Education Cabinet Secretary Prof. George Magoha released the schedule for the resumption of studies which would see Grade Four, Standard Eight and Form Four Learners report for their second term on October 12th 2020. He also announced that the National examinations for these three levels would be taking place in March 2021, with KCPE exams beginning on March 22 and ending on March 24, and KCSE exams starting on March 25 and ending on April 4. This announcement came a day after tertiary education institutions had rolled out phased reopening of campuses while giving priority to final year students.
The resumption of studies for learners across the country was a much-anticipated move following the abrupt closure in March to prevent the spread of the global coronavirus. However, the Ministry has come under heavy criticism for the confusion on reopening dates, the non-involvement of parents and learners in decision-making and failure to address schools’ preparedness. The move by the Ministry, that has been termed as rushed by some leaders, has raised serious questions on the safety of students and protocols that have been put in place to ensure that
Further, the Ministry has come under fire for ambushing parents and guardians with the announcement thus denying them ample time to prepare for the return of their children to school. Despite the recent directives by President Uhuru Kenyatta that have seen the economy gradually reopen, many households are still reeling from the negative economic impact caused by the pandemic. A study by Twaweza East Africa conducted between 29th May 2020 and 30th June 2020 found that 85% of Kenyans had either lost their source of income or were facing financial constraints due to the pandemic. Some of whom were forced to travel back to their rural homes seeing that they could not afford their monthly rent expenses.
This could mean that a significant percentage of learners could report late to the schools they went to pre-Covid-19 or in the worst-case scenario be forced to postpone learning to a later time next year. With the likelihood of this happening, several students run the risk of being left behind on the syllabus or the possibility of repeating class. Such implications deepen the already existing gaps in education between the affluent and those who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Those who are able to rejoin school have to adapt to the protocols that have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus in the institutions. From wearing face masks, social distancing in classrooms and temperature checks, learners and teachers have been put to task to ensure strict adherence with the Ministry of Health protocols.
With the majority of learners enrolled in public institutions, questions on their preparedness have arisen. Prior to the pandemic, most public schools had been struggling with inadequate funds, poor teacher-student ratio and infrastructural gaps. The Ministry of Education hasn’t appraised parents and the public in general on the measures put in place to not only ensure the safety of learners in schools but that these measures are undertaken in a humane way that doesn’t violate their human rights. In England for instance, the Department for Education inspected the schools weeks in advance before learning resumed and the government even went ahead to widen their scope to supporting services such as students’ transport. Beyond encouraging students to walk, cycle or scoot to school the British government is reported to be providing an additional GBP 40 million to local authorities to increase home to school transport to curb the spread of coronavirus. Considering the high number of day scholars in all levels of education in Kenya, such steps would go a long way in ensuring that the students’ safety is not compromised even outside the school premises.
The next few weeks will therefore be critical in observing the effectiveness of the protocols put in place by the Ministry. While the initial move to reopen schools excluded the input of the majority of the stakeholders, the government should correct this wrong by involving parents and learners in the coming weeks and months to stay ahead of the curve. The safety and wellbeing of students should be protected at all costs.
The article was written by Ruth Akolo