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School reopening truths that lie ahead as Covid war continues

pupils in class
Ensuring no child is left behind should be the cardinal call and the long-term focus of everyone. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

After extending the school holiday calendar for an additional one month, Kenyans are waiting for the ultimate announcement by the Ministry of Education on reopening of learning institutions and the national examination calendar.

However, a far-reaching spectrum of realities are in store for the sector.

Worldwide, countries have been scarred and diminished to a pale shadow of their former states. The World Bank estimates that between 40 and 60 million people will be pushed to extreme poverty this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and sub-Saharan Africa will be hit hardest.

The International Labour Organisation expects 195 million job losses. The World Food Programme projects that 135 million people are facing crisis levels of hunger or worse, while another 130 million are on the edge of starvation.

The health, social and economic realities of the pandemic will, for sure, come to the fore as gates to learning institutions are unlocked to receive learners back after a Covid-19 induced academic calendar interruption.

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It will take more than just a walk-in to ensure that the academic year is redeemed and significant learning resumes. Natural or man-made humanitarian crises of this magnitude take a universal huge toll on education. Children greatly bear the brunt of crises as they bring forth education financing concerns; immense susceptibility to violence, sexual abuse and predation, child malnutrition and forced labour; lost learning time and resources; loss of life and childhood and possible drop outs.

Effects of a recoiled economy, unprecedented job losses and shrivelled incomes will overflow to the education sector.

We have a partially fee-free system with a parental obligation component at all levels. Before this pandemic, most households were struggling to meet their obligations.

With the falling to pieces of income streams, many will find themselves at the extreme end of the tether. The resultant shift in household budgetary focus and forced relocations will weaken the drive for basic education across the nation.

Ensuring no child is left behind should be the cardinal call and the long-term focus of everyone. In reality, some learners are at a greater risk of not coming back to school unless an intentional effort is made to reach out to them. Those from extreme vulnerable backgrounds—child-headed households, informal settlements, low resourced rural areas and poverty stricken households should be set apart and put in long-term support pathways.

It is possible that, in the thick of the pandemic, some learners may have been caught up in the apparently increased cases of gender based violence, sexual crimes and depression.

Depending on learners’ experiences, a proper psycho-social support system must be development to restore mental and psychological stability of affected children. Job losses compromise health and nutritional status of families with children at the receiving end. The ongoing locust invasion and the floods that have swept away crops will further worsen the food-stress.

Many families will regress into a wearisome grapple to put a meal on the table. In the absence of a robust school meal programmes for the younger disadvantaged children, education attainment will be compromised.

According to The National School Meals and Nutrition Strategy 2017-2022, school meals have a significant positive effect on education indicators, reduces hunger and enhances nutritional intake. Enrolment and attendance rates as well as primary completion rates are higher in schools with meals. A broader and multifaceted involvement in the school meals programme as opposed to the constricted community-based model is the surest way to cushion learners.

The resumption of schooling will happen within a backdrop of an evolving situation with no well-defined end game in sight. It should thus go beyond the normal as we interrogate the preparedness of schools (some which may have been directly involved in Covid-19 intervention) to receive learners. The community, health and private sectors must work with schools. On their own, schools cannot sufficiently guarantee safety of learners to, within and from schools.

Clear standard operating procedures (SOP) in learning institutions should be put in place so that risks are reduced, emerging issues and potential threats are and dealt with pronto. There is definitely a build-up of work. Educators must re-calibrate programmes and develop synergy for rapid but effective core-curriculum and co-curriculum delivery approaches.

On the whole, learning institutions must anticipate and get ready to deal with the matrix of issues that lie ahead of reopening, deal with the set of circumstances that will present themselves and be on the on the alert for likely threats.

The writer is an educator.

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