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Schools struggle to cope with return of learners

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Confusion and chaos rocked hundreds of schools within the country as students reported back for in-person learning after a nine-month disruption. 

The sorry state of some institutions put to question the level of preparedness as congestion became the biggest headache among school managers. 

With social distancing being a key protocol in the fight against Covid-19, majority schools are grappling to meet this requirement.

The situation was further compounded by the high number of learners from private schools who flocked public schools to seek admissions after their previous institutions closed shop following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Parents attributed the move to closure of private schools while others said the harsh economic times has pushed them to change learning institutions.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha came face-to-face with this reality when he visited various schools in Nairobi, among them Olympic Primary School in Kibra, which recorded an influx of new learners seeking admission.

As he assessed reopening exercise, the CS was forced to order for additional desks for the school, which is one of the largest in the country with more than 4,700 learners.

“Even though we had already delivered the economic stimulus desks, I have decided we will give another 140 to this school.

We will pick some desks, which are ready but meant for other schools that may not be having a very tight problem as this,” said the CS.

“Seventy of them will be here today (yesterday) and during the course of the week the balance of 70 will be fabricated and brought.

Then we will fabricate and take to the other school so that I am fair to those children to ensure their pressure is not as much as the one here,” added Prof Magoha.

And as parents rushed to seek slots at public primary schools, the CS said the school will not be available because of the high population it already has.

Before the pandemic, most schools had been forced to convert dispensaries, laboratories, and libraries into classrooms and dormitories in order to accommodate their numbers.

However, with the new public health guidelines of at least 1.5 metres, a number of institutions have been left in a limbo on how to tackle the situation. 

Under trees

Yesterday, half of the population in Mweiga Primary School in Kieni, Nyeri County, was forced to take lessons under trees.

The school, which has a total of 510 pupils, has only 16 classrooms that can accommodate at least 250 learners using the 1.5 metres social distancing rule. 

The situation was the same in Naka Primary School after a section of the students were forced to study under trees. 

Parents lamented that keeping their children under trees was a move in the wrong direction in the history of Kenya’s education sector.

“Former President Moi built hundreds of schools throughout the country ensuring all students had a place to study, the government needs to emulate this and open more schools or add more classes,” said Mike Mwangi. 

In Nakuru County, there were fears of a spike in Covid-19 cases among learners due to lack of enough classes to accommodate the students.

A spot check revealed a massive breach of the public health guidelines with some schools having as many as 90 to 100 students per class. 

A number of schools in Naivasha revealed that caution was thrown to the winds as the pupils mingled at water points and in the classrooms on the first day.  Teachers had a rough time controlling the learners.  

Naivasha sub-county education officer Bernard Chirchir said there was an impressive turnout of students adding that no major challenge had been reported. 

“All public schools in Naivasha have opened and though not all pupils reported, the turnout is impressive and all the required health regulations have been observed,” he said. 

According to education experts, with lack of enough classrooms, observing social distance will be a huge task for the school management to meet. 

At St Xaviers Primary School, there was no social distancing for the learners as the teachers struggled to rearrange the setting to accommodate the high numbers of pupils.

The same situation was witnessed in other public primary schools like Menengai, Crater, Moi, St Paul’s, Nakuru East, Bondeni, Heshima and Jamhuri. 

At St Paul’s Primary School, the institution had set up an isolation facility with one student put in after recording a temperature of 38.5.

The school’s headteacher Nancy Maingi said all teachers have been trained on how to handle such cases adding that pupils will be counselled. 

“We had a grade two pupil who had a high temperature and he will be observed before any action can be taken,” said Maingi. 

Headteachers interviewed said despite installing all other equipment in line with the public health regulation the biggest hurdle will be social distancing.

“We need more classes and, in some schools, there is literally no land to expand and construct more classes, it is just a nightmare,” said one. 

Angry parents

At Roysambu Primary School in Nairobi social distancing was impractical as classes are congested.

With the school having a 2,100-pupil population, only about 300 learners reported back to school yesterday.  

At the school’s entrance, a male guard stood with a thermo-gun recording visitor’s temperature barring journalists from accessing the institution. 

Outside the administration block, parents making admission enquiries crowded various offices inept of social distancing.  

Hand washing points were evenly distributed throughout the school, although some stations did not have soap and shockingly no one seemed keen on washing hands, even the visitors. 

Inside the classes, as many as three pupils were forced to share a single desk as opposed to the government guidelines that a maximum of two learners per desk. 

In Gilgil, angry parents were forced to storm a local school and take over its running while accusing a private developer of grabbing land at the height of Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 200 parents accused the developer of using the Covid-19 pandemic and courts to frustrate them in the running Viewpoint Primary and ECD school in Elementaita. 

Drama unfolded as the parents brought down a fence constructed to bar them from accessing the classes that have been constructed by Nakuru County government.  

A similar situation unfolded in Kiambu County as parents and teachers were forced to break into newly built two classrooms at Rurii Primary School in Theta ward after the contractor locked the doors and took off with the keys.  –  Reporting by Kirera Mwiti, Roy Lumbe, Robert Ochoro, Mathew Ndung’u, Seth Mwaniki and Maina Njange. 

In summary

    • Contractor who had locked classroom doors at Rurii Primary School in Theta ward was protesting two years of delayed payment by the Kiambu County government.
    • He was demanding Sh4.7 million for the two-classroom project whose construction was completed in 2018 under the tenure of disgraced governor Ferdinand Waititu.
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