Schools in Kenya reopening from January 4 in less than ideal conditions and bickering

Saturday January 02 2021

Students of Mugoiri Girls High School in Murang'a County walk outside the Kenya National Archives in Nairobi on December 19, 2020. There are conflicting voices in Kenya's education sector following the re-opening of schools. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


There are neither additional classes, ablution facilities, nor complementary funding for schools as all levels of Kenyan learners resume in-class learning on January 4 after a nine-month disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kenya has 23,000 public primary schools with more than 12 million pupils and more than three million students in secondary schools.

Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha on Monday however said that the government will disburse Ksh14 billion ($127.27 million) for secondary schools and more than Ksh4 billion ($36.37 million) for primary schools as capitation funds to schools — the normal amount the sector gets anyway, even without the pandemic.

He called upon head teachers to be innovative and set up extra classes out in the open air. He said that the government had ordered new desks for public schools and has delivered close to 500,000 and more will be delivered on Monday.

In line with the public health guidelines that have been set for Covid-19, the institutions will be required to have thermal guns, hand washing stations with running water, and stock up on masks. However, the CS acknowledged there was currently a shortage of one million face masks meant to be provided to children from poor backgrounds.

Teachers caution that the often overcrowded and underfunded schools are ill-prepared for the reopening in the face of the ongoing pandemic. They say, there are no new provisions for the students to maintain the requisite social distancing of at least one metre in the classrooms in keeping with Covid-19 protocols on social distancing to curb the spread of coronavirus.


Funding constraints

While the government has placed the burden of ensuring that Covid-19 protocols and safety measures are met in learning institutions, it has provided little or no meaningful support.

Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association chairperson, Nicholas Gathemia, who also doubles as the president of the East Africa Federation of Head teachers, worries that if reopening of schools is not accompanied by additional funding, the institutions of learning will morph into source of an upsurge of the disease.

“We were promised extra funding, but it is yet to reach us. We are straining as we prepare to receive learners.

“It will be a challenge for educational institutions in the context of Covid-19 if measures are not put in place,” he said.

Mr Gathemia says a school like Olympic Primary School in Nairobi has a pupil population of over 5,000 and only 51 classrooms. To maintain any social distance in such circumstances, he argued, about 225 classrooms will be needed.

“Social distancing will be a very big challenge in such schools. But we’ve been given the responsibility to organise our schools the best way we can to ensure social distance, so we’ll do whatever we have to do provided we meet the requirement of the curriculum and cover the syllabus that the child doesn’t go to the next class with a backlog,” he added.

But Mr Gathemia lamented secondary schools were given Ksh500 ($4.54) per child to improve the social distancing protocols, “But primary schools did not receive anything.”

The Kenya National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo said head teachers have been struggling to maintain schools and pointed out that the financial constraints may worsen when schools reopen in January.

The head teachers claimed that their request to government to step up pupils’ capitation from the current Ksh1,420 ($12.90) to Ksh8,077 ($73.43) per student annually have fallen on deaf ears.

Mr Gathemia wants the government to support the Teachers Service Commission to employ over 100,000 teachers to enable schools meet the health protocols. The Teachers Service Commission has said it has recruited 12,000 intern teachers and a further 6,000 teachers who will report to schools next week.

“Schools will be required to divide learners into smaller groups and that would call for more teachers,” argued the national secretary of head teachers’ association, Philip Mitei.

Ministry of Education Director-General Elyas Abdi, while addressing a gathering of head teachers on Monday told them to ensure availability of water and sanitisers for the learners, by the time schools reopen on January 4.