Many questions abound on preparedness after Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced the suspension of the 2020 academic calendar for the 16 million pre-primary, primary and secondary school learners till January due to fear for the safety of learners, teachers and other school workers amid rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in the country.
This gives the authorities six months to fix infrastructure and ready the school communities on the Covid-19 safety protocols as outlined by the World Health Organization and Unicef.
The tune-up for resumption of learning should start with immediate effect with both the Education and Health ministries conducting assessments and developing reports on the hygiene status in schools and the gaps to be filled beforehand.
In conjunction with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), they should ensure accurate records of numbers of learners, teachers and non-teaching staff are captured for fair and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and address teacher shortfall and erect of extra buildings.
The insurer the TSC contracted to provide medical cover to teachers says a sizable number of tutors from 50 years suffer from terminal illnesses, yet Indeed, most teachers in Kenya are 45 years and above.
WHO findings show this age group accounts for about 90 per cent of Covid-19 deaths. Further, teachers with underlying medical conditions are most at risk of the virus. Teachers are close to students throughout the school day, yet WHO studies show children can transmit the virus and remain unaffected.
Think tanks and medical experts alike have floated ideas to keep vulnerable teachers safe, such as offering them early retirement, reassigning them to virtual jobs, or letting them remotely teach their students in the school building supervised by another staff member.
Coupled with the possibility of class sizes being reduced, double or even triple the number of teachers, 700,000-800,000, will be required.
County Education Boards should work with the Health and Transport ministries to develop transport protocols for learners and teachers to ensure their safety at all times. Equally important, the authorities should note that many schools, especially in rural settings and informal urban settlements, have been vandalised and, hence, need a face-lift.
Due to shortage of medical personnel, schools should be clustered in sub-counties for receiving services from health professionals in a convenient and affordable manner, and every school should have a Covid-19 response committee.
Children will need extra support to catch up on their learning; hence, schools, under the supervision of the Directorate of Quality Assurance and Standards, should make plans for catch-up lessons. This might include refresher or remedial courses, after-school programmes or supplemental assignments done at home.
Many schools may not open full time or for all grades; so, they could implement “blended learning” models — a mix of classroom instruction and remote education.
The national government should, therefore, compute a specific budget for Covid-19 containment in schools.
Wilson Sossion is the secretary general of the largest teachers trade union KNUT