Mwea, Kenya, Sep 10 (efe-epa).- The blackboards at Roka Prep School in central Kenya, where classes have been suspended since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, still have unfinished English exercises scribbled in chalk. But today there are no pupils, desks or chairs — just dozens of clucking chickens.
This private primary school in Mwea, a village around 100 kilometers north of Nairobi, like others in the region and around the country, has converted its classrooms into hatcheries and its playground into a vegetable garden, where two teachers have traded in their chalk and textbooks to grow “sukuma,” a type of kale, a spinach.
The academic year in Kenya was written off due to the coronavirus, and private institutions like this one, deprived of their turnover from school fees, have started looking for alternative sources of revenue.
“I was not shocked; I was expecting it,” James K. Kung’u, head of Roka Prep School, tells Efe inside an empty classroom.
Observing the spread of the disease in Asia, Europe and America, he “was expecting it”.
“I could see it coming but it came faster than anyone could have expected,” Kung’u says, adding that he thought it wrong that the schools were forced to shut “prematurely” on March 15, before the semester was over.
HALF A YEAR WITHOUT CHILDREN
“Every morning I wake up early, I go to school — there are supposed to be children there, but they are not there,” says the 70-year-old headmaster, who founded his own school after 40 years dedicated to teaching. “I feel bitter.”
At first it was just a temporary measure, a 30-day closure that was extended indefinitely until the minister for Education, George Magoha, in July finally said “the 2020 school calendar year will be considered lost due to Covid-19 restrictions,” a decision without parallel anywhere in the world that has badly affected some 18 million Kenyan students, as well as their teachers.
“We were left jobless, we were left with nothing we could do,” Kung’u says.
The headmaster took matters into his own hands, and moved to convert the school into something more productive amid the coronavirus shutdown.
“When he came back with this idea early May, we were reluctant and we kept asking him: where will our learners play?,” says Moses Wandera, a young teacher who now spends his days watering and harvesting.
Now, in the “play corner” inside a kindergarten class, pre-school children have been replaced with baby chicks that are barely one month old.
As they grow, they will be moved into other rooms until they reach the final class, which instead of primary pupils preparing to make the scary leap to secondary school is now occupied with roosters and chickens that will soon go to market to be sold.
Barely one kilometer away, another private school is following in Roka prep’s footsteps, although with more ambition.
“Welcome to Mwea Brethren former school!”, director Joseph Maina greets visitors. “Now it is a chicken farm!” he says excitedly, while over the phone he completes an order of 4,000 chicks that will be added to the thousand he already has since he started the poultry venture back in June.
On the blackboard at this school, there is no trace of Swahili conjugations or maths tables. They have been replaced with vaccination calendars and feeding charts.
“Will the school reopen?” Maina takes a moment to consider his answer. “It depends,” he says, “on the (coronavirus) measures and the support we get from the government.”
OVERCROWDED PUBLIC SCHOOLS
There are nearly 90,000 educational institutions in Kenya, ranging from kindergarten to secondary school, a third of which are private.