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Are We Ready to Have Our Learners Back in School?

Are we ready to have our learners back in school? Following a directive from the national government, schools are scheduled to reopen this week after the interruption of the academic calendar, owing to torrential rains that have bettered the country in the past 6 weeks leading to massive floods, destruction of property, infrastructure, and loss of lives. This informed the postponement of the opening of schools indefinitely, a week ago.

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However, the question we need to be asking is if the learning institutions are ready to accommodate the learners, and have mitigation factors been put in place to help in the prevailing effects of floods i.e. waterborne diseases, damaged infrastructure, and relocation of IDPs who were initially hosted in schools as a result of the floods. According to the Ministry of Interior, more than 200 people have been killed, 125 have been injured, and 90 people have been reported missing with dozens believed to be lost under the debris, with more than 11,000 people displaced.

The floods have dealt a critical blow to the country’s already struggling healthcare system, slowed by the doctors’ 56-day strike, and also characterized by inadequate resources for the prompt mobilization of medical personnel and resources to the flood-hit areas. As a result, emergency responders must work to increase disease surveillance and collaborate with hospitals to respond to potential outbreaks in schools and institutions of learning.

Several associated health hazards should be critically monitored as the schools open to mitigate a potential crisis. Outbreaks of waterborne diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, malaria, dengue, and hepatitis A are common. The primary reason is the inadequate availability of purified water and improper sewage systems during floods. This potentially has a higher risk effect on schools with pit latrines. Increased physical exposure to polluted water is more likely to develop communicable diseases like tuberculosis, further compounding the humanitarian crisis.

So far about 34 cases of cholera have been reported along the Tana River and there are fears this number could rise as children resume school. The assessment by the Ministry of education also indicated that over 20,000 toilet blocks are either sunken or severely damaged by raging floodwaters, posing serious health risks to over 1.5 million schoolchildren across the country.

 The children’s mental well-being is of utmost importance as the school resumes, therefore, educators need to monitor the learners closely to identify those affected. The psycho-social well-being has been acutely affected by the loss of family, friends, play areas, and familiar environments and increased risk of child labor, teenage pregnancies, and early marriages.

The rains have been amplified by the El Nino weather pattern — a naturally occurring climate phenomenon typically associated with increased heat worldwide, leading to drought in some parts of the world and heavy downpours elsewhere.

Pupils in a flooded classroom in Kilifi County

Recent analysis by Save the Children found that around one-in-two in of school children and adolescents live at the forefront of the climate crisis. The calculations from last month found that 62 million children and adolescents in 27 countries have had their education disrupted by climate shocks since 2020, resulting in significant long-term impact on learning, both from school closures and from increased heatwaves.

At COP28, Save the Children, the Green Climate Fund, and the Global Partnership for Education launched the world’s largest investment for green schools to address the growing threat of climate events on education. Therefore, the Kenyan government needs to work closely with the communities, the private sector, and stakeholders to localize the mitigation actions as the schools reopen, to help avert the potential crisis exacerbated by the floods.   

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