Kenya: Full School Reopening Plans in Top Gear

Empty class.
30 October 2020

Talks on full reopening of schools are at an advanced stage between the ministries of Health and Education despite the current spike in Covid-19 infections.

The plan to recall all learners back to school is anchored on the fact that keeping them at home any longer will harm their well-being more, resulting to long-lasting effects on their lives in the future. However, concerns over the preparedness of schools and adherence to Covid-19 prevention measures still abound.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha yesterday said the ministry will hold a crisis meeting any time from next week with stakeholders to discuss new opening dates and how the school calendar will be implemented.

"We are going to meet as stakeholders soon and also as the government, and when the time comes, we may be bold enough if we have a consensus to tell you when the rest of the schools shall reopen," he said.

No cure

His comments came a day after acting Health Director-General Patrick Amoth said emerging medical evidence showed that children between 10 and 19 years have "the mildest form of the disease and are unlikely to transmit it as highly as was initially postulated."

Speaking while inspecting new desks at Uhuru Gardens Primary School in Nairobi, Prof Magoha called on parents and learners to patiently wait for the government's announcement.

"Nobody wants our children to stay at home forever, but it has to be a collective responsibility, which is made by everybody: parents, the stakeholders and the government." Two credible sources in the ministry separately revealed to the Nation that Prof Magoha's crisis meeting will be held on Monday or Tuesday ahead of the national stakeholders' meeting called by President Kenyatta next week.

A decision is expected after the Wednesday meeting. Dr Amoth told the Nation that, with no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, it makes sense to safely send learners back to school, saying the country risks losing an entire generation if nothing is done.

"Are you going to tell me that if we have Covid for five years, we'll close school for five years? No, we need to put measures in place to ensure the safety of children when they go back to school," he said on Wednesday during an interview with NTV.

Economic loss

Dr Amoth, the technical adviser to Health CS Mutahi Kagwe, said that the economic loss of keeping learners at home longer will be too huge for the country to bear.

He added that other countries in eastern, central and southern Africa, which had closed their schools at the same time with Kenya, had reopened.

"We cannot lose a generation because of a pandemic. Studies done by the World Bank and the IMF show that each year a pupil or a student is out of school, the economic loss is equivalent to $4,500. If you multiply that with the current exchange rate of the dollar to the Kenya shilling, times the number of pupils, it is a monumental sum of money," he said.

Since schools closed in March, there have been reports of a rise in teenage pregnancies, early marriages and child labour among learners. Some learners in Grade 4, Standard 8 and Form Four who were recalled three weeks ago have not reported.

"Schools have been shown to be the best way for pupils to be able to achieve their full potential. It is our strong believe that children should be in the school corridor for their safety and development to enable them to achieve their full potential for the economic development of this country," Dr Amoth said.

dmuchunguh@ke.nationmedia.com fnyamai@ke.nationmedia.com

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