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PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS NEEDED

Reopening schools a daunting mission

Covid-19 has laid bare decades of woeful underinvestment in country’s learning resources.

In Summary
  • The CS was quick to add that it would be unreasonable to expect the government to double or triple learning facilities to achieve the requisite class size.
  • Even private schools cannot afford to double or triple leaning facilities.
Education CS George Magoha during Covid-19 press briefing at Afya House on March 13, 2020.
Education CS George Magoha during Covid-19 press briefing at Afya House on March 13, 2020.
Image: MERCY MUMO

The myriad impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to confound individuals, organisations and governments. Anxiety over when society returns to “normal” is mounting. In some cases, anger and mental anguish is rising.

Important elements of our social and economic life remain closed or partially open to enforce social distancing. For example, most offices are operating at a fraction of full capacity. Public transport is operating at half capacity and passengers are required to wear masks. Places of worship and nightclubs remain closed. Public gathering such weddings and funerals must comply with strict guidelines on number of persons in attendance.

All learning institutions, from kindergarten to university, remain closed to face-to-face learning. Most private schools and universities have migrated to remote learning. But the quality of learning through remote classrooms is questionable. Recent research reveals that it is harder to keep students engaged with virtual lessons and they learn less efficiently compared to face-to-face learning.

 

Stakeholders in the education sector are talking about reopening learning institutions in September. According to the Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, ensuring social and physical distancing in primary and secondary schools is the elephant in the room.

Prof Magoha has indicated that social distancing measures would require a class size of 15-20 learners. But the CS was quick to add that it would be unreasonable to expect the government to double or triple learning facilities to achieve the requisite class size. Even private schools cannot afford to double or triple leaning facilities.

Based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we would need about Sh400 billion to build and equip additional learning spaces to accommodate 20 learners per classroom in primary and secondary schools.

According to the Kenya Economic Survey 2020 report, Kenya has 10,072,000 learners in primary schools and about 3,260,000 in secondary schools. The average population per school is about 311 for both primary and secondary. This works out to a class size of 39 and 78 for primary and secondary schools respectively. Currently we have about 258,752 and 41,852 classrooms in primary and secondary schools respectively.

To safely reopen primary and secondary schools with a class size of 20 learners per class, both the public and private sector would need to build and commission about 245,000 new classrooms for primary schools and an estimated 122,000 new classrooms for secondary schools. This means that we must double the current stock of classrooms in primary schools and quadruple the number of classrooms in secondary schools.

Based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we would need about Sh400 billion to build and equip additional learning spaces to accommodate 20 learners per classroom in primary and secondary schools. To effectively support learning we would need to double the number of teachers from the current 324,000 to about 650,000. You can now see why Magoha thinks it is unreasonable to expect the government to expand learning resources.

Covid-19 has laid bare the underlying condition of our education sector; decades of woeful underinvestment in learning resources – teachers, infrastructure and technology. The so-called education stakeholders must be more innovative, think about practical solutions, to ensure orderly and safe return to face-to-face learning in the Covid-19 regime.