The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the world in ways unimaginable. As we look back at the past two years and the harsh repercussions of the pandemic that continue to date, it is apparent that one of the most impacted sectors was education. Neither the world nor educational institutions were prepared to embrace the shift to online platforms brought on at lightning speed.
Educational institutions worldwide promptly responded to the pandemic by going online. In record time, students moved from physical spaces that provided them with much-needed social interactions, to being seated behind screens for hours on end.
In Kenya, the shift to online platforms happened at a slower pace and was mainly driven by the academic institutions that already had digital learning platforms in place and the means to operate them.
Given the state of infrastructure in Kenya, internet connectivity was and still is choppy, and expensive for underprivileged students to access. In addition, many children from less fortunate backgrounds do not have access to desktop or laptop computers to enable them to take part in online classes, although the government has a laptop programme for all primary schools which is yet to properly take shape.
In addition, remote learning has shown the need for more support and self-development courses for children to grow academically. The government, through the Ministry of Education, the State Department of ICT in partnership with UNESCO and Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, has been running a programme called the Digital Literacy Programme which aims at entrenching ICT in the teaching and learning processes and management of education in primary and secondary schools and equipping them with appropriate ICT infrastructure to support teaching and learning processes.
Students learn, retain and apply information most effectively when they have received personalised education and when sufficient resources are made available to them. In typical classrooms, students who require more attention or support are taken care of. However, with the pandemic, this was not possible. This challenge was responded to with the rise of online tutoring platforms and digital learning Apps to complement the journey of learning.
With reduced learning time, estimated at two to five hours of screen time depending on the learner’s age, along with the loss of social connections, the development of the child as a whole has been impeded. We foresee numerous changes when life returns to ‘normal’, with an abundance of co-curricular activities, self-development courses and more personalised learning modules to enrich all facets of the student's learning journey.
This does not mean that online learning may now be put aside in the quest to go back to normalcy; online learning and teaching will continue.
As time goes by, the world would be compelled to take a common direction in terms of planning for education programmes against foreseeable and unforeseeable challenges, designing curricula to accommodate the changing times and the labour market, designing the teaching pedagogy depending on the needs assessment and approaches to teaching and learning so as to address common threats towards achieving educational objectives.
This means we cannot capsulate the conversation about teaching and learning in the face of technology and impending threats of pandemics without mentioning the role of teachers and the state of their training and competencies.
Governments have the obligation of developing, structuring and administering courses that are current and relevant to the changing world. In Kenya, the Teachers Service Commission has, through existing professional statutory laws introduced professional development courses for teachers to update their teaching skills.
This has, however, been met with resistance as the employer wanted teachers to pay for the courses. Knut has been pushing the government, through Treasury, to fund the teachers' employer so that teachers can be trained free of charge. This, if done, will lessen the burden of teachers in the face of high inflation against their low wages.
Employers need to pay more attention to workers through their representatives if they care to improve their output. This, therefore, calls for TSC and unions to have good and harmonious industrial relations that will facilitate communication as both parties focus on benefits, not just themselves but also the child.
Trade unions, Knut being one of them, need to strengthen their solidarity voice by mobilising all workers within their professional jurisdiction to belong to their unions, work together, support each other in the journey of defending their members, develop consistent voices against suppressive governments to their members and be on alert to the global trends of education and its expectations.
This way workers will be protected, the industries they work for will thrive and the world will be a better place for people to live in.