising students coming back from extended stay at home and all the challenges of the last seven months.

Many students, especially from poor background will require concerted effort to bring their minds back to class.

Some will be touching their books  for the first time after a long time,” asserted a teacher who declined to me named for the article.

A joint survey by Unesco, United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the World Bank on responses to Covid-19 found that only 50 per cent of all countries surveyed offered additional training on distance learning education for teachers. Fewer than one-third offered psychosocial support to help them handle the crisis.

Teachers in private schools will be coming back to class scarred after a long period of suffering without pay.

“We have to report to school first to know which teachers are coming back to work.

They are demoralised and have suffered immensely over this period without pay unlike their government counterparts,” observed Grace Kwamboka, a headteacher in a Kitengela-based church owned private primary school. “Others may not report altogether. They are psychologically affected,” she added.

Regional variations

Equally affected are the non-teaching staff, such as cooks, drivers, watchmen, gardeners and accounts clerks who are coming to work after a half-year dry spell. They will be very critical in the success of school reopening.

At least 63 million teachers globally are affected by the pandemic highlighting persistent weaknesses in many education systems and inequalities.

The data by Unesco shows that 81 per cent of primary schools and 86 per cent of secondary school teachers have the minimum qualification- with substantial regional variations.

In sub-Saharan countries, just 65 per cent of primary school and 51 per cent of secondary school teachers had the minimum requirements, a stark contrast with 74 per cent and 77 per cent in South Asia respectively.

Consequently, many African teachers are ill-prepared to handle the challenges they face, according to the report.

Globally, an estimated 69 million teachers, were needed to achieve universal education in 2030, in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals -over 24 million  and 44 million for primary and secondary education respectively- a figure that is close to the entire global primary and secondary teacher workforce of 2019.