School reopening is right but guarantee learners’ safety

The Covid-19 outbreak overwhelmed the functioning and outcome of the country’s education system.

The closure of schools, compounded by economic and public health crises, posed major challenges to parents, students and teachers. Adapting to the pandemic has been a challenge for schools as the sector lacks sufficient infrastructure and human resources to support learning and training in a pandemic context.

The 2020 school calendar is now underway, with the Ministry of Education reporting satisfaction on the number of students who are back to school.

However, the government is emphasising on having all children report to school regardless of the impacts of Covid-19 break on their lives. And now with the schools open, amid the pandemic, it’s time we think through and determine how best learning can take place while ensuring the safety and well being of learners and teachers. This is the main challenge learning is grappling with during this period.

If we want to enable teachers do their work effectively, learners to recover the lost time, and schools to deliver on their goals and excellency, then we need to understand what learners, parents, teachers and schools are struggling with to meet the reopening protocols. We must also understand the areas that need more support.

Strengthened efforts in addressing the pandemic will ensure safety of parents and their children, while at the same time contributing positively to the flattening of the Covid-19 curve.

In November 2020, Africa’s Voices Foundation conducted an awareness creation and feedback collection on Covid-19 through interactive radio shows in Kitui and Makueni counties.

Africa’s Voices Foundation specialises in creating platforms for engagement of citizens and decision-makers.

Through the interactive radio, we conducted three radio episodes that sought to create awareness and gather feedback from listeners on Covid-19. The third episode specifically sought to gather information from parents on the impact of Covid-19 on education, especially with schools reopening.

From the analysis, a third of participants (34.8 per cent) expressed concern about schools being safe enough if they reopened. Respondents held that this will expose students and teachers to a higher risk of getting infected with the virus.

They termed schools as unsafe as it is difficult for children to adhere to the Covid-19 protocols as they lack infrastructure and facilities.

On the other hand, 45 per cent demonstrated that there is a stronger need for schools to reopen as long as measures are taken to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading in schools.

When broken down further, 26.9 per cent of the participants gave recommendations on how to make schools safe enough, 10.3 per cent asked for learning institutions to follow the MoH guidelines, while 7.5 per cent emphasised on continuation of learning.

Some of the respondents who engaged in the session had questions about the measures and precautions in place to ensure safety, while  inquired about sanctions the government had put in place against schools, teachers and staff who did not adhere to the prescribed guidelines.  

More women than men suggested recommendations for the institutions to be made safe by following health protocols and adopting guidelines such as the deployment of health workers in schools.

This gendered perspective is important, particularly in placing women as pillars in ensuring health protocols are promoted and observed. The first and second episodes covered what families are doing to protect themselves against the pandemic and resultant economic hardships.

Across the three episodes, 1, 200 participants sent in 2,300 messages out of which 1, 008 persons consented for their messages (totalling 1,839 messages) to be included in the analysis.

Unlike before, there has been better appreciation of the importance of investing in essential services, key among them education and health systems.

It is important that the government puts in place mechanisms of engaging with school stakeholders on the progress and challenges faced in implementing the Covid-19 prevention guidelines with a view to collaboratively and proactively address them.

Photo: Lessons at Mwingi Primary School on Monday, October 12. Image by: Linah Musangi – Star Newspaper

This blog was also published by The Star Newspaper: https://www.the-star.co.ke/opinion/columnists/2021-01-25-school-reopening-is-right-but-guarantee-learners-safety/

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