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EDITORIAL: Ensure reopening of schools is smooth

Friday June 26 2020
By EDITORIAL

Early this month, President Kenyatta directed the Education ministry to set up structures for reopening schools in September. The reopening date was based on advisory from the Covid-19 education task force appointed by Cabinet Secretary George Magoha.

Since March, when the government closed all learning institutions as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, learners have been domiciled at their homes and, except for a few cases, majority have not received any form of learning. This has caused much anxiety and apprehension with parents asking government to make plans to reopen schools.

Whereas everyone would desire to have learners back to class, emerging realities are discomfiting. The first is the rising numbers of infections and with cases reported in at least 40 counties, meaning the pandemic is pervasive. Yet, as health experts observe, the worst is not over. Their projections indicate that the numbers will spike in the next two months unless more drastic measures are taken to contain the situation.

Second is the logistics of bringing learners to school. This week, Prof Magoha outlined what is required to reopen schools and keep learners safe. For one, the number of learners in a class should range between 15 and 20 to ensure social distancing. But that is unrealistic in our circumstances where classes have an average of 50-70 learners as the government pursues the policy on universal access to basic education. The question is, where will schools get additional classrooms to house all the learners?

Schools will also need additional teachers. When even at present schools are poorly staffed, subdividing the learners into smaller groups will exacerbate the problem. We take note that the Teachers Service Commission had been recruiting intern teachers to ease staff shortage. But the numbers are insignificant.

Additionally, the CS said the government will provide at least two face masks to every learner in school, which adds up to 24 million pieces. Producing, packaging and distributing the masks is a practical challenge. Use of the face masks is equally problematic.

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The plan to reopen schools is challenging, which is why a lot of thought and organisation is required to make it happen. Prof Magoha himself has been leading teams of ministry officials for school visits to determine the level of their preparedness. This is important to get first-hand information on the situation.

Lastly, the National Treasury should urgently release the Sh6.5 billion education stimulus package President Kenyatta announced to facilitate plans for the reopening of schools.

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