#BACKTOSCHOOL

Covid, transport hitches to mar schools reopening

WHO and Unicef recommend a five per cent rate over four weeks for in-person learning

In Summary

• Primary and secondary schools resume on May 10, with a three-day mid-term scheduled for June. The last day of school will be July 16.

• The schools will cover the third term of 2020 that was disrupted by a 10 month-closure because of the coronavirus.

Pupils at Olympic Primary School, Kibera, on the first day of full reopening of schools on January 4, 2021.
Pupils at Olympic Primary School, Kibera, on the first day of full reopening of schools on January 4, 2021.
Image: WILFRED NYANGARESI
Evidence suggests that staff-to-staff transmission is more common than transmission from students to staff, staff to student, or student to student
Mutheu Kasanga, Kenya Private School Association chair

The Education ministry has said that schools will reopen in May as scheduled, amid high coronavirus infection rates. 

Primary and secondary schools resume on May 10, with a three-day mid-term scheduled for June. The last day of school will be July 16.

The schools will cover the third term of 2020 that was disrupted by a 10 month-closure because of the coronavirus.

The reopening marks the completion of the seven-week holiday that began on March 23.

Educators say schools cannot lose any more time as they still are trying to catch up on missed learning period.

The holiday was expected to help flatten the third wave of Covid-19 that is ravaging the country.

Mutheu Kasanga, the Kenya Private School Association chair, said data shows in-person learning did not result in substantial community transmission. 

“Though outbreaks do occur in school settings, multiple studies have shown that transmission within school settings is typically lower than or at least similar to levels of community transmission when prevention strategies are in place in schools,” Kasanga said.

Kasanga said that further closure will erase gains that came with the reopening in January.

He said that scientific evidence has also found children to be safer in school compared to home.

Covid-19 positivity in the past two days has been 15 per cent, but WHO and Unicef recommend a five per cent rate over four weeks for schools to reopen safely. 

Kasanga said based on the greater risk of severe illness and death among adults with Covid-19, reasonable concerns have been raised about the risk of infection in teachers and school staff. 

“Evidence suggests that staff-to-staff transmission is more common than transmission from students to staff, staff to student, or student to student,” Kasanga said.

MASS VACCINATION

The government had planned to have all teachers receive the first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine before schools reopen on May 10 as another layer of protection. 

Nicholas Maiyo, the Kenya Parents Association chairman, wants transport companies contracted and put on standby if learning is to resume in May. He called for limits to be placed on fares so parents do not suffer. Schools must prioritise safe transportation of learners, he said. 

Vaccination would allow teachers to conduct face-to-face learning without risk to them or learners. 

Some 129,527 teachers, an equivalent of 31 per cent, had taken the vaccine by the last week of April. The population of teachers is about 387,000. 

Dr Richard Ayah, a member of the Covid-19 vaccine deployment task force, said there were enough doses for all frontline workers but there was hesitancy among some groups.

“It could be many of them are young people who feel secure and since the vaccine is voluntary they don’t see the need. But to protect others we encourage them to get vaccinated,” he told the Star.

Dr Ayah said 67 per cent of all health workers have also been vaccinated.

Curfew hours and restrictions on movement into and out of Nakuru, Kiambu, Nairobi, Machakos and Kajiado could also hinder the reopening of schools. 

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, in a gazette notice announced the extension of curfew hours in the disease-infected zone until May 29.

“This order shall apply during the hours of darkness between 8pm and 4am with effect from March 29, 2021, and shall remain in effect for 60 days thereof,” reads the revised Gazette notice.

The indefinite decision to restrict movement in the disease-infected zone was not reviewed, another puzzle the Education ministry will have to solve. 

Nicholas Maiyo, the Kenya Parents Association chairman, said beyond permits, parents should anticipate an extra cost of returning their children to school.

The problems will mainly be logistics on the reporting day, he said.

Maiyo wants transport companies contracted and put on standby if learning is to resume in May. He called for limits to be placed on fares so parents do not suffer. Schools must prioritise safe transportation of learners, he said. 

“We ask the government to intervene and ensure transport companies do not use this opportunity to exploit parents through exorbitant fares,” Maiyo said.

Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai on Thursday said the capacity of PSVs to ferry people into and out of the infected zone has been reduced to zero.

Kimutai told parents to expect severe pressure when learners return to school, urging that they book to avoid delays should restrictions remain in force.

"Long delays by bus and matatus should be expected. Also, some passengers could have a hard time on certain routes that do not have so many matatus plying," he told the Star on the phone.