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Why quality must override delivery in homeschooling

By XN Iraki | June 2nd 2020
We are spending lots of precious national time discussing the Internet infrastructure, not the content.

The drama over online classes in both public and private institutions is uncalled for; it’s a distraction from the core of education - the content. 

The big debate that has ended up in the courts seems to suggest that the road is more important than the cars, the pipes are more important than the water and chewing is more important than the food.

What makes the debate distractive is the focus on the basic infrastructure, such as the Internet, which has been there for decades. We should be ashamed for not exploiting its potential earlier.

But let’s give some credit where due; we almost did it with laptops in schools.  

We are spending lots of precious national time discussing the Internet infrastructure, not the content. 

The simple solution I have offered is to make the Internet a public good like roads or national security. Everyone can access roads even without a car; you can walk on it or even misuse it by erecting kiosks. 

With free internet, we now can focus on what’s delivered by teachers and often forgotten by researchers. And since it’s learning, what’s imparted on students. 

Content matters more than the delivery system, whether it’s face to face or through the Internet. Building more roads does not mean we shall all buy cars. Water pipes can deliver contaminated water or be dry.  

The single focus on the use of the Internet and its tools is a sideshow, a national confession that we have lagged behind the rest of the world in adopting technology in education. Covid-19 has exposed us. 

I first used Zoom and WebEx in 2014 in class. We should stop mystifying simple things, it takes you about five minutes to learn how to use online conferencing and teaching tools. And China is coming up with its own Zooms. Why are we not developing ours? Is it that hard?  

We should be spending more national time and energy focusing on the content. How it’s delivered should be the least of our worries. We could even use WhatsApp in learning; it has video capability.  

Covid-19 should help demystify learning. We learn all the time, not just in class or after school. Think loudly, after leaving school with our degrees, we spend the rest of our lives learning new and practical things, without certification. We also de-learn many things we learned in school like idealism. That is why lifelong learning is the way to go.

Leading universities have noted that we are more interested in skills than time in school. They have invented micro-bachelors, micro-masters and very targeted short courses. Their focus is on specific marketable and contemporary skills. They already got courses on Covid-19. 

Covid-19 came ashore when we are developing the competency-based curriculum (CBC) to replace 8.4.4 system. As Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once said: “I don’t care if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” 

We should not care so much about the education system as long as it delivers the right content in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. We should not bother much with delivery, online, or face to face as long as we deliver the right content. 

We should be asking what our children are learning from early childhood education to PhD. How it’s delivered is an easier question.  

What content are we developing in all subjects?  When will Covid-19 make its way to the textbooks? Is the content relevant to changing times? Most consumers of education are young, the skills and the knowledge they acquire should be futuristic, useful long after they leave school.  

Yet, our schools are often the last to take up new ideas after the commercial sector. One bottleneck to getting new ideas to the classroom is the cultic belief in textbooks. The net can bypass textbooks and commercial interests. Did the textbook kill the laptop project?  

We could find ourselves with the first-class internet in schools but delivering the old content. We have many radio and TV stations, but what sort of programmes do they deliver? Content again! 

What are our children learning in science, history, religion, mathematics, and all other subject areas? Are they learning social and life skills? Are they learning how to learn? Are they learning how to go beyond the call of duty? Are they learning to love work and the basis of the Protestant work ethic?  

I have forever wondered in the privacy of my thoughts why we teach our children about the early man from Zinjanthropus to Neanderthal, yet we know so little about the modern man (homo sapien). Why do we hate each other? Why are we lazy? Why is there poverty in affluence?  

Content, not it’s delivery should be our focus during Covid-19 and beyond. Finally, we teach HIV/AIDs as a common course in universities, shall it be replaced with Covid-19? 


-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi

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