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School calendar lost, learning to resume in 2021 due to Covid-19

By Irene Githinji
Wednesday, July 8th, 2020
Education CS George Magoha. Photo/PD/File
In summary
    • The unprecedented decision was a major disappointment for millions of learners across the country, who were hoping to make another step in their academic journey.
    • Parents will also bear the burden of having the youngsters at home for the next seven months.

Irene Githinji  @ogitshee

The 2020 school calendar year will now be considered lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will go down in history as the year when learning was completely disrupted and national examinations postponed because of a calamity.

Making his much-awaited announcement on possible resumption of learning, Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha said the 2020 academic calendar has been re-organised and all basic education learning institutions will reopen in January, next year.

The unprecedented decision was a major disappointment for millions of learners across the country, who were hoping to make another step in their academic journey.

It was will also be a pain for parents who will not only lose cash already paid as school fees but will bear the burden of having the youngsters at home for the next seven months.

Also, based on disturbing continued surge of Covid-19 cases, Magoha said the ministry had shelved an initial proposal to reopen schools in September for Standard Eight and Form Four candidates.

“Faced with this uncertain environment, the stakeholders have resolved to reopen all basic education learning institutions in January 2021.

This is based on the assumption that the infection curve will have flattened by December,” said Magoha, who spoke at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, accompanied by education stakeholders.

 Yesterday’s decision means  the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) candidates will sit the exams next year.

However, Magoha warned that the decision will be reviewed depending on the Covid-19 trends.

 “All the decisions that we have made with stakeholders regarding reopening of learning institutions may change as informed by reports from the ministry of Health, prevailing circumstances and increased knowledge of the Covid-19,” said the CS.  Magoha explained that phased re-opening would have resulted in  two Form One class cohorts in 2021, saying schools did not have adequate capacity for such a situation.

This, explained the CS, would pose a major infrastructural challenge, given that the number of students in schools was already high and it would have overwhelmed the system.

Magoha also said the decision was informed by the fact that the country will experience equity challenges when only two basic education classes reopen and transition, while all other learners lose one year.

“Although the 2020 Form Four cohort will have left, the total candidature is 752,836 against a candidature of 1,191,326 in Standard Eight.

In view of the 100 per cent transition policy, this means that there will be no classrooms for 438,490 learners in Form One. It will be, therefore, difficult to achieve the social/physical distancing measure,” the CS explained.

Magoha said the postponement has been informed by the fact that all learners in Grades  One to Four, Standard Five to Seven, and Form One to Three in 2020, will remain in their current classes in 2021.

Double intake

He also said there will be no KCPE and KCSE examinations in 2021 because the current Standard Seven and Form Three students will, practically, not be able to cover the curriculum load for five terms in one year and sit the examinations.

The CS explained that a double intake would mean the number of teachers required will increase because secondary schools will have a challenge of having enough tutors, especially for optional subjects, to meet the demand of split classes.

Already, there is a lack of teachers to comprehensively cover the high enrollment of students, especially with the 100 per cent policy.

“In Form One, the compulsory subjects are 11, which will necessitate employment of more teachers to handle the Form One double intake cohorts,” said the CS.

Education experts have said that resuming learning in January was inevitable, given the latest trends of the disease.

“Reopening in January was a long foregone conclusion. We have to put a few things into perspective even as we start the never walked journey. Never in the history of post-colonial Kenya has closure of such magnitude been witnessed,” said educationist Amos Kaburu.

Almost all key stakeholders in the sector threw their weight behind Magoha’s announcement.

“Safety of learners and teachers must come first. All parents must ensure that children are safe during the duration they are at home until learning resumes, it is in the best interest of the country.

There is need to first flatten the curve of the disease, the principal of equity for all children should be the greatest guiding factor,” said Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Wilson Sossion, who attended the briefing.

Teachers Service Commission (TSC) Secretary Nancy Macharia said other than teachers being second parents, they are individuals and should also be safe.

“We looked at all these issues and saw that teachers need psychological support, too. If we were to reopen what would happen to those aged 58 and above as well as those with other underlying health issues?” Posed Macharia.

Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) Secretary General Constantine Wasonga said: “We are in support of this decision by the CS. Universities will be allowed to open only if they meet all health protocols.”

Having observed the current Coronavirus trends, Kuppet Secretary General Akelo Misori said the country must prepare adequately before schools can resume.

“We concur with the CS’s decision because the burden of shouldering responsibility should the trend continue would be enormous,” said Misori.

In the wake of a surge of the disease and with health experts predicting that the peak would run beyond September, Magoha said inter-county movement of students in boarding schools will pose a challenge, especially for those travelling from Nairobi, Mombasa and other counties with high incidences of infection. “This will contribute to a spike in the spread of infections,” stated the CS.

Since the infection curve is rising as September approaches, Magoha said many parents have expressed strong reservations to sending their children to school.

However, he said teacher training colleges and technical institutions will be allowed to reopen from September subject to strict adherence to the ministry of Health Covid-19 protocols.

He said reopening of universities for face-to-face sessions will be on a case-by-case basis based on approved compliance with the Health ministry protocols. “Universities should continue holding virtual learning and graduations for students who have successfully completed their programmes and met graduation requirements set by their respective Senates,” explained Magoha.

He said universities should consider phased reopening to achieve physical and social distancing, especially in halls of residence, lecture halls and dining areas.

All institutions allowed to reopen must comply with Covid-19 regulations or risk closure.

Great impact

In consultation with the ministry of Health and in conformity with the Covid-19 mitigation measures, Magoha said stakeholders had set up minimum reopening conditions.

They include reducing physical contact in learning institutions by having fewer learners. This will have a great impact in reducing Covid-19 cases and fatalities associated with reopening learning institutions.

The stakeholders have also agreed that schools should only reopen when the daily number of confirmed positive Covid-19 cases reduces consistently for at least 14 days.

Stakeholders said physical distancing is the most critical factor in ensuring safety and health of learners for reopening. Handwashing with soap or use of sensitizers, wearing of facemasks and monitoring body temperature will also form minimum requirements for the health and safety of learners.