Kenya: KNUT and UASU Form Parallel Team to Advise On Schools Reopening

Nairobi — The unions representing teachers and university dons on Thursday established parallel teams to look at the possibility of re-opening learning institutions next month amid concerns over the preparedness of the government to safeguard learners and teachers from COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic had infected 1,109 people and killed 50 others in Kenya by May 21.

In a joint statement, Kenya National Union of Teacher and Universities Academic Staff Union alongside the Kenya Human Right Commission announced the appointment of a panel of eminent scholars and doctors led by Prof Florentius Koech of Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital-Eldoret.

"We have established a panel of eminent doctors to work with us to develop a report on reopening of schools and how educational institutions can be made COVID-19 Free Zones at all times. We shall release the report at an appropriate time, and accordingly advice our members, parents and the general public on the way forward," read the statement.

KNUT Secretary General Wilson Sossion, UASU Secretary-General Dr. Constantine Opiyo and KHRC Executive Director George Kegoro termed the proposed move to recall students expected to write their national examinations as uninformed and rushed.

"Our team of medical experts which we have commissioned to give advice on the scourge have indicated clearly that if schools reopen in June with the low testing capacity in the country against the population of 15 million learners, the likelihood of having a surge in infections and faster spread of COVID-19 would occur, with a possibility of Kenya witnessing additional 3000 plus deaths by August 2020," they said.

The new development comes a day after the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) which, despite supporting the re-opening of education institutions, affirmed that it must be strictly under the advice from public health experts.

Sossion, Opiyo and Kegoro set the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) among other containment measures as some of the irreducible minimums that the Ministry of Education has to meet, before they can allow any of their members to report back to work.

KNUT, UASU and KHRC cited France which had a resurgence of the virus among teachers and learners after they rushed to reopen schools while in Britain teachers' unions have demonstrated it is difficult to enforce physical distancing.

The unions vowed to snub a Ministerial task-force established to advice on the possibility of re-opening of basic education institutions stating that 'it is a mere rubber stamp bound to mislead Kenyans.'

"We would like to inform all-and-sundry that KNUT, KHRC and UASU among other like-minded organizations and citizens agencies have teamed up to prepare a comprehensive, evidence-based, fact-driven parallel report with appropriate recommendations on the way forward on resuming learning and teaching in the wake of Coronavirus pandemic," Sossion, Opiyo and Kegoro said.

Education Cabinet Secretary Professor George Magoha named Sarah Ruto to chair the COVID-19 National Education Response Committee and take charge of the process of exploring the best possible strategies of restoring normality in the Education Sector.

The 10-member Committee last week published a notice inviting stakeholders and public to submit their views to be received before this Friday.

The Ruto-led team has however faced opposition after KNUT and UASU accused Professor Magoha of deliberately sidelining Unions and other stakeholders from the committee. The Committee is expected to review and re-organise the school calendar as part of the COVID-19 post-recovery strategy.

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