Admittedly, everything has been a lot harder for everyone since the realities of Covid — 19 became our new normal. Some of these challenges affect the very core of how education is administered across the world. For the context of this piece, I will focus on what has largely been portrayed as Kenya’s response, or lack thereof. The things you see online and on the news largely portray embarrassment, anger, and bewildering despair from multiple stakeholders.
A couple of months ago, there was a video of young girls at school premises, being sprayed by knapsack sprayers — apparently, with disinfectants to contain the spread of Covid — 19. This was captured on camera and broadcasted across media platforms. It was disturbing to watch, not just for the utter lack of decorum for those girls and lacking understanding of the basic guidelines on how Covid spreads and containing it but also the extent to which those expected to lead the fight against the disease are ill-equipped. The lacking government support and planning in response from the Health and Education ministries was evident.
In recent weeks, we have seen prominent personalities succumb to Covid — 19 in Kenya. The chorus from the ruling class with these developments unsurprisingly has seen demands by legislators to be provided with air evacuation as part of their taxpayer-funded healthcare — all while there are no free Covid — 19 tests for the masses in Kenya. It is dumbfounding that a larger populace, that has greatly been disadvantaged economically by the curfews and travel restrictions (especially within the country) has to dig deeper to find $80 (KES. 8,500) to simply get a test.
A country that has 537 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds and 256 Ventilators in 22 of the 47 counties squandered billions of aid dollars from international agencies to organize coffees and teas for Covid committee members while healthcare workers sacrificing their lives, quite literary, still do not have personal protective equipment (PPE). With tens of Doctors and supporting health professionals succumbing to Covid — 19, the secretary of health announced that striking doctors and nurses would be fired, and their jobs advertised, in a pandemic. How do you oversee a ministry that creates millionaires from opportunists targeting public coffers? How does an individual passing by a government facility just randomly get called in, and offered a contract worth millions of shillings?
Telling signs of lacking preparedness and strategy by the Education ministry and key stakeholders were evident as far back as June 2020. Closure of schools was incoherent between public and private offerings. There was no plan, at least government-sanctioned that would ensure that children would have even basic levels of engagement with their curriculum and with their teachers. A blanket call was made by the Secretary for Education, that everything would remain shut down, until 2021. Throughout this time, there has been no evidence (at least publicly) of measures taken in building adequate infrastructure and considering alternative mediums to offer to learn. Teachers serving in fairly informal contracts and not employed by the government have lost a livelihood — and innovation has certainly not been given a chance.
It was not surprising that when schools resumed learning this week, the scramble was about the number of desks available for school-going children. The secretary of education spoke of the benefits associated with studying under trees being oxygen (concentration and effectiveness notwithstanding). It is truly dumbfounding. Then there is a school that had two teachers, looking nothing different from an evangelical crusade with a priest preaching in English and a translator in Swahili. Only,— two teachers teaching two different classes to each half of the class! The current administration touted a laptop for every school-going child seven (7) years ago as a key campaign promise, besides riding on a very practical and essential theme of digitizing Kenya for the future. It is a failure beyond disappointment — really, an assault on opportunities that could have prepared Kenya for this moment, and potentially positioned the country ahead of the curve with competing economies.
According to Kantar, the Education of children is the biggest concern for people in Kenya through this pandemic with at least 79% worried that the effects will be long-term. Sadly, this is what characterizes most if not all of Sub Saharan Africa. In some isolated urban cases, Kenyan parents received broadcasts of continual assessment tests to keep the children engaged. Access to the internet and the supporting infrastructure was and remains a great challenge in response to Covid — 19 regarding education.
Further to this, there are mental health aspects occasioned by the closure of schools on teachers without income, parents with increased budgets and responsibility at home, and certainly on the students from the anxiety, stress, and depression from isolation and lacking contact with their school fabric and community. The unique challenges of children living in extreme poverty, living with disability as well as insecurity and intergenerational educational inequalities all make policy complex — something that quite evidently, the Kenyan government did not prepare for, respond to, and probably has no plans to anyway.
How can Kenya Improve its Education System & Policy?
The challenges that Kenya as a country faces are a lot more complex than some developed and relatively developing nations. Nonetheless, the country has extensively developed human resources and supporting communications and technology infrastructure that makes the current challenges an opportunity that should ideally have had a better response than what we have witnessed. This is in no way a policy nor strategy paper, but just some thoughts that could be considered, if not already.
Make Digital and Broadcast Infrastructure
Access to the internet should not be considered a luxury anymore. The government should include this in its policy considerations to ensure that major Internet Service Providers — ISPs are given adequate incentives to lower the cost of internet, and the infrastructure required to roll this out on a mass scale. A countrywide broadband infrastructure development will certainly broaden the education delivery capacities.
Internet of course is just one aspect of infrastructure required to deliver this. Further developments through government agencies such as the ICT Authority (ICTA) offering capacity in terms of training to both the students and the teaching faculties is also critical. The ministry of information and communication should also be leading public and private sector partnerships with innovation hubs (and their products) to offer platforms that can make standardized learning easy — considering how effective mobile telephony is in Kenya.
Unique challenges that characterize the Kenyan landscape also mean that traditional tools can be thought of in innovative ways to administer standardized education. the government owns and issues all broadcasting frequencies and channels. This would potentially have been a great place for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) to be revamped as a critical tool to deliver the curriculum to all and marginalized students across the country by voice and video especially where internet infrastructure and cost is thought of as prohibitive.
Revamp Education Curriculum
Since independence, the Kenyan education curriculum has been designed for the morning to evening in-person attendance for learning. Innovation in response to the growing needs and challenges whether it is towards technology or emerging challenges has not been a factor. Since 2002, the government has spoken of a 24-hour economy, primarily with hopes to make sure that people can trade whenever they want, and can.
Revamping the curriculum to allow for people especially at advanced stages to go about the varied options that characterize their lives is essential. Just as basic as is for a school-based graduate teaching faculty to study while on holiday breaks, others going about livestock farming and other trade aspects should be able to find their education when they need it, and more critically, for what they need. Whether this is done by enhancing validation to virtual and online learning or simply ensuring a license and subscriber model between institutions and government broadcast channels — the possibilities could be within reach.
Prioritize Remote Learning
Most of Kenya is rural with limited resources — in terms of teaching personnel, infrastructure, and tools that school-going children need to compete favorably with the rest of Kenya, as well as globally. Prioritizing remote learning is a great step in allowing children, students for that matter to have resources at their disposal to digest and inherently, compete favorably from a common source of knowledge. Coupled with the curriculum changes, and central offering that offers standard teaching and assessment is a path that can improve the quality of education in the long run. What this pandemic has done, not just for Kenya but the entire education system globally is to validate online, virtual and remote learning. Those who respond innovatively will be better prepared not just for the future real challenges, but also for the opportunities that are emerging.
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