Schools in Kenya reopened Monday after being closed since March due to the coronavirus. But Kenya has yet to contain the pandemic and there are concerns among teachers and parents about being exposed to the infection.
Kenya shut schools in mid-March as a measure to contain the virus, which has killed nearly 1,700 people in the country, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus dashboard.
Ken Ouko, 47, a father of four, says he worries that students will not follow safety protocols when they return to school and will bring the virus home.
“There will be some degree of protection but kids are still going to interact," he said. "What we noticed in a normal school day is that these kids don’t even wash their hands, even when they have been told to wash their hands, but they still touch each other. They will be playing football together; they will be riding bikes together. When they are in the buses, they are playing games. It’s not very easy to control them in my opinion.”
Visiting one of the schools in Nairobi, Education Minister George Magoha said parents should try to remain positive as schools reopen so children can resume their lessons.
“When you look at the body and spirit of a teacher, the body and spirit of the children, do they require encouragement or discouragement? Let us encourage them; that's all I can say for now. We may not be perfect, there are many children here. If water becomes a problem, we are on standby to ensure that they have water, so they are able to wash their hands when they come out,” he said.
Teachers say it will be difficult to maintain physical distance, as most schools do not have enough classrooms to spread out the students.
Omu Anzala, a virology and immunology professor at the University of Nairobi, acknowledges that social distancing may be a tall order for a lot schools, both public and private.
He says schools can follow other health protocols to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“We want to really enforce that all kids are taught how to wear a mask and then sanitation. They have to be taught how to wear a mask and then they should wear a mask consistently when they are in class, when they are in playground, wherever they are going to be in school. They should be able to have facilities where they can be able to sanitize,” he said.
In all, 16 million Kenyan schoolchildren returned to school on Monday.