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Schools are Ready to Re-open Professor Magoha tells Parliamentary Committee

The Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Research, Professor George Magoha,  confirmed to the Members of National Assembly on Wednesday, that the government is ready to re-open learning institutions, after more than six months of closure. The Cabinet Secretary who was appearing before the Departmental Committee on Education and Research, reiterated the commitment of the Ministry to ensure that learners do not miss a calendar year.

“ I cannot give you a definite date, but I can assure you that it is time to reopen learning institutions, because we do not expect any much difference in  the Covid-19 trends now,” Said Magoha.

The Committee, in a session chaired by Vice Chairperson, Hon. Ngunjiri Wambugu, expressed concerns with the state of some learning institutions, citing negligence by the Institutions’ managing authorities. The CS was tasked to expound on the strategies the Ministry intends use to ascertain that learners return to schools after the long period of idleness, and are kept safe in schools.

“It is so unfortunate that these children are neither home nor in schools. Where are our children, and how will we ensure that the girl-child; who is the most vulnerable now, resumes learning after this lengthy break?” posed Hon. Jerusha Momanyi (Nyamira County).

In consensus, the Committee expressed concerns with the uncertainty in the Ministry’s previous statements on plans to resume learning, with the vice chairperson emphasizing the need for credible communication to avert anxiety among learners, teachers, and parents.

The Cabinet Secretary, who was accompanied by the Ministry’s two Principal Secretaries; Dr. Belio Kipsang and Ambassador Simon Nabukwesi , had appeared before the committee to give responses following carious concerns by Members, among them; to provide details on how much of the capitation fund was released in the Financial Year 2019/2020, and how much is pending to be released to schools. In his response, the Cabinet Secretary stated that there was an unexpended Kshs. 983,459,811.15, which was meant for co-curricular activities that were suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meeting, the Committee questioned the coercion of parents and guardians in secondary schools to pay money that’s allegedly used to pay salaries for teachers employed by the respective Boards of Management (BOMs). Prof Magoha emphasized that there are guidelines provided for BOMs to hire staff at terms commensurate with qualification and capacity to pay. Consequently, there is a policy that requires BOMs to hire staff only when they have the capacity to pay, and excludes the parents from shouldering that burden.

In response to a petition by Public Secondary Schools’ Suppliers, seeking immediate payment of outstanding debts owed to them by public secondary schools, Mr. Kipsang told the committee that all funds for use in the first term had been disbursed to schools by the Ministry, thus the Schools were at fault in failure to pay their suppliers.

“If we can get a list of all schools accused of failing to pay suppliers, we will conduct a thorough audit and deal with anyone who might have misappropriated those funds, ” he assured the Committee.

Of great concern to the House Committee, was also the Ministry’s decision to continuously supply text books to schools despite consistent concerns of an oversupply, and subsequent wastage. In their defence, PS Kipsang stated that the decision was made out of a desire to furnish every learner with their own text books, to strike an equal balance among students.

An almost similar explanation was also referenced in response to questions on the decision to have the Ministry provide desks to select learning institutions, instead of letting the schools source for the same. However, the Ministry assured the committee that carpentry services will be sourced from the local communities, in a bid to empower them.

Emuhaya MP, Hon. Omboko Milemba questioned why Technical and Vocational Education and Training trainers were transferred from the Teachers Service Commission payroll to the Public Service Commission in February/March 2020, without having in place a scheme of service for the said Trainers, who are also yet to be given transfer of service letters. The Committee heard that the transfer of service documents should be ratified and certified by Teachers Service Commission before forwarding to the Ministry in a largely manual process that has been slowed down due to the COVID-19 containment measures.