AT A GLANCE: 2020 goes down in the annals of history as the year when the world witnessed unprecedented fear, confusion and anxiety as a result of COVID-19, with learners in Kenya and many countries of the world staying at home for months.
By Nyang’au Araka
Even as the year 2020 draws to a close, there is divided opinion if the government has handled the Coronavirus pandemic properly so far.
Worse yet, the virus is expected to be around for many years, according to experts.
The Kenyan situation is dire since by the end of November, the country had reported over 80,000 active cases and several deaths.
With the country reporting an average of 1,000 new cases daily, there were all indications that the second wave of the virus had taken root and was ravaging lives senselessly.
At the same time, the country was guarded on welcoming reports that researchers were about to find effective vaccines that would help stem the curve.
According to an article published by National Geographic on November 23rd, there were over 150 vaccines under development in various research centres across the globe.
The site reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) was coordinating global efforts to develop a vaccine, with an eye toward delivering two billion doses by 2021.
“Vaccines go through a three-stage clinical trial process before they are sent to regulatory agencies for approval-which can be a lengthy process itself,” reported the National Geographic.
It should be remembered that when the first case of Coronavirus disease was reported in Wuhan, China, Kenyans were least concerned. And they were right, for the disease was not proximate to Kenyan territories.
However, as reporters stayed on the beat, there was alarm that a good Kenyans, many who were students, were stuck in the Asian city and were pleading to be evacuated home.
Not even the distress and motherly call by Amb Sarah Serem that bordered on despair when she pleaded on behalf of the students to be brought home seemed to trigger high level action by the government.
At the height of fears that Kenya stood a risk of reporting the first case of the virus, Kenyans wondered why the government was not stopping flights, particularly from China.
In fact, a Kenya Airways staffer who reportedly filmed and published a video clip of a plane from China touching down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport found himself in hot soup before the uproar of Kenyans forced the employer to rescind its decision to interdict him.
For one, the government speedily closed all learning institutions in March after the country reported the first case, only to allow partial reopening when the country was reporting dozens of new infections and deaths.
Partial reopening of schools.
After learners stayed at home for several months, those in examination classes (Grade 4, Standard 8, Form 4 and final year students in colleges and universities were allowed to resume learning at their respective institutions.
The move was welcomed with anxiety and skepticism, largely due to the indecisiveness of Education CS George Magoha.
At some point, Prof Magoha would say that schools would reopen, only to say the contrary the next day and vise versa.
While some Kenyans say that it was illogical for the government to allow partial re-opening of schools after several months of closure, others think the decision was noble.
According to Prof Henry Onderi who is the Kisii County Education Board chairman, the government was right when it closed down schools in March.
“The disease was new and nobody knew what to do. I therefore think that closing the schools was the only option. This had to happen to pave the way for the government to find better ways of responding to the pandemic and its foreseeable and unforeseeable effects,” Prof Onderi said.
“The learners at school, especially in boarding, are safer there than they would be at home. Parents should not be worried about their safety,” Prof Onderi said.
A spot check in a number of schools in Kisii including Kereri Girls’, Nduru Girls’ and Nduru Boys’ revealed that the management and all stakeholders were well prepared to keep the virus out of their compounds.
The situation was not any different in neighboring counties like Homabay. For example, at Agoro Sare Boys’ High School, hand washing had been made a routine for everyone.
At the schools, there were tens of hand washing points, sanitizers, thermo-guns and warnings at strategic places urging everyone to be vigilant and observe protocols meant to stop the spread or contraction of the virus.
Equally, principals of the schools said that since they reopened, they had strictly reduced the number of visitors, including parents at any given time.
For example, Nduru Girls’ School principal Grace Adhiambo said that they had made it a routine to remind students and teachers to wear face masks and correctly so.
“We have masks for needy students. We issue the masks to the students from time to time,” Adhiambo said, adding that the school also possesses two Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
In the spirit of social distancing, the school has spread the 195 candidates in the available classrooms and they do not have a challenge for now.
The total student population stands at 931. The school has 33 teachers and 17 members of the support staff.
At Kereri, the principal Teresa Atieno said they had prioritized water harvesting and storage to ensure high standards of hygiene. The school has 22 water tanks and a borehole, among other sources of water.
The situation is similar at Nduru Boys’ High School where the principal John Masine disclosed that they had increased the number of water tanks and were harvesting rain water to avoid wastage.
Prof Onderi lauded Boards of Management (BoMs) for ensuring that schools in Kisii had complied with the Ministry of Health guidelines given to combat COVID-19.
“It is also important to note that even teachers working on BoM terms are now getting support from the government so that they help learners recover lost time,” Prof Onderi said.
Prof Onderi who is also the Director of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST)- Kisii Campus noted that the county had not reported any death at school as a result of the pandemic.
“I ask every stakeholder to help keep Covid away from schools. We should make every effort to reduce the level of transmission and pray that a vaccine is discovered to end the misery that the disease has caused the world,” he said.
The educationist noted that the full impact of the disease had not been seen and would take years to be quantified, but hastened to add that it had destroyed life as previously lived.
“This is an evolving situation. But we can see that cases of indiscipline have gone up amongst children at home, there is an increase of teen pregnancies, consumption of drugs and hard substances, misuse of the internet, among others,” he said.
He thanked the government for providing lockers and desks to various schools under the Economic Stimulus Package.
“The Sh1.9 billion allocated for the furniture went to local carpenters. This is a plus to them. We should also appreciate that online teaching/learning is here with us and find better ways of maximizing its use, while ensuring that our learners are not exploited through it,” Prof Onderi said.
He said it was not clear how the year 2021 will pan out on matters education but exuded confidence that the country shall overcome the pandemic if everyone adheres to the directives given by Ministry of Health officials.