When the first reported case of COVID-19 in Kenya occurred on 13th March 2020, the government acted quickly to impose restrictions on movement with a night-time curfew and a ban on travel in or out of Nairobi and Mombasa. They immediately closed schools which meant that students returned home later that week. They have been studying at home since then and will do so until the end of the year.
The Kenyan school year runs from January to November, with final KCSE secondary school exams having been due from 2nd November 2020. The news from the Ministry of Education is that schools will now remain closed.
Children will return and re-start their schooling in January 2021. There will be no leaving exams for primary or secondary school pupils in 2020. They will return in their current school year and the school year will start again. This is quite a dramatic decision, yet in the past children in Kenya have often had to miss or re-sit a school year when school fees were a problem. It’s what our scholarships were preventing.
This has huge consequences for all families, with children (many of whom would have been at boarding school) spending around nine extra months at home this year. For many in the slums and rural villages, home study is extremely difficult as families simply don’t have a laptop or PC, or easy access to the internet. So while materials are available to download, many can’t afford to access them. This has prompted us to re-focus our efforts to provide downloaded materials and revision books for our sponsored students. But its far from ideal.
The outbreak also meant that we had to cancel plans we had made to run local workshops for the students we sponsor. They had been due to attend a one-day workshop in April that were taking place in three locations across the country.
With schools closed, we are exploring whether we might run these workshops later in the year. This may be possible. The Cabinet Secretary has confirmed that out-of-school tuition is permitted provided that organisations follow COVID-19 guidelines.
The number of cases in Kenya remain low compared to other parts of the world. They have just passed 10,000 cases and have reported less than 200 COVID-related deaths. However, these numbers are rising. So we will continue to monitor this trend closely, so we can assess whether it becomes safe to run workshops.
The government have also clarified the situation regarding school fees. They have confirmed that schools should either refund the school fees paid for this academic year or agree to put it towards next years fees. As children did attend school until March, we have to wait to see if this applies to the whole years fee’s, or just Term Two and Three which were missed. It is likely that we will have to cover the Term One fees for 2021, with Term two and Three being carried forward. This will still be an extra Term’s fees, which we had not bargained on paying.
One of the consequences of having children at home for such a long period of time, has been the rise in pregnancies, drug taking etc with young people having lots of time to fill. Young girls are highly vulnerable to older predatory men. Initial figures suggest that there have been up to 150,000 teenage pregnancies during the three months of lockdown so far. These may all be girls unable to return to school to finish their education. We’re clearly keen to stay in contact with all the students we support to ensure that they remain safe.
One way is to explore whether we might re-open our cycling club to provide a healthy activity for young boys and girls while out of school. Local COVID guidelines allow for gatherings of up to 100 people (say at church) so we may be able to permit small groups of children to return to the cycling club – to maintain the bikes, improve their bike skills and go out on rides. However whilst schools remain closed, this may not be possible for a while yet.
We are working closely with our local contacts, including school Heads, to keep our sponsored students safe and help them complete their education.