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Covid pandemic blamed for indiscipline in learning institutions

By Augustine Oduor | Dec 27th 2021 | 6 min read

Firefighters put out fire at Maranda High school dormitory on December 5, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Effects of a prolonged closure of schools in 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19 spilled over to this year disrupting the learning calendar and fanning indiscipline among students.

This is the year that parents also felt the pinch of the burden of the new curriculum, with expensive assignments and their heavy involvement in children’s homework.

The bottlenecks that have rocked the implementation of Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), teenage pregnancies, and school fires are other issues that dominated news headlines in the education sector.

Parents grappled with the cost of CBC, transition to Junior Secondary schools and preparedness, school-based examinations, and teachers' readiness for the same.

The nonmonetary deal signed by unions and the continuous professional development training for teachers were also major highlights in the sector this year. The more than 340,000 teachers were shocked when their union officials signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that essentially means they may not get any salary raise for the next four years, making this a dark year for them.

Teachers are also fighting a move by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to have them pay Sh6,000 towards an annual professional training, a decision made this year after the commission sealed a deal with four institutions. Kenyatta University, Riara University, Mount Kenya University, and the Kenya Education Management Institute (Kemi) were identified to train the teachers, an exercise that was scheduled to start in December this year.

The major spectacle, however, was the unceremonious exit of Wilson Sossion as the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) secretary-general.

Accompanied only by his family, Sossion announced he had exited KNUT to pursue other interests. He resigned just a day to the scheduled polls and Collins Oyuu was elected to replace him.

What however remains notable this year are the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the government made efforts to recover lost time, it also emerged the number of early pregnancies had gone up as well as bad mannerisms among children.

A government report released by Public Service and Gender Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia showed that most school-going boys and girls had sexual encounters because their parents did not give them attention at home.

The survey conducted by Presidential Policy and Strategy Unit revealed that during Covid 19 pandemic, at least 260,000 girls got pregnant.

The report found that at least 160,000 girls were married off during the period schools were closed.

And another 100,000 girls plunged into motherhood after they were impregnated during the nine months schools were closed. Most of the affected girls were aged between 15 and 19.

For boys, some 125,000 of them did not report back to school after reopening early this year with most of them citing lack of school fees.

“Almost all girls who got pregnant during the schools’ closure period said their pregnancies were not planned and expressed apprehension about the future of their education. Those who lacked family and social support during pregnancy faced greater social and mental challenges,” read the report.

The report showed school-going girls had sex to kill boredom at home and also as a form of leisure. In other instances, peer pressure led to sexual encounters among the schoolgirls.

Psychologists rested the blame on parents and the government, arguing that children were left on their own as the focus shifted to safety.

They argued that while some parents lost their jobs, others worked in shifts, but children remained at home with so much time and space in their hands.

And in other cases, some of the teenagers were introduced to drugs and alcohol, which emboldened them to engage in sex during the period the government closed schools to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“With the confusion, some parents were unable to monitor their children. Some children picked bad habits while others ventured into other businesses," said Susan Gitau, a counselling psychologist.

She said that during the pandemic and after schools opened, children were again left to worry on their own about national examinations and transition to the next classes, a matter that strained them mentally.

Experts also said as the Covid-19 pandemic continued, government officials and parents were too preoccupied with the safety of the children, ignoring learners’ mental health.

“There was never a clear communication from the Ministry of Education to the children informing them on what would happen in the face of the pandemic. All they were told was examinations will be done,” said Gitau.

The Ministry of Education was also put on the spot for failing to tame the growing anxiety and panic among candidates.

Gitau said the issue of mental health of the learners and psycho-social support was not properly addressed, a gap she termed a basic aspect of children's growth that was ignored.

When schools partially opened late last year, counseling and integration of children to school was not done.

Sheila Wachira, also a counseling psychologist, said some children had lost their parents or relatives. While others were dejected after Covid 19 robbed their parents and guardians of their sources of income.

Ms Wachira said trauma counseling among children was necessary as some already felt disadvantaged by the inequalities.

“Failing to consider children’s psycho-education was a major flaw,” she said.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Association chairman Kahi Indimuli admitted to poor communicating with the candidates.

“It is true we spent more energy ensuring children were safe at home. But there was no deliberate effort to communicate messages of hope, from school and at the ministry level, to them,” said Indimuli.

These oversights coupled with bad habits picked up during the prolonged closure of schools, brought out the indiscipline that hurt this year’s school calendar.

And when schools opened in January this year, teachers laid bare their fears in a study by TSC which exposed their concerns when all the 15 million children resumed under the revised academic year.

Syllabus coverage and congested school calendar ranked top. They said the packed school calendar could lead to hurried coverage of the syllabus, a concern they said may affect quality teaching and learning.

“Teachers said that as schools reopen, more work will be on their hands including syllabus coverage, containing Covid-19 spread, managing children, and running schools,” the report said.

Some education stakeholders say with so much on their hands, teachers focused on completing schoolwork, putting aside discipline.

“You can see the government even forgot to slot in the mid-term break during second school term and never made an effort to open up games to free up children’s minds,” said a high school teacher.

Schools opened on October 11 and closed on December 23.

As a result, the teacher said students went on a school burning spree as teachers’ sole obligation was syllabus coverage.

“The government was keen to ensure the syllabus is covered to ready students for exams and eventual transition. This created many oversights that led to indiscipline in schools,” said the teacher.

Mr Indimuli said the second term is often a busy learning period as most teachers work to cover the syllabus.

He said efforts by teachers to cover learning areas must have also put pressure on children.

Indimuli said failure to resume school games and other activities closed avenues for children to ventilate, putting pressure on learners.

The government eventually caved in and slotted mid-term break and also opened up space for school games and other activities.

But even as efforts to quell the fires and growing indiscipline in schools were made, the year exposed the government’s weaknesses of failing to implement reports by task forces.

It emerged that of the 68 solutions presented by the Special Investigations Report chaired by Claire Omollo, only a few had been implemented.

In the report, the team outlined several causes of school fires from the perspective of students, teachers, principals, and even members of the school community complete with suggested solutions.

However, just like other past recommendations, these too gathered dust on government shelves.

In their report, Omollo team found out that only a few of the recommendations proposed by the various government reports had been implemented.

The Naomi Wangai report (2001) and the David Koech report (2008) both proposed that activities that build tension among students be banned.

The Omollo report found that of the 168 recommendations in the Wangai report, only 65 were fully implemented. Some 67 were partially implemented, 33 were not implemented. Three were under implementation.

In the Koech report, of the 122 recommendations, only 30 were fully implemented, 45 partially implemented, 38 not implemented and 9 were under implementation.

And it also emerged that the recommendations on The Safety Standards Manual for Schools prepared in 2008 were largely ignored.

Covid 19 Time Series


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