DANGEROUS SITUATION

We're helpless to enforce Covid-19 rules — Busia teachers

Stakeholders say more needs to be done to limit virus spread in schools

In Summary

• There is congestion in many schools due to huge pupil populations. Classes cannot be split because of staff shortages. 

• For other schools, provision of clean running water consistently is not guaranteed.

Students from St Thomas Amagoro Girls Secondary School in Teso North subcounty walk home after classes.
BACK TO LIFE: Students from St Thomas Amagoro Girls Secondary School in Teso North subcounty walk home after classes.
Image: EMOJONG OSERE

School managers in Busia have said they cannot protect learners from catching Covid-19 because enforcing strict ministry guidelines is nearly impossible.

There is congestion in many schools due to huge pupil populations. Classes cannot be split because of staff shortages. Where separating classes is possible, there’s not enough desks and chairs to move ahead with the plan.

For other schools, provision of clean running water consistently is not guaranteed.

Some pupils have masks. Others do not. But teachers cannot monitor the correct usage of the masks at all times and handle their teaching and other administrative duties.

Education sector leaders and teachers in Busia told the Star they fear massive infections in schools.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers Busia secretary Moffats Okisai said it is unfair to expect tutors to enforce Covid-19 protocols by themselves. It can be disastrous.

“Let the sensitisation of wearing of the masks start from home,” Okisai said.

That way, he said, when teachers enforce mask wearing learners will not see it as a disciplinary measure and find ways to circumvent it.

Since Monday, the Star has observed that many learners only wear face masks while at school.

The majority remove the covering when they leave school to go for lunch and while returning home in the evening.

On Wednesday morning, most learners walking to school had no masks. A break time visit to a school in Teso North showed about half of the pupils had no face mask. The school has about 800 pupils.

Teacher Sheila Cherono of St James ACK Malaba Primary School told the Star ensuring the learners wear masks all the time was teachers’ biggest nightmare. ECDE classes were most difficult to control.

“At break time we have to pick masks littered all over the compound and try to identify the owners,” she said.

Okisai said the government should have improved infrastructure in schools before allowing learners to resume studies.

Kuppet Busia branch executive secretary Moffats Okisai.
Kuppet Busia branch executive secretary Moffats Okisai.
Image: EMOJONG OSERE

The unionist said there is still congestion in classes and dorms, putting the lives of students at risk. Lack of clean running water in schools for washing hands was another burden, he said.

“Infrastructure in our schools is still an issue because when we were having the Form 4 cohorts alone in school, they occupied almost all the classes,” he said.

“In a school like Kolanya Boys High School, 14 classes had already been occupied by over 270 candidates. Now that all the over 1,200 learners are reporting, infrastructure is a challenge.”

The unionist criticised Education CS George Magoha’s remarks that school administrators allow learning to proceed under trees.

“That is being very primitive. Most of our schools do not have enough shade and we least expected that statement from a Cabinet secretary,” Okisai said.

Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association Teso North chair Jared Olubayi said a majority of pupils were reporting to school with “what resembles handkerchiefs” as face masks.

Unless quality masks are provided, efforts to fight the coronavirus in learning institutions may be hindered, he said.

“A mask by definition is one that is supposed to be used and disposed of within six to nine hours but what these people are putting on are just handkerchiefs. So they are just meeting a demand without quality,” he said.

Olubayi who heads Osia Primary School said enforcing Covid-19 rules must bring together parents, teachers and the local community.

He said water still remains a big setback to the fight against the virus in Busia and other regions in Kenya where scarcity of the commodity is experienced.

Last year, Busia Medical Services director Dr Janerose Ambuchi said that some face masks being used in the county were made from substandard material.

A majority of those using non-recommended face masks, she said, are poor residents.

“One of the things we have discussed is the quality of the material being used for making face masks because everyone is now making them,” she said then.

“You cannot be safe when you use a mask that is made of substandard material.”

The Busia Education Department on Tuesday assured the public that the county was liaising with the government and partners to contain virus transmission in schools.

Okisai said the government should have hired more teachers to limit human-to-human contact by boosting the student to teacher ratio.

“Teachers have not been employed and the workload remains the same,” he said.

 

(edited by o. owino)