A senior epidemiologist has warned that there should be no compromise on the guidelines issued to prevent the spread of coronavirus as government prepares to reopen schools for candidate classes in a week's time.
Dr Monica Musenero, a presidential advisor on epidemiology, told Daily Monitor yesterday that the public must observe a four-metre social distancing, hand hygiene, appropriate mask use and isolation of the sick in order to cope living with the virus.
"Coronavirus is not going away. That is why we are trying to balance things. Can people wear masks effectively so that we can relax a bit on the lockdown?" Dr Musenero said.
She added: "There are thoughts that these [school] candidates should not lose this year but at the same time, you want them to be safe. Can you conduct a number of lessons outside the classroom? How many people will you put in the dormitory? Are you able to accommodate all of them? What kind of preparedness do we give the children so that they understand?"
Private school owners speak out
However, private school owners said some of the proposals are not practical in a school setup.
Mr Patrick Kaboyo, the secretary of the Federation of Non-State Education Institutions (FENEI), an umbrella organisation that brings together private schools, said school reopening is inevitable but the question should be on how to cope living with the virus.
He said the Ministry of Education has isolated them in their planning ahead of the school reopening despite having presented their demands.
"By now, there should be a paper done to inform how the future is going to be like. It would inform our steps. When you look at what is going on in the country, everybody is discussing what is going in their own interest. We cannot close schools forever. We need practical solutions that are sustainable," Mr Kaboyo noted.
He explained that they need an education fund to support their institutions in paying teachers' salaries, utility bills and buying food for the learners before they reopen.
"The Ministry of Education is on a different page. We are on a different chapter. If we were speaking the same language, you would see already a fund negotiated and brought on board. We would be seeing revival of private public partnership; fumigating all institutions. But the private sector is not fully involved," Mr Kaboyo added.
He added that although they submitted their position on the matter, they haven't received any response from the ministry.
"As children go back to school, parents don't have money to pay fees. They are going back to borrow. Every school director has a loan. The country itself is borrowing money here and there," Mr Kaboyo said.
He added: "The four-metre social distancing rule is very impractical. All our education institutions are characterised by congestion. Often the President is told lies."
On average, government has a teacher classroom ratio of 1 to 55 learners. With the four-metre social distancing rule, it means a class will accommodate about 15 learners.
Options. Dr Musenero said there is a multi-sectoral committee looking at the various options that will be favourable for education institutions to reopen.
Sources in the Education ministry said they have tentatively put June 8 for opening for second term, and September 28 for start of third term.
They also said their taskforce sat yesterday to look at the options, including introducing double shift programmes to manage the high numbers, the bills that accumulated while implementing the hand hygiene, day scholars and testing of the 15 million learners that were asked to go home in March.