COVID-19 has posed a serious threat to our health, security and lives. Education in schools and universities has also faced unprecedented challenges. Students, parents and educators are feeling the extraordinary ripple effect of the novel coronavirus as schools remain shut.
While governments and health officials are doing their best to slow down the outbreak, global education systems are collaborating to provide quality education for all. One of the greatest concerns parents and learners have is the issue of ‘lost year’ and the need to continue learning amid the pandemic. From a statement made by Education CS Prof George Magoha that the 2020 school calendar year will be considered lost due to COVID-19 restrictions and no primary and secondary school examinations will be held for the year 2020. With the initial plans of schools reopening in September for candidates in primary and secondary school to take their national exams being shelved due to the mounting infection rate, there is a concern of what next.
There is a great assumption by parents, teachers and learners that ‘lost year’ means the repetition of learners, however the general English meaning of the word repetition is doing, saying, or writing something again or doing once more, another time, anew in the case of education or learning the word implies going back to the class the learner had previously attended and redoing the content in that class, grade or form which they had learnt previously.
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However, this may not be the case. Learners had not completed or covered the entire year syllabus of the class they were.
Reopening schools in January 2021, teachers and learners will resume teaching and learning from where learning had reached in 2020. By the time schools were closed in mid-March 2020, most schools had only completed first term work and exams were not done. Thus, only a third of the year’s content was covered. Hence, stakeholders need to settle on one of the two alternative: One whether the Ministry of Education will require learning to resume from where learners had reached prior closing of schools which means revision and first term assessment done in January and this could lead to considerations on whether to change the school year calendar to start in September in line with other countries; or Two whether MOE will require learning to start afresh from January content, which will entail retaining the normal school year calendar from January to November.
Retaining the normal calendar has economic implications on parents since they may have to pay school fees for first term again for learners. As we analyse the prevailing conditions of Covid-19 there is need for education stakeholders’ consensus on school calendar changes and whichever option agreed upon by education stakeholders, other decisions need to be made such as the continuation of learning during the period of school closure and the role of teachers during this time. Resuming learning in January entail a short period of revision then assessment of first term work are conducted. This means learning must be sustained using one form or the other.
The immediate challenge thus is to educate children where they are, within the infrastructure and setting they are in. In addition to the teachers’ competencies on online or remote teaching and their role in ensuring their learners are learning and provided with the gadgets (laptops and tablets) required.
It will be remembered that government appropriated over Sh53 billion for procurement and purchase of laptops in all primary schools. Maybe this would have been the best time to put into utilisation that project but as it stands the project was never properly managed and therefore it failed. Government also tried to push strongly for electricity to be supplied to all schools. This was done but still a good percentage of institutions were never reached. The President further made an announcement over the bloom technology that would help supply internet to as many remote areas as possible. It is not clear if the internet has reached the expected areas.
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Teachers need competencies in at least the following areas; live streaming, pre-recorded teaching sessions, facilitating discussions in a digital platform and providing assessment and receiving feedback. More background preparation still needs to be done to get all teachers, students and infrastructure ready for lessons to transition into online learning.
Still, in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, we are experiencing additional and changing roles of teachers from being a knowledge giver or facilitator as assumed by the majority to playing other roles such as measuring temperature, constant checking the progress of their learners.
To manage the new roles; the change has to begin from training to staffing to job description to the teachers input and finally to their character and persona.
-The writer is the Knut Secretary General