By Sally Kivaya
The Kenyan government announced the closure of schools on March 15,2020 following the first two confirmed cases of Coronavirus. ‘We have suspended learning in all our educational institutions with immediate effect.’ said President Uhuru Kenyatta in his address. “For those in boarding schools, the school administration should ensure that students are home by Wednesday,’ he continued.
This saw the disruption of approximately 17 million learners nationwide. Parents had to find alternatives to make sure their children do not miss out. The closure of schools during the pandemic exposed the learning inequalities that existed. While some students were able to continue with their syllabus due to online classes, most of the students from marginalized communities faced major difficulties in accessing education.
The government introduced virtual learning sessions online, on the radio and also on television so the students can continue learning but most of them could not access the sessions because they do not have access to the Internet.
On October 6th ,the cabinet secretary for education Prof George Magoha announced that schools would re-open partially with grade four, class eight and form four students expected to report back to school on October 12th 2020.
He also announced that the school calendar would run from October 12th to December 23th, 2020. This announcement was met by both positive and negative remarks from different people and institutions.
“UNICEF welcomes the phased reopening of schools in Kenya,“ said Manisa Zaman UNICEF representative to Kenya. “We know that the longer the children are out of school, the greater the risk that the poorest among them will never return. They may be sent off to work, married off too early, or face other risks that can curb their development and well-being.” UNICEF would also be supporting the Ministry of Education with a ‘Back to School campaign, with the aim to ensure all children return to school. “As part of the UN family, UNICEF reaffirms its commitment to supporting the Government of Kenya during the unprecedented and challenging time, “said Manisa Zaman.
“As children return to school, we all need to come together to ensure that this transition is smooth for the learners, teachers and the wider school community. In addition to supporting water, sanitation and hygiene in schools, we will work with partners to provide parents with the reliable and accurate information they need. Finally, we hope that soon all learners can be safely back in school.” Manisa Zaman continued.
The Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the 1.9 billion shillings school furniture project. The project was for the purposes of equipping secondary and primary schools and also meant to be the government’s post COVID-19 economic stimulus program boosting the jua kali sector. “After the Kazi Mtaani program, we have decided to give our youth the opportunity to exercise their skills instead of school desks being made by big companies.” The president remarked. The project would require the artisans to supply around 650,000 locally assembled school desks.
The Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha recently announced that all schools would reopen on January 4 after a meeting with education stakeholders. “All schools will reopen fully on the fourth of January 2021. This will apply to PP1and 2, Grade 1,2,3, class 5,6 and 7 and Form 1,2 and 3 learners,” he said.
This has been met with opposition, with some of the people claiming that the schools are not ready for reopening in January 2021, especially with the Minister’s recent remarks that students should learn under trees. Questions have arisen on where the desks meant for the schools are.
The National Council of Churches of Kenya [NCCK] started a push in the reviewing of the date of reopening of schools saying there would be a surge in the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases. “We propose that the decision that all learners will resume in-school learning on January 5 2021 be reviewed and proper measures put in place to avoid a surge in new infections,” said the NCCK General Secretary Rev Canon Chris Kinyanjui. “We call on all the stakeholders to sit down and review this situation. We must make sure that all the measures have been put in place and that we do not reopen our schools when we are not sure of the safety of our children.”