Kenya: Looming Crisis as Plans to Reopen Schools in Limbo

26 October 2020

The basic education sector is staring at a crisis next year if schools do not reopen fully, and the classes that are in session go on with learning.

The Education ministry is racing against time to make crucial decisions on when to fully reopen schools as Covid-19 cases resurge across the country.

Plans were on course for all classes to resume in-person lessons to avert the backlog, but the ministry has been forced to put them on hold after the trajectory of the infections changed in the past three weeks.

Already, the Covid-19 positivity rate has risen from the World Health Organization recommended safe level of four per cent to 12 per cent, making it difficult for the government to recall the other learners.

With only eight weeks left to Christmas, it is doubtful that the second term of the 2020 academic year will be squeezed in even under a crash programme.

In-person learning

Usually, the second term curriculum content is covered in 13 weeks. Grade 4, Standard 8 and Form 4 learners resumed in-person learning two weeks ago.

If the other learners do not resume classes this year and those already in school go on with learning, it will create gaps in the calendar and a backlog that will take a long time to resolve. The situation might also create bigger inequality gaps, which existed before Covid-19 struck.

There is growing tension between Education and Health ministry officials, who earlier advised that it was safe to reopen schools. "Officials at the Ministry of Health are misleading us. They knew the second wave was to come. Did they advise Education ministry on second wave or did they suspend their knowledge of the wave?" An official at the Education ministry posed.

Education CS George Magoha last week ruled out closing schools again. However, he did not indicate when the rest of the learners will be recalled. "We are auditing processes that took place over the last two weeks. Any decision to be made will be based on facts. Nobody is thinking of closing schools again or rushing to recall the rest."

Harmonisation of calendar

The biggest worry is harmonisation of the calendar when some classes are ahead of others. Of particular concern is what would happen next year if there are two Form One classes. The current Form One class, comprising about a million learners only spent one term in school before they were closed.

According to the Kenya National Examinations Council 1,187,517 candidates were registered this year for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams, which is the highest number ever in the history of the country.

Another bottleneck that is likely to occur is at the pre-primary one, where about 1.5 million young learners will be joining school for the first time whereas the current class has been in school for only one term and has not transitioned.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association has protested at "discrimination" in funding primary schools to cope with Covid-19 and in the provision of free education.

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