By Ndungu Wainaina via FB
Kenya is among 14 out of 39 Sub Saharan Africa countries that are yet to open schools. 6 countries have fully opened and 19 partially opened their schools beginning June and July, 2020. A dozen others have indicated they will start opening this September. Among Kenya’s peers that have either fully or partially are Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, which also happened to have bigger Covid19 caseload than Kenya.
Kenya’s Ministry of Education squandered the last 5 months during Covid19 instead of preparing a comprehensive policy, plan and special supplementary budget on how to reopen schools while putting in place health protocols. The Ministry’s leadership is erratic, guesswork and limping. One noticeable thing about countries that have fully or partially opened schools remains Presidents of those countries have been providing leadership from the front.
The closures of educational facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic present an unprecedented risk to children’s education and wellbeing. Schools do much more than teach children how to read, write and count. Schools provide education, health, safety, nutrition and hygiene services. Primary and secondary schools are vital to social mobility of children.
What are consequences of long schools closure? Poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies, and overall challenges in mental development of children due to reduced interaction related to school closures., child abuse, mental health breakdowns with rising rates of depression and anxiety, Children who are poor are at a greater disadvantage than those who are not, as those at better developed schools have access to online learning. Poorer children also regress in reading and mathematical skills during an extended absence from school, , violence, child labour and child marriage are just some of the long-term threats for children who miss out on school, mental health and psychosocial support; and dramatically reduce the risk of violence, early pregnancy
The longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to ever return. Unless we prioritize the reopening of schools, the country will see a devastating reversal in education gains. More than a third of children will never return to schools. Long interruption of education services has serious long-term consequences for economies and societies such as increased inequality, poorer health outcomes, reduced social cohesion. The country is staring at the stark reality of losing a whole generation with high potential of increase of juvenile crime. This lack of access to education is disproportionally affecting vulnerable and disadvantaged children. The knowledge and skills gap between those with access and those without will only continue to increase and this loss of education will have long-term and far-reaching economic effects.
Pediatricians and different reports say that the schools’ closure decision is not based on scientific evidence, and the benefits to children of attending school outweigh the risks to both children and the broader community with no clear evidence that closing schools significantly reduces community transmission or overall deaths. They say that the ability of children to transmit corona virus is dependent on their susceptibility, symptoms, viral load, social contact patterns and behaviour. There is no data on the relative contribution of school closures to transmission control.
Covid-19 modeling studies predict that school closures alone would prevent only 2-4% of deaths; Children and young people have a lower susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. Children’s risk of contributing to school and community outbreaks is very low. There are no reported large outbreaks in schools in any country. This supports the argument that asymptomatic children attending schools are unlikely to be significant spreaders of the disease.
Studies from China, Italy, UK, South Africa and USA all report very low numbers of critically ill children and deaths in children under 19 years of age, with children experiencing a much milder disease than adults and deaths extremely rare. When diagnosed with COVID-19, children are much less likely to be hospitalized or have fatal outcomes than adults. Children are more likely to have a mild or asymptomatic infection, meaning that the infection may go undetected or undiagnosed.
All countries in Sub Saharan Africa that have fully or partially opened schools have invested public resopui5trces to put in place health protocols guarantee a child-friendly schools’ infrastructure to support widespread rapid screening, testing and cases management, getting children safely to and from schools, and safety precautions within schools with aim to maximally limit movement.
Countries’ health protocols’ investments in schools include measures: training teachers, schools administrators and non-teaching staff on Covid19 health protocols; staggering the beginning and end of the school day; cancelling school events that create crowding; spacing desks when possible, providing hand washing facilities; wearing masks; discouraging unnecessary touching; and ensuring that sick students and teachers stay at home. recommend a range of hygiene and disinfection measures for schools to reopen and operate safely, including regular hand washing, daily disinfection and cleaning of surfaces, basic water, sanitation and waste management facilities, and environmental cleaning and decontamination; and ensuring local health officials and schools have a working partnership for ensuring existence of effective regular screening, random testing, and a clear set of protocols on how to respond to any occurrence of the virus. Education officials and schools have put in place measures for a catch-up curriculum/accelerated learning.
Finally, Covid19 has exposed the stark realities and consequences of underinvestment in public schools and unmasked substantial inequities in the education sector. Improving quality and access to education must become high government priority. Government must draw and implement a comprehensive urgent clear plan on massive investment in public schools from infrastructure development, teaching staff to digital literacy/tools. It has to be made mandatory for adequate budgetary allocation to public schools. National and County governments should invoke Articles of 187 and 189 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 to develop a comprehensive cooperation and parte4erhsip agreement in development and management of public schools. Public schools must become the best destination for any child in any part of the country.