Coronavirus: Kenya reopens schools after nine months

The closure was imposed after the country reported its first case of coronavirus.

Coronavirus: Kenya reopens schools after nine months

Millions of mask-wearing pupils in Kenya have returned to school nine months after they were closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The learners' temperatures were checked and they were required to use sanitiser before entering classrooms.

There was excitement in most schools as the pupils were reunited, the BBC's Ferdinand Omondi reports from Nairobi.

The authorities say efforts have been made to ensure that pupils and teachers will be safe.

But Kenya's National Union of Teachers' Secretary General Wilson Sossion told the BBC's Newsday programme that the return to school plan was "inadequate".

He said the government had not released funds to schools to buy thermometers, sanitisers and other items required to implement the health protocols.

Education Minister George Magoha has especially been criticised for suggesting that schools should consider learning under trees as a way of avoiding overcrowding in classes.

Some said the minister was expressing a cavalier attitude towards public schools which, compared to private ones, often have fewer resources to cater for their huge pupil population.

Kenya has reported almost 97,000 cases of Covid-19 and more than 1,600 deaths since the start of the outbreak in March last year.

Over the weekend President Uhuru Kenyatta extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew until March to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The BBC's Focus on Africa programme has been speaking to a teacher and student about their experiences after their first day in school.

Student Nina Kemunto, 13:

I was really happy and excited to see my friends.

It was fun but we had to social distance and I couldn't really hug my friends or interact with them like normal.

The teachers kept reminding us to keep our masks on and social distance so it wasn't difficult to remember to do so.

Our tables were spaced and we had stickers on the floor.

I prefer school to learning from home because I can focus more and it's easier for me to learn because I couldn't really understand what the teacher was saying during online learning - I found it hard to concentrate.

Music teacher Grace Nangabo:

It was a bit strange, both the students and I were in masks and there would be a lag in communication because they were not speaking up loud enough to be heard over the mask.

There is also the aspect of social distancing which affects things that we would normally do like group work.

If we were to do something like singing we probably would have to consider doing that outside to ensure they are not in an enclosed space.

They also have to remember to keep their distance and to sanitise - it's definitely a big adjustment.

But this is a private school so the numbers are not as big and we are doing our best to ensure physical distance is kept, there's even markings on the floor so that we put desks in certain places.

Maybe for public schools they should have considered a phased reintroduction into the physical classroom because it's quite tasking, even though the teachers there are well trained and versed in ways of reminding the children put their masks on and other measures.

A day of excitement and chaos

By Ferdinand Omondi, BBC News, Nairobi

A sudden cheerful yelp here. Somebody's name screamed out there. And uniforms everywhere.

It was the kind of buzz which Kenyans had missed for more than nine months.

Schools reopened countrywide, and for the first time arguably, the students themselves were looking forward to leaving home.

At Ayany primary school in Kibera, in the capital, Nairobi, the headteacher, Jackson Ndambuki, said 1,400 out of 1,500 registered students reported back.

Nearly all of them wore masks as ordered. Those that did not had government-issued masks provided to them.

There were temperature checks from the gate, lots of handwashing at designated washing areas, and sanitiser in each class.

But not so much for social distancing.

The young children kept hugging, touching and staying barely two feet from each other despite the incessant pleading and reminder by one of their teachers.

It was a day of excitement and chaos. When they finally settle down, the next big challenge would be for cash-strapped parents to pay school fees.