Covid update – schools remain closed until 2021

Having been hopeful of a return to the classroom in September for school children in Kenya, following a recent announcement from the government we now know that schools will not reopen until January 2021 at the earliest.

The Ministry of Education, through a statement from Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha (below) earlier this month, has announced that the “2020 school calendar year will be considered lost due to Covid-19 restrictions” and that all pupils across primary and secondary schools will repeat the year.

Health officials in Kenya are expecting a peak of the Covid epidemic in the country in September and with that in mind have decided that it would not be advisable to send children back to school around this time, as the President had indicated would happen as recently as the beginning of June.

We are evaluating what this latest extension to school closures means for our partner schools and their pupils, and how we might need to adjust our response over the next few months.

From the date of this announcement, it will be another six months before children return to school, having already been absent for 3 months since schools closed in the middle of March. There are obvious concerns about the effect that a 9-month loss of learning will have on overall educational standards and attainment, even though the year will be repeated for each year group, but we are especially worried about the impact on the well-being and welfare of pupils across our partner schools given that, for many pupils, the daily lunchtime meal they receive at school is their only guaranteed meal of the day at certain times of the year. We are already looking at how we can use some or all of the funds that we have in reserve for the feeding programme to instead provide support to families and children at home over the next few months, especially as the dry-season bites and stores of harvested crops are exhausted. However we also need to ensure that we have funds available to ensure the feeding programme can resume as normal as soon as schools reopen.

The silver lining to this particularly dark cloud is that the extended closure of schools gives us an even longer than anticipated window to help make them ‘Covid-safe’ and during which we can continue with other redevelopment projects without worrying about causing disruption to normal school activities. This may be particularly helpful in accelerating the on-going redevelopment of our eighth partner school at Mkamenyi Primary, where there are a number of existing classrooms that require extensive renovation. We are thankful to the Geoff Herrington Foundation for a recent grant towards the construction and furnishing of an entirely new classroom.

We will continue to provide additional hand-washing facilities as we had planned to but there might also be a need to provide additional classrooms spaces (even temporary ones) or convert other spaces into classrooms, to provide additional desks and to employ even more teachers to allow for socially-distanced learning – although we’re not sure what rules the government will put in place for the reopening of schools and who will be responsible for ensuring they can adhere to these.

Clearly, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about the future; depending on how the epidemic continues to develop in Kenya there may be further changes to the school reopening schedule, although we clearly hope that all pupils and staff will be welcomed back to school as quickly and as safely as possible. We will continue to keep you posted with any news through this blog, emails and via our social media channels.