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Elizabeth Kinya, a teacher at Antubochio Primary School, guides pupils during a computer lesson. Some expert have urged the State to use funds set aside for capitation to buy tablets and laptops for each learner to facilitate online education. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Education experts have criticised the government for failing to explore options that would have ensured learners progress to the next class instead of holding them back for a year.

This, after Education Secretary George Magoha declared last week that all schools would remain closed until next January because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The 2020 school calendar year will be considered lost due to Covid-19 restrictions,” said Prof Magoha.

The thought of Standard Eight and Form Four candidates not sitting the national exams has deflated the 1.8 million students who expected to write the tests.

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The decision to hold students in the same class for another year has also disheartened both learners and parents.

Education stakeholders are now proposing that even without the school-based tests and national examinations, the government should have worked out a formula of transiting the children to the next class and found ways to recover the lost months.

The suggestions include having pupils move to the next class but find time in the school calendar to cover the syllabus from the previous year.

Another is to use learners’ capitation funds to equip them with tablets or laptops to enable virtual learning throughout the holiday season.

Yet another proposal is to reorganise the school calendar so that the academic year starts in September.

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But this would only be possible if Form Four and Standard Eight candidates were facilitated to sit the national exams to transit to secondary school and college.

Interviews with parents and education experts reveal that the pressure of keeping children at home for an entire academic year without hopes of transitioning to the next class will have a huge impact on the entire education sector.

While the experts are unanimous that banning physical attendance of schools is the best option to control the spread of the coronavirus disease, they are split on whether suspending an entire academic year remains the best decision.

“All students must be allowed to move to the next class. Teachers must then use recovery methods to ensure that learning losses are minimised,” said Private Schools Association chairman Mutheu Kasanga.

Others like Usawa Agenda Executive Director Emmanuel Manyasa have suggested starting the academic year in September, even without physical school attendance.

Learners' morale

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“This will restore the morale of learners who are demoralised by the idea of restarting the school year. It will also enable the country to harmonise the school year calendars for the various levels of our education system,” said Dr Manyasa.

He argued that this would help cut the time lost during the transition from secondary school to college and smoothen the transition from one system of education to the other as and when the need arises.

Researchers say there is evidence that holding back learners as an educational intervention can hurt them academically. Such students become unenthusiastic about learning, develop low self-esteem, miss school and complete homework less often.

“My son is in Grade Four this year. Instead of repeating the class in 2021, why can’t he transit to Grade Five then the ministry reorganises the curriculum such that what was not covered in Grade Four is covered somewhere in his school life?” asked one parent.

The parent, who is also a lawyer in the city, said losing an entire academic year was not the best decision. “Even at the university, we never allowed ourselves to waste years. If you failed a unit in your second year, you moved on to Third Year then looked for a way to re-sit or retake the failed units.”

Many Kenyans have also argued that using a single end-year examination must not be the only determinant to move learners to the next class.

Edward Nzinga, a curriculum instructional design scientist, says the Kenya National Examination Council “should have adopted new technological realities by exploiting the competency-based curriculum fundamentals to develop the KCPE and KSCE examinations.”

“This can easily be done by computing the candidates’ past academic records and achievements, guided by the already identified core competencies by the KICD,” said Dr Nzinga.

He further argued that it was still possible to cover the syllabus from home. The Education ministry, he says, should have used funds set aside for capitation to buy tablets and laptops for each learner to facilitate online education.

The capitation currently stands at Sh1,420 per pupil and Sh22,400 for students in public secondary schools.

“Primary school children would require tablets that on average cost Sh1,500 and secondary school students would get laptops that on average go for Sh25,000 at market price,” he said, adding that the State could spend part of the Covid-19 response fund to buy laptops for teachers.

Nzinga says teachers and their learners can then link up through webinars and other collaborative learning mediums.

Centre for Research and Development public policy analyst and senior researcher Okwach Abagi, however, argues that the country lost an opportunity to explore other options of covering the academic year by failing to adequately invest in digital infrastructure.

Prof Okwach argues that a robust digital infrastructure leveraging on radios, TVs, smartphones, and wide internet connectivity would have provided a viable alternative for learning at home.

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