NOT SO FAST

Schools unprepared for reopening, say experts

Medics warn a rushed resumption of learning could hurt efforts to flatten Covid-19 curve.

In Summary

• CS Magoha hinted on Monday that schools may reopen earlier than the initial plan of January next year following a drop in new coronavirus infections. 

• But six months after their closure in March, there are no safety measures that have been put in place for the anticipated reopening of schools.

Pupils at Mikayu Primary School
SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE: Pupils at Mikayu Primary School
Image: JOHN NALIANYA

Stakeholders have urged Education CS George Magoha to proceed with caution in his plans to reopen schools closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Magoha hinted on Monday that schools may reopen earlier than the initial plan of January next year following a drop in new coronavirus infections. 

But six months after their closure in March, there are no safety measures that have been put in place for the anticipated reopening of schools.

 

For this reason, the Kenya Secondary Schools Association chairman Indimuli Kahi said many institutions are unprepared for reopening.

"The challenge is especially in public schools that often don’t have the space to even meet the basic six-foot distancing guideline," Kahi said.

To date, schools neither have a go-ahead on what to do nor the money for adjustments to ensure the safety of learners.

"The sad truth is that schools are still stuck where they were in mid-March and head teachers are in the dark on the way forward," a principal told the Star.

The primary school heads lobby is also concerned that there has been little done to prepare to welcome pupils back. 

Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association chair Nicholas Gathemia said they are yet to receive cash to make safety improvements.

Crucially, nonpayment of salaries of non-teaching staff has left schools without essential services. 

 

“It is unfair to put someone to work for months with no pay… This is total abuse of human rights,” Gathemia said.

On Monday, Loice Ombajo, head of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Kenyatta National Hospital, said reopening before proper preparations are made could hurt efforts to flatten the infections curve.

But, she said, it is possible to safely reopen schools where the coronavirus transmission rates are low, so long as extensive precautions are taken.

Medics recommend opening classrooms only under health guidelines to prevent spread among students and teachers.

Teachers Service Commission data shows that at least 30 per cent of teachers in primary and secondary schools are 50 or older; thus at higher risk for severe Covid-19 outcomes.

Tanzania  was the first in East Africa reopen its schools for learners. The government has declared the country free of the coronavirus

The World Health Organisation recommends a threshold of five per cent or less positive tests of new infections for a fortnight to consider safe reopening. In the second week of September, the infection rate in the country was 6.1 per cent.

(edited by o. owino)