The fate of thousands of teachers and learners hangs in the balance as the government continues its nationwide clampdown on schools that fall short of set minimum safety requirements.
The teachers, who have so far been rendered jobless, especially at private schools, are unsure whether the institutions will be re-opened and if they will have their jobs back.
Thousands of Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) candidates whose schools have been ordered shut have had their preparations for the examinations disrupted.
The Education ministry last month ordered its officials to audit buildings for safety, schools’ registration status and compliance with set guidelines.
The officials are also expected to ensure that teachers working in the schools are registered with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC).
The order followed the collapse of a classroom block at Precious Talent Top School in Nairobi, which left eight learners dead.
After closing non-compliant schools, the officials relocate learners to nearby public schools. The exercise is expected to end next Friday, when schools close. A report will then be sent to Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang by October 31, 2019.
KCPE and KCSE candidates who have been moved to new schools have little time to adjust to their new environments, with examinations set to begin in two weeks.
The movement has worsened an already dire situation as most of the schools are grappling with congested classrooms and a biting shortage of teachers.
The condition of the schools is also an indictment of the directorate of quality assurance and standards that is charged with the duty of inspecting schools to ensure compliance.
Within a month, officers have been on the ground and have inspected thousands of schools.
After graduating from Kenya Teachers Training College in 2014, Mr Cleophas Osoro toiled for three years in search of a teaching job.
When he could not find any job in Kisii County, the P1 teacher packed his bags and travelled all the way to Tana River where he was employed at Tana Academy in 2017, with a starting salary of Sh15,000.
The science and mathematics teacher had started building his life with his wife and three children when the school was closed down two weeks ago.
“Getting a job with the government in a public school is an uphill task, that is why I resorted to private schools. I am depressed, the government that refused to employ me has now sacked me, taken away my livelihood, dignity and respect and pushed me to do manual work in the streets of Hola,” he said.
“I can’t live here without a job, but relocating back home requires a lot of money. I cannot afford rent, food, school fees and cloths for my children and wife," he added.
So far 147 primary and secondary schools in Coast region have been closed. Mr Osoro is not alone, Ms Rahab Toash is expecting a baby as she deals with the shock of losing a job. “The news on the closure of the school was a slap on my face,” she said.
The P1 graduate of Kamwenja Teachers Training College is now looking for manual jobs. “I hope the government will rethink its decision. Families have been shattered, jobs lost and others are traumatised," she said.
Pupils in Tana River County said their transfer to public schools was unkind as they were left to study under trees due to lack of space.
As a result, some opted to study at home. Elvina Omara, who is set to sit her KCPE exams this year, is devastated. "We had just started preparing for exams. The government should have let us finish the term before they closed the school. Right now I feel devastated and demoralised," she said.
Teachers of schools that were closed down have called on the TSC to post them to public schools.
Some of the teachers accused education officers of bias while carrying out the exercise. However, Tana River Director of Education James Nyagah warned against reopening the closed schools, threatening legal action against individuals who may attempt to do so.
Coast Regional Education Coordinator Hassan Duale said the operation will intensify to get rid of dilapidated structures.
“All unregistered learning institutions whose structures pose health and safety risks to our learners will be shut down. Candidates awaiting to sit for KCPE will not be affected by the operation,” said Mr Duale.
In Mt Kenya region, more than 100 schools have been adversely affected by the directive. Education officials in Nyeri, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Kiambu and Nyandarua counties have ordered schools with dilapidated structures close.
Education stakeholders have called for a dialogue on the issue. In Nyeri, 27 schools were closed while 17 were closed in Murang'a. Twenty schools had been closed in Nyandarua, 13 in Kiambu and 30 in Kirinyaga by Wednesday.
In Meru, at least 300 pupils of Mbaarua Primary School in Tigania West are out of school after it was shut down.
Health officials had raised the red flag over the poor state of classrooms and lack of toilets. Mr John Inanga, the County Director of Public Health, said they ordered the school closed in July but it was reopened in September, forcing them to obtain a court order to close it.
“We also shut down Bridge International Academy in Maua because one of the structures is poorly constructed,” he said, adding that 183 pupils were moved to another institution.
“Twenty-two candidates are waiting to sit for exams. We don't know what will happen to them,” Mr Chokera Mwega, a resident, said.
Matters are not different in Nakuru County, where teachers have either been rendered jobless after the closure of schools or have been barred from teaching for lack of TSC appointment letters.
Mr Charles Wawiny, who taught at Passion Junior Academy in Free Area for seven years, said he began teaching in private schools as an untrained teacher in 2008.
“I am not registered by the Teachers Service Commission since I am yet graduate and so I cannot get a job in a public schools,” Mr Wawiny told the Nation.
Mr Cliffin Oyaro, 27, a teacher at Kal James Academy, hopes that the government will reconsider its decision on closing schools.
After graduating from a teachers’ college in 2017, he invited two colleagues to pool funds and start the school which was closed on Monday for having poor infrastructure, rendering him and 10 others jobless.
“The teachers we had employed are on our necks demanding salaries. The buildings which we had rented also need to be paid for,” said Mr Oyaro.
Ms Rael Nasike, who taught at Passion Junior Academy, expressed shock at the government’s decision.
She had just moved from upcountry after securing a teaching job early this year after being jobless for years.
Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya said 94 schools did not met the threshold to operate and would be closed.
A report says 8,469 pupils will be affected by the closures, 11 of the schools are in Nakuru, where an estimated 1,670 pupils have been affected.
Meanwhile, over 100 schools have been closed in western Kenya. Migori County Director of Education Elizabeth Otieno said that 42 schools had been affected.
“Learners have been transferred to safer schools within their respective localities,” she said.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Knut officials have however opposed the crackdown. In Vihiga County, 22 schools have been closed over poor infrastructure.
Ms Jane Adulu, the director of Lady Rose Academy that was closed, said the move had robbed children of their right to education and taken away the livelihood of teachers.
“The action was very swift; we were not even given time to release children to their parents and ensure their safety,” she said.
Ms Hellen Nyang'au, the county director of education, directed parents to visit sub-county education offices for placement of their children.
In Hamisi Sub-County in Vihiga, Noah’s Ark, Duke Academy, Gisambai Junior School and Truth Foundation were closed.
In Luanda Sub-County, Kipepeo Community School, Fadhili Star Academy, Glorious Academy and Lakewood Academy were also closed.
Additional reporting by David Muchunguh, Derick Luvega, Victor Raballa, Elizabeth Ojina, Ian Omondi, Dickens Wasonga, George Odiwuor, Gitonga Marete, Reginah Kinogu, Joseph Openda and Winnie Atieno