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Rushed school calendar will hurt learners down the road

EDUCATION
By Emmanuel Manyasa | December 5th 2020

From the outset, it should be clear that I support the phased opening of schools. I also understand the difficulty faced by the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders to come up with a feasible school calendar in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The proposed calendar is an attempt at navigating a complex web of factors to redeem lost time. While this is a desirable notion, it is wrongly premised and may not be worth the trouble.

Instead, it is possible to come up with a different calendar that focuses on learning rather than progressing learners through the education system. But before I come to that, let me share my fears which I believe are harboured by many others.

While the proposed calendar might be made to work, its overall cost in terms of the strain and stress imposed on the main actors will outweigh the value of the time it seeks to redeem. Rushing the children through school only to prematurely dump them into an overcrowded labour market after dismal performance in their exams, will spell doom for many.

The proposed calendar also makes tenuous assumptions about the behaviour of some key actors. Here are a few:

First, parents, most of whom struggle to raise fees for three, well-spaced terms and are now in the midst of a pandemic-driven financial crisis, will be able to raise fees for four congested terms in a year.

Second, teachers, most of whom struggle to cover the syllabus over three, 14-week terms, and are facing heavier burdens as their vulnerable colleagues remain at home, will be able to cover the syllabus in four, 10-week terms.

Third, students who struggle to cope with the volume of work, resulting in approximately 70 per cent of them scoring D+ and below in the KCSE exams, will cope with the pressure cooker conditions and excel.

Limping economy

Fourth, the National Treasury, which regularly struggles to remit capitation funds to schools on time, and is now battling the Covid-19 health crisis amid a limping economy, will budget for four terms in one financial year and remit the funds on time.

Finally, schools, some with only one teacher for certain subjects, and at risk of these same tutors and school heads falling in the group considered vulnerable to Covid-19, will surmount all challenges and ensure the safety of their learners.

The consequences of some or all of these assumptions not holding true are serious. It might mean that both teachers and learners burn out and simply attend school to tick a box. This may compromise the quality of education, worsen inequities and undermine the achievement of stated national goals.

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The worst-case scenario, which I hope does not arise, but which good planning requires that we anticipate, is if financing challenges combine with medically induced teacher absenteeism, especially in smaller schools that educate most of their children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Even if all the assumptions hold, risks abound owing to the high pressure conditions that this calendar implies. Young children who are only getting introduced to formal education might end up hating school.

Parents of children at the critical teenage stage might miss the opportunity to guide their children when it matters most. A large number attend boarding schools and will be away most of the time.

But the most unlucky will be those children who are not academically talented, but use the school system to develop and showcase their sporting and artistic talents around which they can build future careers. Schooling won’t be of much value to them with such activities removed from the calendar. My question therefore is, are the six months we seek to redeem worth all the risks?

It’s not all doom and gloom though. We can have a friendlier calendar if we accept to lose six months and proceed as follows: let the learners who are in school stay home between January and April 2021. Bring those who are out of school to finish their second term in April. Let all learners return to school and complete the year in July. The next school year then starts in September.

This will give the candidates ample time to prepare for exams given that some have had intermittent learning during the ongoing term due to Covid-19 cases in their schools. It will also enable the Education ministry and Teachers Service Commission to continue training teachers for the next levels of the competency based curriculum over the holidays.

- Dr Manyasa is the Executive Director, Usawa Agenda

Covid 19 Time Series

 

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