Last week Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced that schools would remain closed for yet another month due to the coronavirus crisis. This means children will have been home for close to four months.
There have been mixed reactions to this news. On one hand, you have the studious children who are worried that this period will blight their stellar academic records and ruin their chances of future success. On the other hand, you have the slackers who are happy to stay home, spend unlimited time on their phones while consuming copious amounts of junk food. Somewhere in this array of children, you have exasperated parents who are slowly losing it as a result of this extended period with their children.
Let us be clear, most Kenyan parents love children and especially their own. In recent days, it seems young Kenyans have dropped the minimalist family idea and so have been making three to four babies. They are happy to make more babies because they have figured out a way to manage the ‘tough’ side of parenting. They make sure they hire only the best nannies and ‘aunties’- those who can do everything from changing diapers to teaching calculus.
These members of staff are rewarded handsomely and even go on family holidays either here or abroad. Kenyan parents in the past have been adept at escaping the painful side of parenting. They work long hours in the office so that by the time they get home their juniors are fed, cleaned and of course homework is done. Others spend long hours in bars and social joints and others are forever flying somewhere - all in a bid to escape.
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These parents now find themselves at home 24-7 with their children and they do not like it. They now have full responsibility for their children’s education thanks to this thing called home schooling. Home schooling presupposes that the parent will take on the role of a teacher and impart knowledge in a structured manner.
Most parents are realising that their brains have become a bit rusty and so are incapable of retrieving simple facts like how many books are in the Bible; who was Kenya’s first president; or the difference between a simple and quadratic equation. Others are realising they have been very wrong in blaming teachers and curriculum changes for their children’s poor performance. They are now coming to the painful realisation that their children are not really that gifted or that smart and they are not destined for a path of academic excellence.
Home schooling has also presented some serious financial and logistical challenges for the parents. Once again, it assumes that households have access to stable Wi-Fi and multiple tablets or laptops. Now we all know that this is not the case, because most households operate on at worst no gadget and at best a single gadget and data bundles.
Parents with more than one child are having to make serious resource allocation decisions about which child gets what resource and which one gets what time. They have to do this in a manner that ensures that their children do not grow up to be adults who claim that their inability to maintain relationships is because they were denied a fair chance at Wi-Fi during the home schooling days.
Parents to teenagers are having to deal with rebellion, because some teens do not want to comply with teachers’ demands that they must show their faces during virtual learning sessions. These teens feel that showing their faces on video calls is lame, yet they are able to spend hours on end ‘face-timing’ their passé of friends. Parents are also expected to juggle all this with a world of demands since employers still want their fair pound of flesh during these work from home conditions.
When the children are not studying, they are inhaling food- there is no other way to describe their food consumption. Children eat less when school is on, but now that they are home any time is eating time. Today’s children have delicate palates, so they prefer fries and pizza to githeri and ugali.
They do not consider ngwaci and ndumas to be worthy snacks- they would rather indulge in tons of crisps and biscuits. Parents who are already having it tough financially are wondering how to take care of the bare essentials and still feed their army of ravenous folks. As if this were not bad enough, parents are being forced to deal with ridiculous demands from the schools.
Most parents have been operating on the assumption that since they have taken much of the ‘teaching’ work, the schools will respond by giving them some waiver when it comes to fees. Others have been hoping that these schools will appreciate the tough economic times and give some reasonable concessions. Alas! That has not been the case, with schools still sending hefty fees demand notes.
This has left some parents heading to court to state their case - all because of home schooling. Many parents are praying for return to schools because they might soon lose their minds and do something terrible to themselves, their children or to boards and management. Something has to give soon.