Memorandum to Covid-19 Education Response Committee
May 22, 2020
MEMORANDUM BY THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES OF KENYA TO THE TASK FORCE ON COVID-19 EDUCATION MANAGEMENT ON REOPENING OF SCHOOLS / BASIC EDUCATION PROCESSES
The Covid-19 pandemic, that had by May 21, 2020 infected 5,137,064 and killed 331,496 people across the globe, is an existential threat that has shaken the entire earth. Unlike the pandemics that occurred in the recent past, it has gained a notoriety by touching nearly all the countries on earth, leading to a rapid disruption of life not witnessed since the 2nd World War.
The Bible does indeed recognize that such events sometimes come to pass when God is displeased with the people, as we read in Jeremiah 9 21
Death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses; it has cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the public squares.
We nonetheless recognize that the future is not all doom and gloom, for there is hope when we pray to God, as He has promised in 2 Chronicles 7: 13 â€“ 14
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Together with all believers, we continue to pray and repent and call upon God, knowing that He will deliver us from the pandemic.
- Covid-19 Scenarios
All schools and learning institutions were closed through the proclamation made by His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 15, 2020, as part of the measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in the country. Subsequent to this, the NCCK has keenly monitored the situation in the country, and especially the spread of the Covid-19 as well as efficacy of the measures adopted by the government to control the infections.
In this regard, the NCCK recognizes that there are three possible scenarios upon which decisions on enhancements or relaxation of control measures should be based. These are:
i) The No vaccine Scenario
This is the obtaining scenario, where there is no treatment or vaccine for Covid-19 available. The nation will therefore have to wait for a declaration by the Ministry of Health that the Covid-19 has been contained before the control measures adopted are relaxed or removed.
ii) The Vaccine Scenario
This is the scenario where a vaccine is developed, tested and proved, and the entire population is vaccinated thereby eliminating the threat posed by Covid-19. This scenario is however uncertain due to the rapid mutation of viruses and therefore may not come to be in the near or medium term.
iii) The Herd Immunity Scenario
This is the scenario where a risk is taken to let members in the population get infected, they build immunity, and this keeps spreading until the majority of the people have the immunity. However, the emerging information that individuals have been re-infected makes this an impractical approach.
Based on the foregoing, the NCCK is approaching the management of Covid-19 in the context of Scenario 1, where there is no treatment or vaccine, and therefore measures have to continue being taken to control the spread of the virus.
The NCCK is cognizant that different actors within the country have urged for re-opening of schools as a way of resuming some level of normalcy. There is also concern that the 2020 Academic Calendar will have major ramifications on the nation, which include: Massive financial losses by those who have invested in the sector; Loss of livelihoods of those who are employed in the sector; Major disruption in the nation since education sector is an ecosystem upon which other sectors and professions depend; and All learners being forced to repeat their classes next year.
Despite these concerns, the NCCK holds that the right to life supersedes other rights, and therefore re-opening schools when doing so would put the lives of the learners and entire society at risk would actually be an infringement on the basic rights of all Kenyans.
- Primary Premise for Re-Opening Schools
While in the sections below the NCCK makes specific recommendations as per the Terms of Reference of the National Education Response Committee, we wish to recommend the following to be considered as the basic premise for action in the sector:
Schools were closed in response to specific circumstances that emerged in the nation, and those circumstances need to be resolved before schools are reopened. Since the closure of schools was done at the behest of the Ministry of Health, the reopening of schools and other institutions should thus be considered upon the specific recommendation of the Ministry of Health that doing so would no longer put the lives of the education ecosystem at risk.
- Observations and Recommendations on the TORs
With the foregoing in mind, Madam Chairperson, the NCCK wishes to make the following observations and recommendations as regards the seven elements of the Terms of the Reference of this Committee.
TOR 1 – Advise the Cabinet Secretary on the reopening of Basic Education institutions (Pre-Primary, Primary, Secondary Schools, Teacher Training, Colleges and Adult Education Institutions).
The NCCK makes the following observations:
One, that the circumstances that led to the closure of schools on March 15, 2020, still obtain, and are likely worse
Two, that should the learning institutions be reopened, the enforcement of Covid-19 control measures will be a challenge for the school administrators
Three, that there is need to understand the potential risks learners and tutors will face from wearing a mask and keeping the distance the whole day and continuously over many months
Four, that there is need to appreciate the risks teachers and non-teaching staff will be exposed to considering that a number are in the risky age group of above fifty years
Five, that most schools donâ€™t have onboarded qualified medical workers
Six, that there is need to clarify what measures will be put in place to safeguard learners with preexisting conditions such as asthma
Seven, that schools were the first to be closed since they were considered a high-risk area, and so they should not be the first to be opened. We as a nation should not create the impression that we are experimenting with our children
Eight, that the reality of increasing number of confirmed positive cases should elicit a delay in any manner of relaxation of Covid-19 control measures already in place
Nine, that reopening schools in a context that requires massive investments in social and infrastructural changes would require resources beyond those available to the Ministry of Education
Ten, that due to this pandemic, learners will lose several months of learning, but that is better this than exposing them, their teachers and other workers. We do not have the capacity to deal with such a crisis.
i. Schools and Teacher training colleges should not be re-opened until the conditions that caused their closure are eliminated. Let us not peg re-opening of schools to dates and months but to a declaration by the Ministry of Health on when it will be safe and tenable to do so.
ii. The Ministry of Education should invest in E-Learning to make it structured and well organized in such a way as to provide equal access to all learners, whether they be in well-endowed homes or in far-off remote areas. The current inequalities and imbalances in E-Learning must be removed.
iii. The money that the government normally allocates to learners schools should be invested in enhancing E-Learning capacities.
iv. Enhance the capacities of teachers to deliver E-Learning since face-to-face learning and instructing is different from E-Learning.
v. Revisit the proposal to provide laptops to all learners to ensure equitable E-Learning.
vi. The Ministry of Education should stop assuring the country that the 2020 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) and Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations are still on course when the prevailing situation imply this is may not be workable.
vii. Prior to reopening, all schools must be equipped with capacity to undertake mass testing to ensure that learners, teachers / tutors and other persons in the institutions are negative. This is key to avoiding a second wave as was witnessed during the Spanish Flu pandemic that wiped out more than fifty million people worldwide with most dying in the second wave.
viii. Continuous and frequent re-testing of learners, teachers / tutors, and other persons in the institutions of learning (by weekly testing recommended) for several months after re-opening must be provided for.
ix. Should clearance be given for schools to reopen, then various measures should be put in place that include:
a) All learners should be provided with masks
b) Adequate space should be provided for learners to observe physical distancing when learning, playing, sleeping, eating and in all other activities
c) Having phased out reopening so as to begin with senior classes / those scheduled to sit for level-transition classes
x. Prior to reopening of schools, adequate strategies should be employed to address cultural issues touching on Covid-19, such as motivating learners and others in the institutions to embrace control measures, and not treat them as extraneous conditions not beneficial to them, as is the case being witnessed where people wear masks merely to avoid the police.
TOR 2 – Review and reorganise the school calendar as part of COVID-19 post recovery strategy.
The NCCK submits that the calendar shall be reorganized on the basis of information and guidance of the Ministry of Health regarding the control and management of the pandemic, and addressing the concerns raised under TOR 1 above. In this regard, we make the following recommendations:
i. Reschedule the school calendar to begin in September 2020 as Term II with a heavy focus on E-Learning, making reference to the Odhiambo Report.
ii. Serious investment in E-learning should start immediately recognizing that E-Learning will be a core feature of learning regardless of how the pandemic evolves.
iii. Restarting learning from September would enable the learners cover the lost time in terms one and two.
iv. Clarity should be made here that Recommendation (iii) does not refer to reopening of schools but rather restarting of learning.
TOR 3 – Advise the CS on ways of on-boarding students / pupils where the schools re-open.
The NCCK recommends that a distinction be made between reopening of schools and restarting of learning. The latter should be commenced immediately while the former awaits guidance from the Ministry of Health as regards the control and management of the pandemic. In this regard, we make the following recommendations:
i. Enhance E-Learning to all learners
ii. Address the access to technology and electricity by all learners
iii. MOE should make E-Learning materials available on a cloud
iv. Consider expansion of use of radio and teachers at the local level to ensure learning continues
v. When schooling physically is resumed, have phased reopening of schools starting senior classes so as to observe social distancing
vi. Consider having learning in shifts where you one class per day to give learners adequate space for social distancing
vii. The Ministry of Education to consider collaborating with communities to make available social facilities converted into classrooms to reach more learners. A minimum fee can be paid by the government for use of the facilities.
viii. Consider adopting localized learning whereby teachers and learners use facilities near them to avoid travelling, but this should be evaluated against the possible impact it would have on national cohesion with regard to ethnic integration of the learners.
TOR 4 – Document all Covid-19 related matters, lessons learnt and recommendations for future preparedness
The NCCK recognizes that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the education sector in the country as being ill prepared to deal with emergencies and disruptions. There is therefore a need establish and / or strengthen a disaster preparedness and risk mitigation strategy in the education sector. The strategy should include clear guidelines for objective documentation of the lessons learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic, and provision for legal enactment of recommendations for dealing with future emergencies.
Key among the considerations that require to be discussed during this period are established of a reliable E-Learning system, and whether the concept of boarding schools should be maintained or scrapped.
TOR 5 – Advise the CS on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the demand for education by poor households and suggest mitigation measures
The NCCK recognize that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the lives and livelihoods of all Kenyans. These impacts have especially been harsh on poor households. Understandably, Covid-19 has affected the demand for education among poor household. We here highlight some impacts and recommend attendant mitigation measures:
Observations and Recommended Mitigation Measures:
i. Loss of livelihoods and jobs where students may not resume learning as parents struggle to make ends meet, and the attendant rise of insecurity
a) Enroll poor families on social protection to help them meet basic needs (cash transfer)
b) Monitor businesses to cushion consumers from unscrupulous businessmen
c) Regulate the cost of basic items
d) Provide stimulus funds to small businesses
ii. High cost of living is putting pressure on families thus reducing focus on education
a) Resource community resource centers with internet and other learning materials while observing necessary measures
b) Encourage benevolence from community members who would donate gadgets to support learners within their communities
iii. High cost of alternative / online learning which hinders many from using E-Learning
a) Partner with telecoms to provide free / subsidized internet services
b) Government to distribute free learning materials to learners wherever they are through local administration
iv. Increased cases of social vices in home settings such as Gender Based Violence, crime and use of drugs and substances
a) Strengthen community policing by including different stakeholders to monitor the movement of learners while at home
b) Establish / resource psychosocial support centers to offer counseling services
c) Support religious institutions to offer psychosocial support
v. Harsh / hostile environment at home due to increase in stress on parents, spouses and their children, making learning difficult
a) Government to distribute free learning materials to learners wherever they are through local administrators
vi. Parents have inadequate skills to support home schooling for the learners
a) Encourage use of learning centers
c) Enlist the services of teachers to supervise the community learning centers
vii. Increased cases of child labour to support family incomes
a) Refer to recommendations under observation (i) above
viii. Exposure to negative cultural practices such as early marriages
a) Strengthen community policing by including different stakeholders to watch out for the presence and welfare of learners
TOR 6 – Advise the CS on the Health and Safety measures to be put in place for the pupils / students, teachers and entire school community
The NCCK reiterates the recommendation that schools can and should only be reopened on the specific advise by the Ministry of Health. When that guidance is given, then we recommend the following:
i. Disinfect and fumigate all the learning institutions, not only because some were used as quarantine / isolation centers, but also for bugs and other insects that may have crept all over the institutions. In this, there is need to consider and apply the warnings given by the World Health Organization regarding fumigation.
ii. Avail qualified and registered medical personnel in every institution to ensure mass testing and deal with issues that arise after the physical re-opening.
iii. Ensure that all institutions have flowing water and other sanitization facilities in a reliable and consistent basis.
iv. Provide guidance and counseling for learners in all institutions as a new normal.
v. Involve school communities and parents to help raise funds for improvement of the facilities considering that schools will require a lot of money to set up and maintain the required standards.
vi. Rethink co-curricular programmes in the first months of physical re-opening to avoid activities that may lead to re-infections.
vii. Involve peer education to entrench sanitization and Covid-19 prevention measures to avoid recurrence of an outbreak.
viii. Put special attention on learners with special needs, such as the blind and deaf.
ix. Avail emergency facilities (ambulances or sick bays) in schools or with shared facilities that are reliable and effective in order to deal with cases that may need such emergency services.
x. This is an opportune time to rethink and redefine our social and school culture since what is happening will continue post-Covid. Aspects to be discussed include boarding schools, uniforms, sanitation, congestion, e-learning, security and curriculum.
TOR 7 – Identify institutions that may have been adversely affected by Covid-19 and advise on mitigation and recovery measures
The NCCK recognizes that education is a complete ecosystem in which different actors play different roles. All these have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. We here highlight some of the institutions and recommended mitigation measures.
Observations and Recommended Mitigation Measures:
i. Suppliers of goods and services
a) Consider paying those who had already supplied
ii. Private schools and universities
a) Government to extend soft loans to these institutions to help them stay afloat
b) Provide subsidy to those who have lost their jobs
c) Create a savings scheme for those institutions to cushion them in future
iii. Religious institutions
a) Offer stipends to religious leaders who have been offering services to schools such as Chaplains
iv. ECDE centers and BOM teachers
a) Employ / absorb these teachers into the work force
b) Offer stipends to these teachers
v. Quarantine centers
a) Fumigate the schools used as quarantine centers and replace resources used when schools resume
- Other Recommendations
In addition to the foregoing, the NCCK wishes to make an emphasis on the following recommendations:
i. The National Intelligence Service and other strategic agencies need to help the country plot scenarios to provide a basis for the countryâ€™s decision making on the post Covid-19 reopening of key sectors. Without this, the public will be making suggestions that are contradictory and tenuous.
ii. It is important that the opening of schools be the last to be considered. Begin with people going back to their offices and work places, opening up of churches and places of worship and social gatherings of adults, before the opening of schools.
iii. Address the stigma and fear of testing, recognizing that currently community members fear testing due to the threat of having the entire family quarantined, yet without mass testing, it is impossible to know where the disease is and how to deal with it.
iv. The lack of electricity and gadgets should not be used as an excuse by government to not ensure learning is going on.
v. Consider the livelihoods of teachers in private schools who are benefiting from delivering E-Learning, the issue of government employed teachers and tutors of colleges and workers in schools who depend on schools being open.
vi. Give a clear communication on the issue of exams â€“ what recommendation is made.
In conclusion, we in the NCCK urge you to be guided by the preambular consideration that for schools to be reopened, the conditions that informed the closures should be eliminated or be adequately addressed before the schools are reopened. For this reason, consideration of reopening of schools should be guided not by calendar dates but by the scope of control and management of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We assure you of our prayers and support as you consult and advice the government on this important matter.
Signed on this 22nd day of May 2020 at Jumuia Place, Nairobi.
Rev Canon Chris Kinyanjui