Since the first case of the novel coronavirus was announced in Kenya, many aspects of society and the education sector have been dramatically affected.
On March 15 2020, the Kenyan government closed all learning institutions countrywide to contain the spread of the virus.
As the numbers of those infected by coronavirus rose to over 8,000, the ministry of education announced on July 7 that, the 2020 school calendar year will be considered lost due to Covid19-restrictions.
This announcement has repercussions for over 17 million students across the country whose learning has been thrown into limbo threatening the loss of education gains and the implementation of a new competency-based curriculum.
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It is more five months since the government announced the closure of schools as a measure to contain the spread of Covid-19. As a result of the decision, a total of 91,591 learning institutions both public and private were closed, disrupting the school calendar and affecting the learners.
Also impacted were learners with special needs.
Given the challenges presented by the coronavirus and the likely impact of future pandemics our ability to ensure the continuation of learning will depend on the ability to swiftly harness available technology, provide adequate infrastructure and mobilize stakeholders to prepare alternative learning programmes.
The education sector worldwide has greatly been impacted negatively by the coronavirus crisis, the republic of Kenya included. This is because teaching and learning activities in all learning institutions have severely been disrupted.
The worst-hit learners are the primary and secondary school candidates who should sit for their national examinations at the end of 2020.
The Ministry of Education estimates that there are 16,528,313 learners out of school, from early childhood development education to tertiary students.
With less than 10 per cent of learners having access to digital learning materials such as computers, iPads, and laptops, while only 18 per cent have access to learning through the internet and 26 per cent have access to electricity in rural areas, this shows glaring disparities in home learning.
The situation is far worse when it comes to public schools indeed Covid-19 has disrupted the education sector landscape limiting students’ ability to access learning across the country. In Kenya, school choice is correlated to income level, and public schools differ from private schools in many aspects including the kinds of students that attend them, teacher to student ratios, infrastructure, and funding.
The overall effect of these differences means that public schools students are disadvantaged compared to their counterparts.
Indeed, even where remote learning opportunities are available, uptake will be low from students in public schools as a result of poor infrastructure.
Opportunities to learn at home for these students are also limited due to lack of conducive learning environment as many come from households that live in single rooms, and in which there are limited literacy and capacity to hire private tutors.
Moreover, while the school closures are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, the vast majority of students will lose momentum and direction as schools are employing a reactive approach to learning. This approach relies heavily on the role of parents, but there was no proper transition from teachers to parents to enable them to shoulder the burden.
The pandemic will also exacerbate spatial inequalities, except access to the radio which penetrates rural areas more effectively than urban ones, access to computers, televisions, and the internet is considerably lower in rural contexts.
These existing divides will be further entrenched if rural learners fall behind their urban counterparts, negatively impacting on their future earning potential.
Despite government efforts, then, the school closures are deepening educational inequality. Rich families are better prepared to cope with the challenges posed by the crisis and sustain their children’s learning at home. They have access to the Internet and can afford to pay for virtual tutors.
All this means that when schooling restarts, disadvantaged children will find themselves even further behind their peers. For students with learning disabilities, and those living in remote areas, the situation is bleak.
Besides missed learning opportunities, students from poor backgrounds are also losing access to the meals that are made available by World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government of Kenya through The School Feeding Program that was initiated in 2009.
It is estimated that in 2018 the government provided access to daily meals to 1.5 million children in 4,000 public schools across the country all of whom are currently deprived of this service.
Learners’ learning outcomes are likely to be affected. Unplanned Institutional closures negatively affect learners’ learning outcomes. Being in School provides vital learning and when institutions abruptly close, learners and youths are dispossessed chances for growth and development.
The drawbacks are disproportionate for economically poor learners who tend to have less educational chances outside school. When institutions close, parents are frequently asked to enable the learning of their leaners at home and often struggle to accomplish this duty. This is particularly true for parents with limited resources and knowledge.
Co-curricular activities scheduled for the first term in the Kenyan school calendar like drama, athletics and ball games were interrupted mid-way and stopped as schools were closed abruptly and indefinitely. Play is crucial in as far as learning is concerned.
One scholar submits that it is only through play that the intellect of humanity is uncovered. Through play learners can explore, create, experiment, adapt, learn, communicate, socialize, and learn problem-solving techniques.
Further play permits learners to build and expand their skills and knowledge in the process of interaction with others, environment, and own on their own.
The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare how education in Kenya could evolve and the urgent need to accelerate the Kenyan government’s digital learning program renamed “digischool’’.
-Dr. Domeniter Kathula is an education specialist with the Management University of Africa, [email protected]