It’s time to review our education system, get it right for all learners

Precious Talent Top School

Learners at Precious Talent Top School in Dagoretti Sub-County, Nairobi on January 4. Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • As many as 94 per cent of children all over the world have been out of school due to closures.
  • Children will now be reopening schools under a strange learning-and-teaching environment.

Findings by credible research bodies give guidelines on how to help children learn amid erratic access to school during a pandemic, and moreover how a country can make progress towards attaining sustainable development goals in education by 2030.

The findings further reveal that five years down the line – since Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda was launched – the world is nowhere near to ensuring quality education for all.

Impressive gains in enrolment, attendance and transition over the recent years have not translated into corresponding gains in learning. In fact, a World Bank’s report on education, Learning Poverty, attests to this. The report states that 80 per cent of children in low-income countries cannot read and understand a simple text by age 10.

The Covid-19 pandemic has now exacerbated the learning crisis – the situation is even worse in Kenya as school dropout rate is likely to go higher due to child labour, early pregnancies, gender-based violence, lack of school fees, female genital mutilation, indiscipline/drugs, death of parents/guardians, and haphazard preparation for school reopening among many other factors.

As many as 94 per cent of children all over the world have been out of school due to closures. Children will now be reopening schools under a strange learning-and-teaching environment. Thus, the government should consider reviewing the education system to suit the newly introduced learning-and-teaching patterns, Covid-19 protocols and pedagogies.

Emerging issues

Learning losses from school shutdowns in the country were compounded by inequalities, particularly for learners who were already left behind – for instance, children in Northern Frontier Districts who had gone without qualified teachers and learning tools for almost four years after Teachers Service Commission (TSC) withdrew tutors from the region due to insecurity.

It should also be noted that some schools had attempted to shift to online learning during school closures as a stop-gap measure. However, this was not possible in many places as households in low-and-middle-income areas have no internet connectivity or laptops at home.

In a widely circulated report prepared by the Directorate of Quality Assurance and Standards in partnership with Kenya Institute of Curriculum Education (KICD), the Ministry of Education admitted that Kenya is far from making gains in virtual learning until the government invests heavily in internet connectivity and other ICT infrastructure.

However, it sounds encouraging to hear that the State will soon spend a whopping Sh15 billion to fund the ambitious project of linking public primary schools to the internet as it scales up e-learning.

It has also been pointed out that the funds will be used to lay fibre optic cables, building ICT laboratories, electricity connections, and buy tablets for learners and training teachers under Digital Learning Project. Many education systems around the world are opening partially or in a hybrid format, but Kenya has opted to reopen fully, leaving millions of children to face a radically transformed educational experience.

As Covid-19 cases rise and fall, the chaos will likely continue, with schools shutting down and reopening as needed to balance educational needs with protecting the health of learners, teachers, and non-teaching staff.

The Ministry of Education should put in place a system that will fully address emerging issues and other eventualities like pandemics, epidemics and poverty. This calls on reviewing teacher training programmes at both Diploma and Degree levels, including investing heavily in educational infrastructure.

Research conducted by more than 220 professors affiliated to Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) provides insights into supporting immediate and long-term goals for educating children, which squarely calls for reviewing the country’s education system as it is happening in other parts of the world.

Research experts point out that before the system is reviewed, there are urgent measures that need to be taken into consideration. First, teachers should use low-stakes assessments to identify learning gaps. While this is happening, it should be noted that before the advent of Covid-19, schools were experiencing a gigantic learning crisis – students were not learning the fundamental skills needed for life.

By extension, teachers should tailor children’s instruction to help learners master foundational skills once learning gaps are identified. It will be equally important for teachers to focus on basic skills to ensure children build a foundation for a lifetime of learning.

International standards

And as Kenya explores innovative ways to close learning gaps, it will need to try an evidence-based, remedial education approach that works by dividing children into groups based on learning needs rather than age or grade; dedicating time to basic skills rather than focusing solely on the curriculum; and regularly assessing student performance, rather than relying only on end-of-year examinations.

To achieve SDG 4 – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, the government should mobilise national efforts aimed at achieving effective and inclusive partnerships, and ensure equitable, inclusive and quality education system for all.

While the country works on strategic approaches to deliver on the Education 2030 goals, and to monitor progress amid Covid-19 pandemic; it will be prudent to observe a number of international standard-setting instruments that protect the fundamental human right to education.

The national government should also put in place effective and inclusive governance and accountability mechanisms, quality assurance, management and information system, effective financing procedures as well as ensure timely and accessible data are available.


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