Back to school : Big issues and challenges

October 16, 2020 - Reading Time: 5 minutes - By Mutindi Muema


On 13th March 2020, Kenya announced it’s first confirmed COVID case. Schools were closed following that announcement and later on CS Magoha announced schools would remain closed until January 2021. 

Flattening of the Curve 

Somewhere along the way, the COVID 19 curve seemed to have flattened- some accredit this to protocols in place while others credit #CovidMillionaires documentary, some also credit the flattening to decreased testing. Either way, it is clear that there have been less confirmed cases of corona from the briefings issued from Ministry of Health. Following the decrease, CS Magoha announced the reopening of schools, coupled with recommendations and protocols based of the work of the COVID 19 Education Committee appointed earlier to examine the issue of when learning should resume at school and under what conditions and with what protocols.

Reopening Dynamics

In October this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Education Dr. George Magoha announced the new school term dates on the Phased reopening of Schools, Colleges and Universities.

In the first phase, Grade 4, class 8 pupils and form 4 students returned to school on 12th October 2020. Grade 4 pupils represent the first class of the Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC), Class 8 represent the last class of the primary level and form four represent the last class of the secondary school level. Per the new calendar, the schools will close on December 23, 2020, for a one week break then reopen on January 4, 2021 until March 19, 2021.

The CS announced that:

  • KCPE exams will start on March 22, 2021 and end on March 24, 2021. 
  • KCSE exams will start on March 25, 2021 and end on April 16, 2021. 
  • The KCSE exams marking will be done in three weeks from April 19 to May 7, 2021.
  • Final year students of a section of universities and colleges resumed classes after CS Magoha directed them to reopen on October 5 2020 as part of the progressive resumption of learning.
  • Those due to sit examinations in Teachers Training Colleges and TVET institutions, reported back on Monday 12th October 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the education sector in the world. As schools resume operations there are several emerging challenges to learning in a COVID affect world. 

In September 2020, the Ministry of Education came up with a proposal for the primary and secondary schools using the 8-4-4 and CBC system be re-opened in phases using the Alternative Day System (ADS) (for primary and day secondary schools) and the Shift Learning System (SLS) for boarding secondary schools. The phased re-opening of schools was proposed to ensure safety and at minimal cost. 

Covid-19 Checklist for Schools in Kenya Before Phased Reopening

  1. School buildings and compound must be cleaned and disinfected, clean water and soap for washing hands and clean water for drinking provided. Hand sanitizers to be used at the gate and elsewhere.
  2. Social distance marks to be indicated in the compound and floor to ensure everyone is 2 meters apart, as well as desks, eating tables, etc.
  3. Guards at the gate to check the temperature of ALL persons entering the school compound with Thermo-gun. Record of all visitors to be kept plus their contacts.
  4. All teachers, office staff, support staff, kitchen staff, etc to undergo Covid-19 test and be issued with a valid certificate before re-opening date.
  5. Double-decker beds to be turned into single beds and spaced at least 2 meters apart. School Hall can be converted into a dormitory.
  6. If needed additional temporary dorms to be constructed, using pre-fabricated materials. Adequate sanitary facilities to be added with running water.
  7. One dorm should be converted into an isolation ward to keep students who show symptoms of Covid-19 until they can be tested.
  8. All teachers, office staff, support staff, kitchen staff, etc to undergo Covid-19 protocol training and be available in school at least one week before opening date for preparation.
  9. Headteacher must ensure supplies of face-masks are adequate so that each learner gets 2 each as per GoK directive.
  10. Headteacher must ensure that essential items such as hand-washing soap, disinfectants, cleaning materials, basic medical items, etc are in adequate supply at all times.

Covid-19 Checklist for Schools in Kenya After Phased Reopening

  1. Learners must line up for temperature checks before entering the compound and must wear a face mask.
  2. Learners to be taken through a Covid-19 orientation lesson on opening day (wearing of masks, social distancing, handwashing, etc)
  3. Parents or unauthorised persons not to be allowed into school compound unless cleared by Headteacher and only after temperature check and ensuring they are wearing a face mask.
  4. Break and lunchtime to be staggered to ensure social distancing. Learners to be warned not to share food and drinks and not leave the compound during lunchtime.
  5. Leaners should not move between classes except for special lessons, i.e. science, music, computer, etc.
  6. Boarders on shifts will have break, lunch and supper at different times.
  7. Dorms will be divided by shift (Form 1&2 or Form 3&4) with no mixing except for Dorm prefects.
  8. Games and other extra-curriculum activities to be restricted but not banned, and where allowed, social distancing should be observed.
  9. Boarders who are not in the class are expected to study on their own or do assignments in dorms or playfield while observing social distancing.
  10. No school assembly and parade allowed. Announcements to be made via PA or inter-comm system.
  11. No visiting, prayer and speech days. PTA and AGM should be held online (virtual). Parents not to visit school in person except when dropping or picking up their children.
  12. In case of confirmed Covid-19 case, the school must be placed on lockdown and await Ministry of Health instructions. Parents should not be allowed to visit or collect children until MoH clearance.
  13. School transport (bus and van) must be sanitized before each trip and leaners must be seated so as to ensure social distancing. No collection before 6.30 am as per GoK directive.
  14. Each school to form a Covid-19 committee to be chaired by Deputy Headteacher and to do a daily inspection to ensure that school is observing Covid-19 protocols.

Key Challenges 

Social distancing in public schools poses a major challenge especially because physical contact is the major cause of the spread of the Coronavirus amongst people. Tis is quite an issue due to insufficient infrastructure- classrooms, dormitories etc to ensure all students are accommodated – even when classes are ran in shifts. 

Washing of Hands and wearing of masks by the children in lower primary also poses a major challenge as some schools do not have enough water supply and soap for the huge number of pupils they accommodate. Also masks are generally uncomfortable for adults, even harder to have children keep them on all day. 

Insufficient funding affecting infrastructure maintenance and construction- some of the protocols propose construction of more / temporary classrooms/dorms etc. This may prove problematic.

Water Issues– the protocols expect schools to have/provide running water. This is quite an issue for most schools, particularly in rural Kenya (majority of schools) where water is not piped/ running. Add financing issues, sanitizer is not a viable/sustainable alternative, causes more challenges than problem solving. 

Concerns on fumigation of students. Some schools have been fumigating students before admitting them to school compound. The Ministry of Health raised alarm on this and banned used of sprayers/spraying booths. The chemicals used for spraying/fumigation are for use on premises/surfaces but not conducive for health of humans and especially developing children. The fumigation of students stemmed from unresolved water issues.  

Insufficient infrastructure. Even with phased reopening, a good number of schools do not have enough classes to host their students, some schools don not even have classrooms, particularly in rural Kenya, while several classrooms currently constructed may not have adequate ventilation as required under Government protocols, necessitating modifications that require financing. 

Moving Forward

As a country, we need to figure out how to resolve these key challenges for the sake of preserving the health of our children and the general population. Government has been asked to consider creating home schooling curriculum for both 844 and CBC to supplement education of children still at home, or children whose parents do not feel it is safe for their children to report back to school. 

The Ministry of Health has warned that failure to observe protocols set out by the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Education could lead to another spike in COVID infections with the disease spreading quickly amongst children. Let us all play our part and engage to resolve the back to school challenges for the sake of life Post COVID.

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