Why learning could resume before January
Wednesday, August 26th, 2020
Nancy Gitonga and Bernice Mbugua
Learners could be allowed back to class before January next year if the current trend where the country has been recording low numbers of coronavirus infections continues.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha yesterday said the government would consider re-opening schools if the Covid-19 curve continues to flatten, hours after a city court suspended the Community Based Learning (CBL) which was supposed to kick off next month until a case over resumption of learning is heard and determined.
Magoha’s sentiments came days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund urged African governments to promote safe re-opening of schools while taking measures to limit spread of the virus.
Speaking at the Kisii National Polytechnic yesterday after inspecting the institution’s preparedness for reopening, Magoha said should the Covid 19 situation continue to improve the government may consider re-opening learning institutions, especially colleges, in September.
“If the curve is flattened within 14 days we shall come back with a new roadmap,” Magoha said.
Magoha said in the last eight days he and officials from the ministry have been visiting several technical colleges, universities and teachers training institutions to assess their preparedness to resume studies.
“We have stopped reopening universities and colleges, but should the situation change we shall look at them again,” Magoha said.
He explained that although they had pushed the re-opening date for colleges from September to January they were “looking at them again and if the situation changes we could order for their re-opening”.
“We were to open colleges by September, but our assessment showed that the level of preparedness was slow and Covid 19 cases had spiked,” Magoha said.
He said that of most concern will be teachers’ training colleges which should be reopened ahead of next year’s May intake to help train teachers who will be key in the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC).
The minister spoke as the High Court restrained him and the Teachers Service Commission from implementing, undertaking or further executing the Community Based Learning project across Kenya.
Justice James Makau issued a temporary order pending the hearing of a suit filed by a parent who has challenged the indefinite closure of schools due to Covid-19.
Joseph Enock Aura wants the court to order Magoha to re-open learning institutions from September 1, 2020, being the immediate next academic term for schools across Kenya.
“The oppressive psychological and mental torture inflicted on school-going Kenyan children in consequence of the closure of schools effected by the Education CS since March is gravely injurious to them,” he says in court papers.
Through lawyer Harrison Kinyanjui, the parent is also seeking an order compelling Health CS Mutahi Kagwe to direct the reopening of all play areas and recreational centres for children across the country.
According to the case, the closure of schools which was affected after the State of the Nation address by President Uhuru Kenyatta in March was unconstitutional.
“To date no gazettement of the decision to close the schools has been made. The decision was implemented by Education CS without consultation with the National Education Board, parents and learner.
The net effect of the said act is to undercut the constitutional statutory rights of school-going children,” he says.
On Saturday, WHO after conducting a survey of 39 countries, said the impact of extended education disruption is significant as it had led to poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies, and overall challenges in mental development of children due to reduced interaction related to school closures.
“We must not be blind-sided by our efforts to contain Covid-19 and end up with a lost generation.
Just as countries are opening businesses safely, we can reopen schools. This decision must be guided by a thorough risk analysis to ensure the safety of children, teachers and parents and with key measures like physical distancing put in place,” said WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
In court, Aura argued that the Basic Education Act confers the National Education Board powers to put in place measures to ensure all children attend and remain in school to complete basic education requirements.
No executive order was issued by the President to validate the open-ended closure of schools across Kenya as the state of the Nation Address neither bears the seal nor the signature of the President compared to the Executive Order issued by the President in February, said Aura.
“Hence it fell short of the constitutional threshold of a lawful decision of the President prescribed in Article 135 of the Constitution of Kenya,” states Aura.
He argues that the purported justification proffered by Magoha and Kagwe indefinitely closing schools across Kenya is unconstitutional.
“By decreeing that no person will attend educational institutions across Kenya from March 16 to January 2021, without any legally or scientifically justifiable bases, the Education CS violated the Constitution,” he claims.
“For the Education CS to now direct that these children repeat their final class in the year 2021 on dubious and unsound bases is categorically unconstitutional and a violation of section 7 of the Children’s Act,” he argues.
The parent further claims that by arbitrarily ordering the closure of schools to uncertain time in future, the Education CS diminished the international competitiveness of Kenyan education products in comparison to other countries.
He also seeks the two ministries to be restrained from demanding, directing, or administering a mandatory mass or individual “Covid-19 vaccine” on school children across Kenya’s public and private schools as a precondition to any further or continued enrollment in such public or private schools.
Further, Aura wants the court to quash Magoha’s decision made on July 3, 2020, declaring and executing “community-based learning” programme.
“An order of injunction be issued restraining the Education CS by himself, his, assistants and partners, agents, servants, or otherwise howsoever, together with the Teachers Service Commission from undertaking, or further executing the ‘community-based learning’ project in schools and learning institutions across Kenya as announced by the Ministry of Education on July 3, 2020,” reads the court papers.
The petitioner also wants the High Court to direct that the government compensates all private and public schools for losses incurred during their closure.
He also wants the children compensated by way of damages for the psychological suffering inflicted on them, on account of the government directives to close off in-person learning since March.