Head teachers have cautioned schools are ill-prepared to reopen next Monday, citing congestion in primary schools and warning of chaos if funds are not provided urgently to enable necessary precautions.
And should schools reopen as scheduled, they want primary schools allowed to adopt a shift system to ensure compliance with strict health protocols on social distancing to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association (Kepsha) chairman Nicholas Gathemia warned of chaos in the more than 23,000 public primary schools with an estimated more than 12 million pupils.
“Unlike secondary schools, primary schools were never given funds to improve on infrastructure or prepare schools for reopening. We are at a point of straining even as we prepare to receive learners next week,” said Mr Gathemia.
He explained some schools have more than 5,000 learners and with only 51 classes, which translates to an average class size of 98, it will be impossible to observe social distancing.
“If all learners will have to report back to school at the same time, schools will not have classes and spaces to accommodate them,” he said.
According to health and safety guidelines, in education settings, social distancing of at least one metre will be required to be maintained in the commonly shared areas, including classrooms.
Further, schools must ensure consistent provision of clean running water (at least five litres per person per day for day scholars and 20 litres per person for boarders) and adequate water storage facilities.
On Monday, the primary school heads, who were meeting for their 16th annual delegates’ conference in Nairobi, said they should be allowed to have pupils in session in shifts.
“We are proposing that the government allows school heads to call learners back in shifts as that is the only way we can observe social distancing in schools. Currently, schools don’t have enough classrooms,” said Mr Gathemia.
The forum heard the congestion crisis will deepen due to an exodus from private schools. Some 56,000 learners from more than 227 primary and secondary private schools driven out of business by the pandemic are without schools.
Ms Phoebe Kittoi, a head teacher at Magadi Primary School in Kisumu, said with the closure of some private schools due to the pandemic, there will be an influx in public schools.
“The influx we are expecting next week is despite the congestion we have been having,” she said.
Mr Gathemia said primary schools have been neglected and are being underfunded by the government.
Covid-19 safety protocols
The school heads asked the government to increase a pupils capitation from the current Sh1,420 to Sh8,077 annually.
Separately, Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha on Monday assured that the government will disburse Sh19 billion —Sh14 billion for secondary schools and more than Sh4 billion for primary schools — capitation funds to schools for the second term that begins on Monday.
The teachers were speaking at a meeting in Nairobi that brought together representatives from across the country. Others attended the meeting virtually.
The theme for this years’ conference was “Access to learning during the post-Covid-19 pandemic and other crisis: Role of primary school head teachers.”
“It is time for schools to be well funded. We cannot afford to have children in public schools compete with those in private schools whose institutions are well equipped and expect to get good results,” said Kepsha vice-chairman Johnson Nzioka.
The association’s national secretary Philip Mitei read the conference resolutions that stressed that due to the Covid-19 safety protocols, the government should employ more teachers to address the teacher shortage crisis in schools.
“Schools will be required to divide learners into smaller groups and that would call for more teachers,” he said.
Mr Gathemia said public schools are ready to take in the learners from private schools as he called on the teachers’ employer to deploy more teachers to public schools.
He also asked the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to make special arrangements for teachers who will get infected with Covid to be attended to urgently in hospitals.
The Kenya Private Schools Association chief executive officer Peter Ndoro said private schools were in financial distress.
“As education stakeholders, we need discussions and solutions on how we will address the challenges we are facing due to the pandemic,” said Mr Ndoro.
The Kenya National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo asked the government to increase free primary and secondary school funding.
Mr Maiyo said head teachers have been struggling to maintain schools and pointed out that the financial constraints may worsen when schools reopen in January.
Ministry of Education Director-General Elyas Abdi, who addressed the meeting virtually, challenged school heads in both primary and secondary schools to be innovative in organising their programmes and ensure they complete the school calendar in time.
“What is important is to ensure that no child is left behind, any arrangement that school heads make should ensure that the school syllabus is covered,” he said.
Prepared for reopening
On availability of water and sanitisers for the learners, Mr Abdi asked school heads to ensure they are readily available before schools reopen on Monday.
“School heads are expected to work with school boards of management to ensure schools are prepared for reopening,” said Mr Abdi.
Mr Abdi said as schools will be reopening next week, school heads will be required to ensure that the institutions are not turned into Covid-19 breeding areas.
The Teachers Service Commission(TSC) director, field services Mary Rotich said the commission has so far recruited 12,000 intern teachers and a further 6,000 teachers who will report to schools next week.
“We have retained teachers on contract and will also be introducing live stream lessons to schools with an acute teacher shortage,” said Ms Rotich.
Prof Magoha said his ministry is closely working with the National Treasury to ensure the money is released on time to facilitate smooth running of the learning institutions.
“Together with my National Treasury colleague Ukur Yatani, we are in the process of disbursing over Sh14 billion to secondary schools and more than Sh4 billion to primary schools,” he said.
Shortage of masks
The CS spoke in Kisumu County where he toured some schools to assess learning facilities.
“We shall follow up to ascertain everything is used for the purpose it is intended,” added Prof Magoha.
However, he acknowledged there is currently a shortage of one million face masks to be provided to children from poor backgrounds.
Prof Magoha also said the government has already delivered close to 500,000 desks to schools as he assured the rest will be supplied before Monday.
On payment of the suppliers, he pointed out that the Sh1.9 billion is ready for disbursement, citing the delay to limited M-Pesa transactions allowed on the Safaricom mobile network.
Prof Magoha stated that no candidate should be sent from school due to lack of school fees.
“The candidates whose schools were closed due to adverse effects of Covid-19 pandemic will all be absorbed in public schools and assigned examination centres by the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec),” he said.– Nation Media Group