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Learners to bear huge burden of ‘new normal’ as schools reopen

Schools reopen today after a nine-months break with learners bracing for unusual experiences prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which include disruptions to travel, conduct of lessons and sleeping arrangements in dormitories.

Apart from learners in Grade Four, Standard Eight and Form Four who resumed classes in October, the rest will report back today since learning institutions were shut in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The students will have to reckon with measures designed to limit outside contact between January 4 and March 19 when the second term ends that include a ban on visiting, school games and trips.

With yesterday’s extension of the nationwide curfew for 69 days, learners who are required to report to school latest 2pm for some and 4pm for others face travel challenges.

This because Covid-19 rules have limited the capacity for public service vehicles which are further constrained by the night travel ban.

For learners traversing several counties, it will be hectic for them to meet the strict arrival deadlines set by most boarding schools. Some schools such as Butere Boys in Kakamega County have asked students to report by latest 2pm.

Yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued an executive order extending the nationwide curfew between 10pm and 4am daily.

“The nationwide curfew is extended up to March 12, 2021,” said President Kenyatta in a statement sent to newsrooms.

With the new directives, most learners may have to travel for more than three days to get to their schools. Parents complained over the additional burden of having to pay for accommodation in various towns.

However, the government yesterday sought to assure parents that all is well. The Ministry of Transport announced that Kenya Railways has been directed to increase the frequency of commuter trains.

Totally new environment

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said 20 trains will be available throughout the week to allow movement of more than 60,000 passengers between Nairobi and Mombasa and Nairobi-Nanyuki: “We shall double the capacity of inter county trains from tomorrow to ensure that our children get to schools on time,” said Mr Macharia.

Mr Macharia said that, from tomorrow, there will be no express trains between Nairobi and Mombasa to allow students to board and alight at numerous stops.

He added: “We have directed the Matatu sector to ensure all drivers are tested for alcohol, drivers will also not be allowed to travel long distances and we have asked them not to increase bus fare for the sake of learners.”

However some routes defied the directive yesterday and doubled fares. At school, learners will find a totally new environment that will require them to wear masks at all times, have their temperatures screened constantly, and to frequently wash their hands and sanitise.

Sitting arrangement in classrooms and dining halls will be reorganised to observe social distancing. Learners in other instances will have to make do with outdoor classes in cases where infrastructure is limited or elderly teachers are in school.

President Kenyatta said teachers and other staff who are aged 58 years or above, or who have pre-existing conditions, shall deliver on their duties through remote means or by holding their classes and lessons in open spaces with natural flow of air.

Also banned are all extra-curricular activities such as sports, drama, music and prize giving days, involving more than one school for the next 90 days. Exchange visits between schools shall too remain prohibited for the same period.

All non-essential visits to schools by parents and guardians are also prohibited with the President saying they should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances.

For parents who will visit the schools, they will be required to be registered in the school records and subjected to all infection prevention protocols.

“Principals and head teachers of every school shall maintain a register of all sick pupils, students or teachers, and immediately inform the County Health Department of all instances of moderate to severe illness,” said the President.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said the government has done everything possible to enable reopening of schools today.

Wearing face masks

“The government has done everything possible to ensure schools will open tomorrow, distribution of desks has been successful and all artisans will be paid on time,” said Prof Magoha.

The CS insisted that all children must wear face masks adding the government will only provide the masks to about three million needy learners in slums and those from poor areas.

“On social distancing, it will not be possible to observe the one meter rule,” he said, as he asked school heads to create spaces under trees, dining halls and any open space available in schools.

He also urged parents to ensure they pay fees when schools reopen.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe asked schools to observe the health protocols to ensure children are safe. The CS said social distancing in matatus and school buses should be enforced.

“At the moment the country is experiencing very low positivity rates and it is something we can maintain when schools open,” said Mr Kagwe.

The CS said the government is working to ensure that a vaccine will be made available by end of this month. Nyeri governor Mutahi Kahiga, who is also the Council of Governors Chair of

Education committee, said governors are working closely with ministry of Education to ensure that schools reopen safely.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i said the government has tightened security to ensure learners get to school safely: “A lot more is going to be done to ensure our children go back to school.”

Dr Matiang’i announced that the government is putting up a multi-agency command centre that will include representatives from the interior, education, health and transport ministries, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), the private sector and governors that will receive daily reports on schools process.