NYS mass masks order clear signal schools to reopen soon

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 00:00 | By
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha. Photo/PD/File

The push to reopen schools gained momentum yesterday after the National Youth Service (NYS) was directed to start mass production of face masks for learners and teachers.

The directive was among resolutions agreed upon during a high-level virtual conference on Covid-19 that brought together President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and the Council of Governors.

Read the conference’s 11th  resolution: “NYS, in anticipation of opening of schools, to produce masks for all school going children and teachers.”

The resolution is to be implemented by Education and Public Service ministries in conjunction with the 47 county governments.  

Addressing the conference, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced that at least Sh1 billion was required to acquire face masks for all learners for schools to reopen.

Stakeholders’ meeting

Magoha said the ministry will hold a stakeholders’ meeting on September 14 to deliberate on the way forward, which gives them another two weeks to observe the virus trends.

He explained that much as the ministry is prepared to re-open schools, it cannot happen at the moment unless masks are available for all children.

“Over 100 countries are still to reopen schools because we are dealing with a very unfamiliar environment.

We will watch the patterns and call an all-inclusive conference to discuss issues of basic education and if the curve will have flattened, we will be asking ourselves if there is any need to keep the schools closed until 2021,” the CS told the conference.

He added: “It is not possible for anyone to stand and say that we will reopen tomorrow because those who have tried have rolled backwards. Even as people continue to make noise, all our children are alive and safe and that is the bottom line.” 

The CS said Kenyans must understand that a lot of resources are required for masking because all the children must have masks noting that about 50-60 per cent of them cannot afford to buy their own and government must step in.

Infrastructure challenge

With the infrastructure challenge in public schools, the CS said that social distancing will be difficult to achieve, all the more reason children must wear masks, have a lot of running water and sanitisers.

“The greatest constant will be the mask and I would like we approach this together, because if one would expect the national government to buy the mask, we will require Sh1 billion,” Magoha explained.

He added: “So perhaps, if this can be decentralised to counties so that accountability and any other risks that come with decentralisation are spread out and we ask donors that this is the time to make the money available.”

Already, a prototype mask has been created with the help of the Ministry of Health and it is to cost Sh35 a pair.

“We are also prepared to reopen depending on outlined measures and we are also prepared to re-close if there is need to, we have avoided this up to this time.

If we are going to bite the bullet in about three weeks or so then the money for masks should be coming out now from everyone including governors and donors, so that each child has two washable masks that can last at least six months,” said Prof Magoha.

 He admitted that the suspension of face-to-face learning for basic education has been the greatest challenge.

“Our greatest problem has been the issue of social distancing which we are dealing with and it will be very difficult to implement but what we must look at as Kenyans is the safety of our children and the teachers and the onus is on us to ensure that our parents understand this,” Magoha explained.

He also addressed the question of examination classes, reiterating that should they reopen, the issue of equity and equality comes to play because of the numbers involved.

There are 1.2 million Class Eight candidates and 750,000 for the Form Four examination and should they sit for the exams, Magoha said there would be up to 500,000 of them without spaces in secondary schools for lack of adequate capacity.

The CS dismissed critics who have accused him of flip-flopping about reopening, saying it is the virus trends that have been changing, with indications of the positivity rate now pointing to 5 per cent.

And looking back thus far, the CS said he is happy with measures put in place so far by his ministry despite high pregnancy rates, “since the children are alive and safe”.

Separately, the international Centre for Policy and Conflict  has supported the UN Children’s Fund position that children return to school as soon as possible.

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