What you need to know:
- Education is a social and cultural practice which can be deconstructed to serve communities better.
- Teachers were under immense pressure to cover the examination-oriented syllabus because that is the culture of education in Kenya.
- The ministry of Education has been sending mixed signals to parents and students, causing much anxiety.
During our most recent reunion, the Kenyatta University College (KUC) languages class which graduated in 1985 took time to reflect on the impact of Covid-19 on education in Kenya.
In the online meeting were teachers trained in English, Kiswahili and French who have served across the country at various levels. This was the last class of the then Constituent College of the University of Nairobi.
After appreciating the devastation that Covid-19 is having on education globally, the class reflected about Kenyan students and the challenges they are currently experiencing including anxiety, sense of loss, body changes, peer pressure, social media excesses, and tension with their parents.
Parents are overwhelmed as they try to balance the educational pursuits of their children and catering for their basic needs. Not knowing what the future portends, many learners are expressing desperation.
Education is a social and cultural practice which can be deconstructed to serve communities better. While the ministry of Education has underlined that the safety of children is paramount, there is little evidence that much is being done to prepare schools for reopening.
By the time schools closed in March 2020, many classes and dormitories were extremely congested. There were water and sanitation challenges across the board and the teacher-student ratio was shockingly off the mark.
Teachers were under immense pressure to cover the examination-oriented syllabus because that is the culture of education in Kenya. Obsessed with passing of national examinations, the system is rigid and not open to disruptive and novel innovations.
Covid-19 is teaching us to listen more, to be innovative and to adjust our beliefs and practices to the new normal. Just as social interaction and the culture of the daily commute and the office space have been disrupted, so must the classroom and lecture hall.
It must adapt to the new realities of mask wearing, physical distancing, meeting in smaller groups, sanitising, washing with water and soap and ensuring basic hygiene. The school infrastructure must be changed drastically as a matter of urgency and imbued with a new culture. Investment in the new health conscious school and university ought to be a priority.
The ministry of Education has been sending mixed signals to parents and students, causing much anxiety. There are a few things that the ministry can do in addition to fixing the school infrastructure. The learning syllabus is a facility to enable acquisition of knowledge, inject curiosity and encourage creativity and discovery among learners. But learning should not be imprisoned by the syllabus. All students ought to transition to the next Grade if learning institutions reopen next year.
There is no reason for any learner to repeat a class. Transitioning all learners would minimise the challenges brought by backlogs. There are at least three reasons why no student should repeat a class due to Covid-19.
First, the one year loss will have lasting psychological effects on the learners. Our educational system has been designed in terms of movement across levels which mark achievement. But there is no magic to the content that is covered in any one level.
Content not covered in the preceding grade can be taken over in the consequent grade and covered in an accelerated manner. Children have been under immense psychological anguish and ought not to be subjected to further pain by not transitioning to the next grade when schools open in 2021.
Competency Based Curriculum
Secondly, the educational system is already burdened and weighed down by the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) reforms. The CBC reforms require that Grades 7, 8, 9 be domiciled in secondary schools. To ensure that there is 100 percent transition, there is no national examination required for Grade 6 learners. Where will the upper classes in primary schools be domiciled when schools reopen?
The third reason for the automatic transition relates to the fate of private schools. Despite the fact that the expansion of private schools is a consequence of state neglect of public schools over the years, one cannot deny the critical role they play within the educational system.
There is a real danger that the continued delay in reopening learning institutions will lead to the collapse of private schools at a time when public schools cannot accommodate all learners.
Flexibility in understanding the challenges being faced by private schools will minimise the possibility of the educational system being choked. Without doubt, the collapse of the private schools will create a crisis in the educational system. By ensuring automatic transition a grade up, the system will ensure that there is no gap in enrolment of learners (Grade P1) at the lowest levels.
Finally, our teachers are devoted and innovative. They can adjust easily to a new culture if supported. Schools closed nearly at the end of term one, and usually term two for examination classes - Class 8 and Form IV - is devoted to revision for examinations. Thus, in effect, much of the syllabus was done and these classes can actually sit for the national examinations. Teachers are very innovative and for the other classes, with guided planning, they would manage to cover the lost work progressively within a short time.
The concept of community learning recently proposed by the ministry, though well intentioned, is replete with challenges. Teachers in the communities will teach in open spaces and social halls while ensuring that there are no more than 15 learners per session.
However, we know that there are far too few teachers in our communities amidst hundreds of primary and secondary school students. Considering that recent expansion of university education and the extensive joblessness in the country, could the Ministry consider hiring university students to teach? It is possible to run rapid teacher training programmes by radio and prepare the part-time teachers in the basics of teaching.
Learning by radio is another approach that could be utilised. Radio is inexpensive and accessible in many households. Packaging content for different grades and then delivering it through community halls, places of worship and other spaces could be a vital strategy of continued learning. In all cases, we are being challenged to think outside the box.
Part of the holistic thinking in the ministry ought to also address the social effects of Covid-19 on learners. The government acknowledges that thousands of school girls are now pregnant. Instead of blaming the girls and their parents, the ministry ought to move quickly to devise plans on how the young mothers will continue with educations, preferably in other schools.
Failure to plan for them will lead to early marriages and minimise their life options. Sensitivity to the reproductive health and educational needs of these school girls is absolutely necessary.
Covid-19 has exposed fundamental weaknesses in our economic and social systems. The misuse of public resources over the years through corruption has led to mediocre public services in our communities. Our educational institutions are groaning in pain, our health systems are bursting at the seams due to years of neglect, and our youth are extremely pessimistic about the future. But this is not the time for despair. It is an opportunity to organize and adapt.
Prof. Kimani Njogu is based at Twaweza Communications and coordinates the KUC’85 Class, a coming together of language workers who graduated from Kenyatta University College in 1985.