In Kenya, education unions have joined with civil society organisations in presenting public authorities with recommendations and steps to be taken to guarantee a safe reopening of schools and education institutions.
The report aims to inform the debate and decision-making in the education sector regarding the reopening and management of schools, colleges and universities. It also covers the continuation of teaching and learning during COVID-19.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) – both affiliates of Education International – collaborated on the report with the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists' Union (KMPDU), the Forum for African Women Educationalists–Kenya (FAWE–Kenya), and the Elimu Tuitakayo Network.
They submitted the report to the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus. This committee was established by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta as a framework to upscale and coordinate the country’s capacity to prevent, respond to, and contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report benefits from incisive desk analysis by a panel of experts, raw data analysis of responses from across the country by teachers, lecturers, non-teaching staff, frontline human rights defenders, doctors, and health experts in the field of COVID-19. It also includes relevant information and experiences at global level, including the opinions of international health experts, guidelines from multi-state agencies, and advice from unions in other countries.
Critical factors to be considered
The report, which was released on 27 May, stresses key elements:
- An objective, inclusive, and comprehensive data-driven process of ascertaining how schools, teachers, lecturers, education support personnel, pupils, students, and communities are coping with closures and the pandemic – to determine when and how to re-open schools, colleges, and universities.
- Taking into account the best interest of the children, teachers, education support personnel, and overall public health considerations, as informed by the assessment of associated benefits and risks as well as cross-sectoral and context-specific evidence – including education, public health, and socio-economic factors.
- Enhanced support and flexibility to be given to teachers, lecturers, education support personnel, especially those who work in remote areas or marginalised communities. This is to ensure that disadvantaged children do not miss out on quality education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Monitoring trends in COVID-19 infections, containment measures, the search for vaccines and a cure, and the pattern of the virus spread – especially with peak seasons in Kenya and surrounding countries being expected in August 2020.
- Increase the level of preparedness and capacity to prevent, respond to, and contain the COVID-19 pandemic by the government of Kenya.
- Use expert advices in fighting COVID-19.
Among the main recommendations of the report to the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus are:
- Ensuring that the COVID-19 curve of infections is flattened first, to guarantee the safety of teachers, lecturers, education support personnel, and learners before the reopening of schools, colleges, and universities. Because of experts projecting that the peak of the curve will be in August, schools and education institutions should not reopen before September 2020.
- Based on the UNESCO guidelines for school reopening, the decision on reopening of schools should be guided by the best interests of children and overall public health considerations.
- The government should conduct mass testing for all students and teachers in boarding schools before reopening schools once the pandemic is contained; and those who are sick should be allowed to stay home until fully recovered before resuming their learning activities.
- An elaborate and solid plan on occupational health and safety assessment should be made for all schools by safety consultants from the Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health.
- A periodic risk assessment for teachers should be run based on the World Health Organization’s Guidelines for risk assessment for healthcare workers.
- As part of the reopening process, the government needs to adopt proactive approaches to reintegrate marginalised and out-of-school children, invest in water, sanitation and hygiene to mitigate risks, and focus on remedial education to compensate for lost instructional time.
- With schools reopening, a mechanism to actively monitor health indicators, strongly focused on wellbeing and protection, should be implemented. The government should invest in strengthening pedagogy, and appropriate teaching and learning, on infection transmission and prevention.
- National examinations should be postponed until the first quarter of 2021.
- Reopening of schools, colleges and universities must be transparent, phased and coupled with clear communication by Government and public universities, colleges and schools, with the input of public health professionals, frontline healthcare professionals, educators, academic staff and the unions. Public learning institutions, including universities, should have policies aligned with public health requirements designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The organisations outlined the following measures to be taken by public authorities before schools and education institutions can be reopened:
- Meaningfully and effectively engage teachers, education support personnel, and parents while deciding whether and how to reopen schools and education establishments.
- Promote safety services recommended by the World Health Organization in schools.
- Provide sustainable supply of personal protective equipment for teachers, workers, and students.
- Provide adequate space for social distancing at school, colleges, and universities.
- Train and support teachers and lecturers on COVID-19-adapted pedagogy, including being sensitive around gender and disability issues, and helping COVID-19 survivors.
- Recruit more teachers and school workers to support the expected intensive teaching and learning.
Plan well, save lives
“Without any of the outlined measures undertaken, schools should not be reopened,” the organisations highlighted. “Plan well, save lives.”