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Glaring inequalities in our education system exposed

Hope Namayian, a class 5 pupil at Hillside Primary School, doing her homework online since schools are closed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

For an already fragile education system, Covid-19 pandemic posed unprecedented challenges to the government, students and parents. As a result, it exposed the numerous cracks in the system. 

As the nation begins to grapple with these challenges, a key question arises: Is the education system in Kenya designed to adapt rapidly to the changing world?

Relying exclusively on online strategies means that learners from vulnerable households are losing the little chance they have to succeed in an education system that already does not favour them.

It is nearly three months since the government announced 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, public and private, were closed, disrupting the school calendar and affecting learners. Also affected are learners with special needs. 

Given the state of affairs today, our ability to ensure continuation of learning will depend on the ability to swiftly harness available technology, provide adequate infrastructure and mobilise stakeholders to prepare alternative learning programmes. 

The Ministry of Education estimates that there are 16,528,313 learners out of school, from early childhood development education to tertiary students.

Less than 10 per cent of the learners have access to digital learning materials such computers, ipads, and laptops. Only 18 per cent have access to learning through the internet. And only 26 per cent have access to electricity in rural areas, showing glaring disparities in home learning.

The situation is worse in public schools. It is evident that rich families are better prepared to cope with the challenges posed by the crisis and sustain their children’s learning at home. All this means that when schooling restarts, disadvantaged children will find themselves even further behind their peers.

This raises a major challenge around educational inequality, given the technological landscape and income inequality. The question here is; how do we support the already marginalised learners technologically during these closures? If this is not looked into, the inequality gap in education will widen and quality compromised as Kenya has no digital curriculum, even for private school currently executing learning though the platform.

Besides missed learning opportunities, students from poor backgrounds are also not getting meals provided by World Food Programme and the government, through the School Feeding Programme initiated in 2009.

In Kenya, school choice is correlated to income level, and public schools differ from private schools in many aspects including population. This therefore means that public schools are disadvantaged compared to their counterparts and in instances 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 are limited due to lack of conducive learning environment as most of these households live in single rooms, literacy levels of the parents’ low and an inability to hire private tutors.

With exception of access to radio whose access is 58.5 per cent in rural areas verses 54.4 per cent in urban areas, access to computers, televisions, and internet is considerably lower in rural areas than urban areas. Access to these tools is just but one of the challenges that is being experienced by learners, teachers, parents and the government.

The consequential socio-economic burden will be borne disproportionately by students in public schools, while maintaining that national examination still stands leading to the scramble of digital learning albeit without proper transition for students and parents whether in public or private schools.

To manage re-opening, schools will need to be logistically prepared, the teaching workforce ready, and financing available. And they will need to have plans specifically for supporting learning recovery of the most disadvantaged students. 

Oscar Ochieng and Winnie Ogejo, Nairobi

Covid 19 Time Series


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