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Confusion over exam dates turns into mental nightmare for candidates

By Augustine Oduor | June 21st 2020 at 01:20:00 GMT +0300

Psychologists warn that candidates left to worry on their own about national examinations and transition to the next classes is straining them mentally.

They advise that the candidates need constant assurances as school closure persists.

They say as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, government officials and parents are too preoccupied about the safety of the children, but are not taking time to address candidates’ mental health - a situation experts say is equally grave considering the 1.8 million candidates waiting for the tests.

Counselling psychologists yesterday rested the blame squarely on the Ministry of Education for failing to tame the growing anxiety and panic among candidates.

“There has never been a clear communication from the Ministry of Education to the children informing them on what will happen. What they hear today is that examinations will be done in April, but again it is still not even certain,” said Susan Gitau, a counselling psychologist.

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Gitau, who also teachers at the African Nazarene University, faulted the ministry for not appealing to teachers to engage their candidates on the national examinations question.

“There is the issue of mental health of the candidates and psycho-social support that must be addressed, yet this basic aspect has been ignored,” said Gitau.

“These children had psychologically prepared to sit examinations this year so that next year they join the higher classes. This is not happening because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But someone must talk to these children and prepare them for the worst.” 

Sheila Wachira, another counselling psychologist, said some children have lost hope to news that  some of their friends are already attending zoom classes and progressing with studies.

Ms Wachira said that trauma counselling among children must be done as some already feel disadvantaged by the inequalities.

“The government must not leave this to parents alone. Failing to consider children’s psycho-education was a major flaw that must be addressed,” she said.

Wachira said even when schools open, protocols of wearing masks and hand washing will effectively be implemented if children are psychologically settled.

Gitau cited the weak connection between ministry, parents and children for the extended anxiety eating into the leaners.

“The question of mental destabilisation and low self-esteem among the candidates must be addressed through effective communication using right channels,” she said.

Gitau said it was not proper for the ministry to leave the burden of engaging children to the parents alone, saying that in some cases the children believe and trust what teachers say.

“Some of the children may not be having the best of relationships with their parents because they are undergoing a stage in life and so they trust the teachers more.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha this week told Senators that KCPE and KCSE examinations would only be feasible in April next year if schools are opened in September this year.

Prof Magoha, however, hinted that repetition of classes would be a likely option if cases of Covid-19 are not reduced to manageable levels by September when learning is scheduled to resume.

“If we open in September then we might do exams in April. Beyond that it won’t be feasible to do the exams. If national exams won’t be done by April then we must be prepared for what I don’t want to say at the moment,” Magoha said.

Education Rights Expert Ouko Muthoni said serous confusion has marred national examinations and school calendar and asked the ministry to assure children.

“These children need to know that when schools open they will start lessons from where they left. Some candidates are attending online classes, but it must be clear that none will be advantaged ahead of examinations,” said Muthoni.

National Parents Association chairperson Nicholas Maiyo said they have tried to talk to the children, but the worst case of repetition is still a nightmare to many.

“Our children must be safe first and the ministry has assured that examinations will be done. But there is also a scenario that a whole academic year may be repeated. This is what worries children most,” said Maiyo.

Parents who spoke yesterday reported cases of children going missing from home for many days as hopelessness and laxity sets in due to the extended anxiety.

Primary and secondary school teachers who spoke yesterday said they have not received any communication from the ministry on how to engage the candidates with explicit details on what they should expect.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Association national chairman Kahi Indimuli admitted there has been a missing link in communicating with the candidates.

“It is true we have spent more energy ensuring children and candidates stay safe at home. But there must also be a deliberate effort to communicate to them messages of hope from school and ministry level,” said Indimuli.

“I want to plead with school heads to talk to class teachers to engage candidates with messages of hope so that they keep interacting with academic work,” said Indimuli.

Mutheu Kasanga, the national chairperson for private schools, said all institutions were advised to keep in touch with children and parents.

“In the basic minimum, we have kept parents and candidates engaged through short text messages, assuring them that exams will be done whatever time it shall be. And it is paying off because they remain committed,” said Kasanga.

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