“If you kept your used mask in a bag before getting a new one, but your classmate doesn’t have one, what do you do?”
That was a Kilimani Primary School teacher’s big question on Day One as schools reopened on Monday.
“Share,” the pupils responded in chorus.
Wrong answer. Very wrong. Never share personal items, especially masks that should be washed or disposed of.
Sharing, however, had been a life lesson until Covid-19 hit in March, forcing schools to close.
Teachers said it’s difficult but necessary to introduce “selfish” behaviours to pupils who have been taught to share and be generous.
“Even though they adapt quickly, introducing behaviour that appears antisocial to children will take time,” Kilimani Primary School headteacher Lucy Apondi told the Star.
At the school gate, security guards keep everyone spaced as they check their temperature, then tell them to wash their hands at a tap by the administration block.
“We have put in place all the measures recommended by the Ministry of Health to protect our children. It is easier now because we only have two classes, but it will be challenging when everyone else reports,” Apondi said.
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She said they were using vacant classrooms to keep pupils spaced at least a metre apart.
“We have between 25 and 30 pupils per class currently. We will probably have to study in shifts when the rest of the students resume since we have no extra space,” Apondi said.
In one class, a Grade 4 pupil couldn’t understand why his teacher kept him from sharing his bottle of juice with classmates. He stared blankly at her.
“The Bible teaches us to share things with our friends who lack them. It tells us not to be mean,” he said in his defence.
Calmly, the teacher explained why sharing things during this period could put the children and their friends at a risk of contacting Covid-19. The germs could be on surfaces.
Younger pupils had a tough time adapting, but it wasn’t an easy lesson for Standard 8 pupils either.
Zahra Ngosi, a Class 8 teacher, said when she asked pupils to wash their hands after break, only a few did. During break they struggled to keep their distance as they had so much to catch up on after a seven-month break.
“When I followed up, I realised that most of them, especially the boys, had not washed their hands,” Ngosi said.
She explained that it would take regular and close supervision to ensure children adhere to the rules.
Within the school compound, under the teachers’ watch, pupils follow the guidelines. However, once they set foot outside the gate, they return to the old ‘normal’.
The pupils explained to their teacher that though they understand the importance of physical distance, they cannot resist the temptation to save some money from bus fare.
“They told me they were not given any pocket money for the six months they were home,” Ngosi said.
“The challenge is how they behave outside school. Some will discard the rules when it inconveniences them,” she said.
However, it is not only following the new Covid-19 safety rules that’s difficult, the students have also forgotten much of what they had learned.
When Ngosi asks what’s nine divided by three, one student shouted, “Twenty-seven”! Many others simply stayed quiet.
“I have had to refresh their memory, starting by whole numbers and simple sums before picking up from where we had left off,” Ngosi explained.
Out of 150 Grade 4 pupils at Kilimani Primary, only 66 turned up on the first day of school; 137 of the 191 Standard 8 candidates turned up.
While some had travelled out of the city and were unsure of when they would return, some had relocated to other estates, far from the schools.
The situation was the same at Ofafa Jericho Primary School where fewer than 50 per cent of the Grade 4 children showed up. In a class of 139, only 74 showed up while 74 out of 96 Class 8 pupils showed up.
Two parents had called the school to inform head teacher Elizabeth Ochieng’ that their children would not be able to report immediately.
“One told me that her daughter had outgrown the school uniform and would report once she got a new one. Another had travelled out of the city and is still unable to come back,” Ochieng’ said.
Zamzam Wanjiru, a Grade 4 pupil at St Michael’s Primary School on Jogoo Road, is one of those who failed to show up.
“My mother simply said I wouldn’t go today. She gave no reason,” he said.
Olympic Primary School, which has the biggest enrollment in Kenya, 4,700, had not established how many students had turned up by 9am.
Class 8 has 730 pupils, Grade 4 has 570 pupils.
At Nairobi Milimani Secondary School, students were busy rearranging their dormitories and classrooms.
Senior teacher Jennifer Mwiti said the school was well prepared, with an newly constructed dormitory for 200 students.
“Due to Covid-19, we will only have 100 beds,” she said.
Deputy headteacher at Mbagathi High School Rhoda Kibogo said 100 per cent turned up.
“The candidates are 85 and they have all come,” Kibogo said
She said that teachers took time to brief students before learning began. They were told about wearing masks, social distancing, handwashing and not sharing personal items.
Student Annabelle Awino told the Star that she was happy to be back at school after the long break.
She said, however, social distancing was keeping her from socialising with her friends but she hoped to adapt soon.
“I have to sit alone and there is that loneliness, but on the positive side I will be able to have enough time to read on my own,”Awino said.
The situation was similar nationwide. A spot check revealed that in some cases more than half of the learners stayed home on the first day of the term.
In Baringo, more than 5,000 students had no school to attend as lakes were flooded, schools swamped, nearly submerged – and hippos and crocodiles lurked in the watery compounds.
At Itivanzou Secondary School in Mwingi North, Kitui, only 12 out of the expected 44 Form 4 students turned up. At their primary school counterpart, the turnout was about a quarter of the expected Grade 4 and Standard 8 learners.
He said the turnout was about 85 per cent and lessons had begun.
The school donated masks to pupils who came without them but parents were urged to be vigilant as masks are a key requirement.
At Precious Hope Academy in Suneka, Bonchari, proprietor Gekonge Mirieri said private schools are struggling with financial challenges to meet all health obligations set by the government.
He said though the government promised academies some money, they are yet to see a penny in their accounts.
“We are on our own and this means we must share this burden with parents, many of them decrying the lack of money at this time,”Gekonge told the Star.
National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo told the Star he had received numerous calls from parents, saying they were not financially prepared to send children back to class.
“I have parents complaining the government has reopened schools too early, and they are not prepared,” Maiyo said.
He asked parents to remain calm since they had already paid the fees for second term before schools were closed prematurely in March.
Maiyo added the fee guidelines still stand, hence, parents will not be required to pay again.
“As stakeholders, we had suggested to the ministry to have schools reopen in January, and though they have been opened earlier, we have no problem. Besides, the Covid curve has flattened,” Maiyo said.