The Ministry of Education has come under stinging criticism for how it has responded to the coronavirus pandemic. While it was right in closing down schools in March when the virus was first reported in Kenya, subsequent handling of the docket amid the crisis has been brought to question.
And in an unprecedented move, an international newspaper has ridiculed Kenya for cancelling the entire academic calendar for the year 2020. With confessions from none other than Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha foreshadowing that schools may not reopen in the New Year, the future of Kenyan school children is in jeopardy. While the pandemic has disrupted all aspects of life, it should not be doom and gloom for the education sector.
Something must be done to save Kenya from this ridicule. For a country of many firsts and among the most notable in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya should be an example to others in the region and not what it currently espouses, as having no solution to challenges.
Covid-19 is a global problem and each country is trying to figure how to wriggle through it. It, however, seems Kenya has adopted a wait-and-see approach which is simply working against the future and with it many lives.
Psychologists have raised concerns that the lost school year and talk that it could be longer than initially thought, may bring forth irreversible damage in the mental health of Kenyan children.
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More worrying is the reality that there is no assurance from either the ministry or the Government. This is giving Kenyans sleepless nights; they are like sailors at sea, in the middle of a storm, no shore in sight and with a belligerent captain. Amid this pandemic, Kenyans need hope – an assurance that things will be better.
It has been four months since suspension of all learning activities in the country. The Ministry should have used this period to work on a phased reopening of schools. Instead, it kept flip-flopping on solutions that were not well thought out. For instance, at the beginning, Magoha said that there was online learning taking place. This was debunked with revelations that less than half of Kenyan students can afford such ‘luxury’.
With time, the ministry bandied around learning through TV and radio, which has also failed to work convincingly. Due to this clear lack of strategy, international media are now calling out Kenya’s bluff and ridiculing what could only be used as a perfect example of spectacular failure.
The big question in the minds of Kenyans now is whether adding another year, two or three with learners at home will change anything. The answer, most probably, is no. Then why is Kenya buying time? Mass class repetitions coupled with more children seeking to start formal education may just create another bigger headache.
This is the time the Government listens to different experts on how to solve the slowly growing pandemic that will definitely have untold ramifications. Solutions like staggering classes, improving online learning and the use of mainstream media could be among some of the ways in which we could overcome this bend on the road. Still, there must be a solution that will benefit all learners regardless of social standing.
The Government should retrace its steps into some of the plans it has had and aborted that could have helped solve some of these current problems. If, for example, the laptop project took off, would the situation have been different? If we invested more in school infrastructure, would we have been crying about lack of enough space?
The coronavirus pandemic has offered an opportunity to realise some of the follies and missteps made in the education sector and should push policy-makers and political players into real action. Time has come for a deliberate radical shift from the hardline and sometimes obnoxious stand with which public officers approach issues. It is time to bring everybody to the table, talk and listen to each other as opposed to brinkmanship and roadside declarations. This is the time to save Kenya from becoming a laughing stock.