Schools reopened on Monday after nine months’ closure as educators, parents and learners grappled with challenges of returning to school safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unlike in previous years, schools will not be starting a new academic year, instead, they will be working on recovering the time lost under tight timelines.
The reopening of schools marks the beginning of the second term of the school calendar, which will end in mid-March.
However, three transition classes 4, 8, and Form 4 will be moving to third term on account of opening in October last year.
The return, however, remained chaotic.
Learners were displaced from closed and flooded schools, some had to paddle their way to school in canoes, braving crocodiles in flooded Lake Baringo.
Many schools were congested and safe social distancing was difficult to achieve in many places. One Mwingi school said it needed 28 more classrooms.
Learners and other travellers were stranded as PSVs hiked fares because of high demand.
Congestion remains by far the single toughest challenge as schools aims to recover time lost during the pandemic.
On Monday, George Magoha, the Education CS said the government had done “everything” to ensure schools are ready to take in learners, he urged the media not to focus on “little hitches here and there”.
The CS also warned schools against turning learners away for lack of fees but urged parents to pay up if possible.
The CS spoke at Olympic Primary School where he assessed the reopening and delivery of desks purchased under the Covid-19 stimulus package.
The CS in a previous address said schools will ensure masks are worn properly at all times after it became clear institutions will not be able to achieve social distancing.
A spot-check by the Star in various schools within Kibra subcounty showed a fair to near-full return to school.
The spot-check also revealed the closure of about 10 private schools to pave way for road construction left hundreds of learners’ squatting for new admissions in congested institutions around the informal settlement.
One such school is the New Horizon Secondary School with about 200 students.
Principal Josephat Maucha told the Star that after being displaced the school is now being hosted at a neighbouring school.
“We had to look for alternative ways to make sure that our students get some place to continue learning, and we are glad that Mashimoni Squatters Primary School came through for us,” Maucha said.
In Kisumu county, students from Ombaka Mixed Secondary School relocated to Ombaka Primary School and were taught in tents after floods isolated their school.
In Baringo North, learners were forced to paddle their way in makeshift, leaky canoes to reach their school cut off by floods; they risked attacks by crocodiles and hippos.
Their school is among 18 affected by the swollen Lake Baringo owing to heavy rains since April. Other flooded lakes are Bogoria and 94.
In Kitui, the shortage of teachers forced learners to take classes in congested rooms.
Interviews with headteachers by the Star revealed that the schools did not have enough teachers to warrant the splitting of large classes to observe social distancing.
The Kitui County Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association branch chairman, Syanda Muthoka, said teacher understaffing was a nagging problem in most county schools.
“Understaffing is the key issue that militates against the observance of social distancing besides the lack of adequate infrastructure in schools,” Muthoka said on the phone on Monday.
In Uasin Gishu county, hundreds of learners were stranded at Eldoret bus park on Monday due to a shortage of vehicles and fare hikes.
The most affected were secondary school students travelling to Nakuru, Kisumu and Bungoma. Fares were increased from Sh500 to Sh700.
Learners from six schools in Nyando were forced to resume lessons in makeshift classrooms after the institutions were destroyed by floods that wreaked havoc last year.
Motachi Momanyi, a principal of one of the institutions, said only 50 per cent of the students had reported but expressed hope all learners will report in the coming days.
Momanyi said the flooding was caused by Lake Victoria backflow forcing them out in January 2020. He said they have been moving “like nomads”
The principal said they need more toilets for more students.
In Kwale county social distancing was also proving to be a challenge.
Athman Masoud, the head of Kinarini Primary School in Matuga subounty, said the institution lacks enough classrooms for social distancing.
He said the learners will attend school in shifts, some in the morning and others in the afternoon, to prevent overcrowding.
“Keeping distance is going to be a huge challenge not only for us but countrywide and that’s why we have decided to separate them a bit although it’s not effective,” Masoud said.
At Westlands Primary School, pre-primary 2 pupils could not hide their joy of being in class after a nine-month break.
When asked by their teacher, “Are you all happy to be back in school?” They all answered loudly, “Yes!” The teacher further asked, “Or can we go home and stay a little bit?” They all answered with long faces.
Last week, CS Magoha told school heads to be creative and take advantage of the hot January weather for outdoor learning.
To recover lost time, schools will not use a one-size-fits-all approach but will leave it to the teachers to decide on how best to cover the lost time.
At Ayany Primary School, Elizabeth Muthoni, the deputy headteacher, told the Star the school plans on extending studies for 30 minutes a day to recover the time lost.
“We will be teaching an extra 30 minutes so we are able to recover time lost and ensure we cover the syllabus on time. Instead of breaking at 4pm, we will be breaking at 4.30pm,” she said.
Indimuli Kahi, the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association chairman, told the Star that the school could employ remedial classes to recover lost time.
Ordinarily, all classes should have been reopening for a new academic year spanning 38 weeks.
However, this year, the school calendar will span 34 weeks.
Secondary school students take 13 subjects and are only allowed to narrow down to at least eight subjects at the end of Form 2.
This, Kahi says, will overburden those who will be required to take all the subjects in secondary schools.
Kahi, who also is the Machakos Boys School principal, suggests the curriculum developers allow a review for such students to be allowed to drop some subjects earlier in Form 2.
But at the top of the pyramid are the teachers who will be presiding over a chaotic syllabus.