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TO RE-OPEN SCHOOLS OR NOT: KENYA’S DILEMMA IN THE FACE OF COVID-193 minutes read

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By Paul Ochieng

As Kenya grapples with pressure to reopen schools, questions are being asked whether it made the right decision to keep children out of schools for seven months due to the corona virus pandemic.

Kenya, just like many African countries were overwhelmed by the Covid-19 surge at the beginning of the year opted for the safety of school children by keeping them at home which has resulted to almost the loss of one full academic calendar.

Whereas health experts argue that it was the right decision to close schools and learning institutions until the Covid-19 curve is flattened, education experts have believed that the break is too long and that containment measures should have been put in place to facilitate smooth learning.

Amid two competing rights, the Right to Health and the Right to Education, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) on August 20 warned that prolonged school closures aimed at keeping students safe from COVID-19 are harming them in more ways.

“The impact of extended education disruption is significant. It has resulted to poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies, and overall challenges in the mental development of children due to reduced interaction related to school closures,” said WHO.

WHO and UNICEF urged African countries to promote the safe reopening of schools after a survey of 39 countries which found that schools are fully open in only six countries, closed in 14 countries and partially open in 19 others.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said the governments must not be blind-sided by the efforts to contain COVID-19 and end up with a lost generation.

“Just as countries are opening businesses safely, we can reopen schools. This decision must be guided by a thorough risk analysis to ensure the safety of children, teachers and parents and with key measures like physical distancing put in place,” said Dr Moeti.

According to UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Mohamed Malick, the long-term impact of extending the school shutdown risks ever greater harm to children, their future and their communities.

Malick added that if African governments could balance the harm being caused to children locked out of schools due to Covid-19 then the right thing would be to allow them back to classrooms.

To hasten the back-to-school initiative, WHO, UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross have issued guidance on COVID-19 prevention and control in schools that includes physical distancing measures such as staggering the beginning and end of the school day.

They have also recommended cancelling school events that create crowding, spacing desks, providing handwashing facilities, wearing masks, discouraging unnecessary touching and ensuring that sick students and teachers stay at home.

It is the guidelines Kenya’s Ministry of Education is exploring while coming up with two proposals to fast-track re-opening of schools.

The country’s education experts have suggested a phased reopening of schools which if adopted will see candidates who were scheduled to complete their primary and secondary education allowed back to class next month.

The senior students would be used as a test to evaluate the level of preparedness to contain any upsurge of the corona virus in schools before allowing other junior learners to join them three weeks later.

In the second approach, the experts are prosing to have all learners from junior classes to upper classes reopen schools on the same day after which their health issues will be continuously monitored to ensure the pandemic does not hit the schools.

These are the modalities education stakeholders in Kenya will be attempting to use as a way forward to break the dilemma of whether or not to reopen schools in the face of Covid-19 pandemic.

East Africa News

Malawi: Arsonists Raze Pry School’s Headteacher Office Over Hijab Row

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Unknown arsonists have torched the headteacher’s office in a Catholic school after he refused to allow Muslim students to attend class in hijabs.

The incident happened at Mpiri primary school in Malawi’s eastern district of Machinga.

Eastern region police publicist, Joseph Sauka, confirmed the incident, saying the building was burnt to ashes on Tuesday morning.

The population in the area is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims but most schools are owned by the Anglican and Catholic churches.

The government policy does not prescribe a school dress code, but some Christian schools have always insisted that learners at their institutions should not wear hijabs, a decision that has led to several religious clashes.

The Anglican and Catholic churches have threatened to close their schools in the area in the wake of the recent attacks.

In February, Mpiri Primary School was shut down for over four weeks after the Muslim community demanded that female learners be allowed to cover their heads at school.

Machinga District Education manager, Makina Gama, confirmed the development then but declined to divulge more details arguing that the Education Commission of the Diocese of Mangochi is better placed to do so.

Education Coordinator for Mangochi Diocese Education Commission Felix Masamba described the development as a mere suspension of classes.

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East Africa News

Ex-Uganda Army Spokesman Dies Of COVID-19

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Former Ugandan army spokesman Shaban Bantazira has died after contracting Covid-19.

The retired colonel was admitted to hospital on Sunday morning complaining of chest pain, low blood pressure, diabetes and cough.

Government Spokesman Ofwono Opondo said tests confirmed that he had contracted Covid-19.

This was confirmed by the spokesperson of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, Brig. Flavia Byekwaso.

“The UPDF family with great sadness have learnt of the passing on of the deputy Executive director of Uganda Media Centre and deputy government spokesman Rtd Col Shaban Bantariza at Mulago national referral hospital. May his soul rest in peace,” she said in a tweet.

The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) described Mr Bantazira as a loyal member of the government and party, which he served until his death.

Mr Bantariza was no stranger to controversy. Last year, he was sharply criticised by some for remarks he made at a retreat of leaders of the NRM.

He said he pitied people who think the NRM government would hand over power, adding that “we” would rather go back to the bush. He then went on to say that he had his three guns on standby in his car.

Bantariza was born in Mitooma district, in 1963. He attended St. Leo’s College, Kyegobe, in Fort Portal, Kabarole District for his O-Level studies before later joining Catholic brotherhood where he trained as an elementary school teacher.

He joined Makerere University in 1985 but later abandoned his studies and joined the National Resistance Army, led by president Yoweri Museveni. Bantariza attended guerrilla bootcamp in the Kabarore area, in foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. He also attended and graduated from the Uganda Senior Command and Staff College, having studied the senior command course offered annually at the college

Bantariza served as the UPDF spokesperson from 2000 to 2002 and from 2003 to 2006. For a period of time, prior to February 2009, Batanzira, at the rank of lieutenant colonel, served as the commander of the Oliver Tambo Leadership School, in Kaweweta, Nakaseke District, in Uganda’s Central Region.

On 26 February 2009, he was appointed commandant of the National Leadership Institute (NALI), in Kyankwanzi, Kyankwanzi District serving in that capacity until he was relieved of his duties on 7 October 2011.

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East Africa News

Parliament in Somalia endorses new PM Roble’s Cabinet

The new Cabinet formed includes eight women – four ministers, a State minister and three deputy ministers.

Bernard Akede

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The new Cabinet formed

The new Cabinet formed last Monday by Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, has been approved by the Lower House of the country’s Federal Parliament.

A list of 71 ministers, State ministers and deputy ministers was presented by the Premier to the legislators, stating that their selection was based on their integrity and capacities.

“I have selected the ministers upon closely examining their abilities to deliver services to the people,” he said in a brief speech.

All MPs present, 188 in number, voted in favour of the new Cabinet by show of hands.

The new Cabinet formed includes eight women – four ministers, a State minister and three deputy ministers. 

While delivering a speech to seek parliamentary approval of his portfolio holders and political programme, PM Roble emphasized the zeal of his government to tackle the country’s most pressing issues, particularly insecurity as well as the smooth running of the anticipated general election in 2020 and 2021.

The return of most of the deposed PM’s Cabinet members had been anticipated by many analysts.

However, in the new Cabinet formed, a number senior ministers lost positions. Among them were the holders of the Defense, Internal Security, Interior, Information and Education dockets.

The ministers of Commerce and Industry as well as Public Works did not appear in the new list.

Those who retained their positions in the cabinet include Deputy PM Mahdi Mohamed Guled alias Khadar, Foreign minister Ambassador Ahmed Issa Awad and Finance minister Dr Abdirahman Dualeh Beile.

Others are Health minister Dr Fawzia Abikar Nur and Planning minister Jamal Mohamed Hussein.

The new Cabinet comprises of 27 ministers, 27 deputy ministers and 17 state ministers.

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