Kenyan Schools Reopen Despite Surge in Covid-19 Infections
Schools in Kenya re-open in May allaying fears of the covid-19 Indian variant currently sweeping the country. As 15 million students flock back to classrooms, parents are wary and concerned at the same time. Overcrowding and underfunding make it difficult for schools to follow Covid-19 guidelines. Covid-19 positivity rate in Kenya remains well over WHO’s recommended rate of five percent. Currently, Kenya’s Covid-19 cases have exceeded 166,000 with a death toll of 3,021.
Back to School, Again
In 2020, the pandemic forced schools to close for ten months, the longest school closure in East Africa. According to Mutheu Kasanga, the Kenya Private School Association chair, Kenyan schools cannot afford further shutdowns. Currently, Kenyan schools are struggling to catch up on the missed learning period of 2020. Scientific studies also show that children are safer in schools.
UNICEF in October last year also warned that the prolonged schools’ closure may lead to permanent school dropouts in Kenya. “We are seeing large numbers of reported violence against children, child marriage, child pregnancy, and child labor,” said Marilyn Hoar, UNICEF’s education chief in Kenya.
Unfortunately, not all learners will report to school. Transport hitches occasioned by movement restrictions and Covid curfews have marred the return to schools. With Kenyans grappling with low income instigated by the pandemic, many parents are unable to pay tuition.
University closures in Kenya also locked out half a million students in Kenya from learning. Many universities in Kenya invested heavily into e-learning but were unable to bridge the digital divide with students. Online learning was only successful in leading private universities. According to Dr. Richard Bosire at University of Nairobi, many students from public universities do not have laptops. Also, they do not have money to buy internet data bundles which would allow them to engage in remote online learning.
KCPE Performance Improves Despite 2020 Shutdown
Despite the shutdowns, Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidates posted impressive results. Furthermore, comparatively disadvantaged public institutions had a leg up on their private schools’ counterparts. While private schools had invested heavily in digital learning for six months, public schools remained closed due to the surge in the Covid-19 cases. “Public schools have shone in the 2020 KCPE, scooping 10 of the top 15 slots in the examination,” Education Cabinet Secretary (CS) Professor George Magoha said.
Days after the schools’ shutdown, Kenya Institute of Curriculum (KICD) adopted measures to ensure students continue learning remotely. Through the ministry of education, KICD rolled out approved educational content on its free to air EDU TV covering Primary and Secondary school curriculum. Learners in public schools were able to use the Kenya Education Cloud to access digital learning. Kenya Education Cloud contains teachers’ orientation courses aligned to the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC).
In addition, KICD developed a timetable that ensured all learners both in primary and secondary schools access lessons countrywide. The Institute partnered with Kenya Broadcasting Cooperation (KBC) to broadcast daily radio programs from Monday to Friday. These programs were aired through KBC Radio Taifa and KBC English Service. The CS said Radio Taifa lessons will run from 10 am to 11 am. The English Service lessons from 9:15 am to 12 O’clock and from 2:00pm to 4:00 pm.
However, adoption of digital learning has been slow among Kenyans. According to the education ministry, the technologies adopted will be based on common standards throughout the schools. Emphasis will be on CBC content requirements, safety measures and standardized equipment. The government expects that local innovators and the private sector will be used in the assembly of the devices and developing the learning management systems . KICD approved digital content on apps like MsingiPACK and Zeraki Learning continue to provide offline revision aligned to the syllabus.