Remote learning exposes country's digital divide

The majority of the learners did not participate in virtual classes. [Courtesy]

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed Kenya’s unpreparedness for virtual and remote learning due to the unavailability of electronic learning infrastructure. A report, Impacts of Covid-19 on Adolescents in Kenya, indicates that despite the government’s push to integrate technology in education, Kenya still lags behind in the digital divide.

The report focused on the impacts of the pandemic on adolescents in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kilifi and Wajir counties, where students between ages 15 and 19 explained their emote learning experiences.

Although the education system was unprepared for the massive changes in learning models, a few months into the pandemic, many learning institutions adapted and leveraged remote and online learning options through the internet, television and radio.

Virtual classes

Majority of the learners interviewed reported not to have participated in the virtual classes and instead resorted to reading any materials available at home.

“Only one per cent of learners had access to computers during the pandemic, highlighting the significant digital divide in education in the country,” read the report.

Although some teachers relied on mobile phones to send assignments to students and receive answers as text, the medium was very limited. Less than a third of students were able to use mobile phones for learning. Some schools and teachers in marginalised areas were completely unable to offer any virtual or digital lessons. This was evident in Wajir County, where the learners were left to study on their own without any interaction with teachers.

In Nairobi, only 32 per cent of adolescents had access to mobile phones. In Kisumu, there was only 25 per cent, while Kilifi and Wajir recorded the lowest number of learners who had access to materials from schools through phones at 12 and 2 per cent respectively.

Lack of internet penetration and electricity worsened the plight of learners in rural areas. [Courtesy]

Lack of internet penetration and electricity worsened the plight of learners in rural areas, who attempted to access lessons through radio and television, while others completely ran out of digital options.

“When schools were closed, we were supposed to study through the radio, but we don’t have one,” said a 17-year-old boy from Makueni.

About 53 per cent of the learners in the four counties reported not participating in virtual lessons due to lack of electricity, while 40 per cent stated that lack of data bundles hindered them from accessing lessons through smartphones and other devices.

“Lower-income households were more affected since they rely more on accessing the internet through the more expensive data bundles, while higher-income households use Wi-Fi services, which are cheaper than mobile data bundles,” reads the report.

The report, however, indicates that initiatives by the government to address the digital divide through DigiTruck Initiative will enable rural youth to obtain digital skills.

The DigiTruck is a solar-powered mobile classroom equipped with internet and smart devices and offers training through a 20 to 40-hour course on the use of computers and smartphones to enable young people to study and find jobs online.

Remote learning

To date, the initiative has trained more than 1,500 youth in 13 locations in eight counties.

Overall, the findings demonstrated that most learners were not able to fully engage in remote learning due to a range of reasons, including lack of access to digital devices and internet connectivity, competing for demands on their time, and the lack of a conducive environment to study.

Girls relied on devices lent to them by friends or parents to attend online classes. [Courtesy]

At the same time, the report displayed gender disparity in remote learning where girls majorly bore the impact of the challenges faced in remote learning raging from the availability of learning devices to disruptions subjected to learners.

While boys reported having owned mobile phones, girls relied on devices lent to them by friends or parents to attend online classes.

In some cases, mobile phones were used together with other siblings, parents, or guardians. Some reported having had limited access to phones as parents were concerned they would use them to communicate with the opposite gender.

In Kisumu, 72 per cent of the girls who participated in the study said they resorted to reading books irrelevant to schoolwork while their male colleagues were using mobile phones and computers to study and do assignments.

The statistics were however different in Nairobi where more girls reported using mobile phones to access online learning materials.