As the global Covid-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the world, it has exposed the true state of the modern world with segregated global geopolitics.
This created a weak point for the virus to exploit. This led to the fight against the scourge uncoordinated, given that the top rich economies in the world took different approaches and measures to tackle the pandemic, unlike previous eras that had a multi-lateral approach to global issues. This means that in the wake of a global crisis that has already overwhelmed even the countries perceived to have the best infrastructures, looking inwardly to contain their domestic needs first has been the focus.
One of the first measures across countries to contain the spread of Covid-19 was the closure of schools at all levels. Kenya was not left behind and the President in his public address in March 2020, called for all schools to close.
The government had not yet thoroughly explored alternative measures when it made this announcement as there was an assumption that by Mid-April/May 2020, the virus will be contained and things get back to ‘normalcy’.
Clearly, the pandemic has had its own clock and this prolonged ‘lockdown’ caught the Ministry of Education (MoE) and education stakeholders unprepared, without effective strategies on how to resume the learning amidst a pandemic with no end in sight. In May 2020, the MoE published the Kenya Basic education Covid-19 Emergency Response Plan but the plans to continue uninterrupted learning have largely remained unimplemented.
MoE Covid-19 response Timelines and activities
This article discusses the observations I have made during the pandemic, the assumptions made on reopening schools and recommendations on the way forward.
A] The following are my observations that COVID-19 has shone light on.
- Covid-19 exposing education inequalities
Covid-19 has exposed dire education inequalities reflected in the following:
Access to internet and ICT equipment.
At the onset of the pandemic, when schools were closed, most of the private schools switched to online learning as they had ICT resources and their parents were able to facilitate the same. The options available for students in public schools were remote lessons that were meant to be streamed over radio, television and YouTube.
However, the vast majority found this impossible to do given the lack of access to ICT equipment, TV, internet or even electricity. Further, there was no effective monitoring and assessment of the effectiveness of the Government intervention to inform evidence-based decisions on the way forward. This stark contrast in student experiences led to the Ministry of Education cancelling the whole school year as a way of levelling the ground for the two divides.
Quality of teaching
For many years, the Teacher-Student ratio in public schools versus private schools was the critical pointer to inequality in education quality. Covid-19 has further exacerbated this inequality as the private schools teachers, though having had the same education and skill set as the public school teachers, they are able to facilitate online learning effectively. The private schools are a step ahead having resourced the teachers by training them on use of technology to teach as well as avail ICT equipment.
The outcomes of the national examinations set for March 2021, might provide a clear indicator of the inequalities given some of the private schools in Nairobi have not had their learning disrupted since March 2020.
- Education as a tool to secure the future of the country.
Education has been an effective tool to mitigate school drop-outs caused by teen pregnancies, forced early marriages, supporting family economic activities as well as substance and drug abuse. Since the pandemic set foot in Kenya, there were reports of an upsurge in teen pregnancies but this has not been backed up by the available data from the Kenya Health Information Management System (KHIS) comparing the 2019 figures with 2020 so far. For example, in the same period of Jan-May 2020, the figures of select counties are shown below:
|County||Registered Teen Pregnancies (2019)||Registered Teen Pregnancies (2020)|
However, considering reduced access to health facilities during Covid-19, the figures might not be a true reflection of the unintended consequences of the school closure. More accurate figures and reports may become move available early 2021 as schools fully reopen.
- Approach to stakeholder involvement in finding solutions
One key observation made is the lack of student involvement in understanding their needs during the pandemic and taking their views in developing education plans to respond to Covid-19. Of criticality in incorporating their opinions are the final year students across primary, secondary and tertiary institutions that were awaiting 2020 to finalise their respective level of education. Fortunately, they will now not lose a whole year as they have their final exams in March 2021, only three months apart from pre-Covid-19 years.
B] Assumptions underlying reopening in the coming weeks
Pandemic is contained
The Minister of Education indicated that the reopening on schools will be considered when the Covid-19 cases start dropping. As the numbers reported by the Ministry of Health(MoH) decreased, the Ministry of Education announced that full reopening of schools will be done soon and instructed teachers to report back to school on 28th September 2020 to familiarize with Covid-19 protocols provided by the MoH. The reducing numbers of Covid-19 cases may not be indicative of the true state of infection given lack of mass testing that has been proven as an effective way of controlling the virus from studies on successful countries such as South Korea.
Schools’ Infrastructure Meet Covid-19 Health Compliance Protocols
There is assumption that schools meet the above protocols though they have largely remained the same as pre-Covid-19. The directive to have schools reopen in January 2021 has limitations in effective strategies and funding to ensure adequate preparations are done. One strategy that has been employed is increased provision of desks. Public schools have largely suffered congestion of students in classes in Pre-Covid-19, therefore more desks should be complemented by more classrooms even if they are temporary structures such as tents.
Some private schools have closed completely due to inability to cater operating costs since March. Therefore, demand for new school vacancies are predicted to be higher as the students of the closed schools search for vacancies to continue learning. In addition, the massive unemployment the pandemic has caused will force many parents to re-route their children to more affordable schools causing a surge in capacity needs for the available public and other affordable schools.
Access to healthcare for all students
The Ministry of Education and National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) signed a contract on 13th April 2018 to offer a unique Comprehensive Medical Insurance Cover for Public Secondary School Students during their duration of Study. Though a tremendous policy to enhance access to healthcare to secondary public schools, it needs to be extended to primary and tertiary institutions to enhance access to all students. Unfortunately, the NHIF though a government health insurance fund, it has stated that it is not covering Covid-19 related costs and treatment. This therefore leaves the parents and guardians of the students to shoulder the burden of treatment in case of any diagnosis of Covid-19 while it is mandatory for the students to go back to school.
C] Recommendations Moving forward
One of the key learnings in this crisis is that old ways of thinking and doing things will no longer work and fresh perspectives are required to address the increasing challenges of our day. For example, things that once were considered luxury and a preserve of certain groups such as portable computer gadgets and internet have become so essential. Without which, one is locked out of the world. Students ought not to be left out as education delivery models change due to the unprecedented conditions arising today. The Ministry of Education has made tremendous effort to consult among the stakeholders and seek solutions to the current education challenge. This section provides further thoughts, amplifications and recommendations the Ministry of Education could also consider.
Increase internet connectivity and subsidise costs of Computers
Increasing internet connectivity across the country seems expensive but it is essential; In the same cut, the internet costs needs to be subsidized to enhance access. Marian Wright Edelman(1939) said, ‘The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to’. It is more expensive not to invest in these strategies than the current situation. This will also cater for the disabled students who have had challenges accessing education when their parents cannot afford the high fees for special education. Further, investing in online learning will enhance preparedness and capacity to manage such risks in the future.
In addition, there is need to bolster the current efforts to have locally assembled laptops and subsidise their costs for schools to facilitate uninterrupted learning.
A more officially driven effort is required to develop cost effective methods of making these available to teachers and students in areas where resources are scarce. The Government of Kenya has taken commendable steps towards this by collaborating with UNICEF in its Global Initiative, Project Giga, which aims to connect select public schools to the internet in order to fast track the students’ access to educational resources and opportunities.
Rapid capacity building teachers and educators in ICT.
This crisis has forced everyone to adopt to new ways of doing things that would have taken decades to implement or imagine their effective adoption/implementation. There is need for adoption of new ways of teaching across the education divide by instituting a well phased capacity building of teachers and other education stakeholders on use of ICT to facilitate learning and better preparedness in future. This will enable the Government solve its current challenge of not being able to keep students engaged outside the physical classroom.
Continuous testing of Covid-19 in schools and adhering to protocols
Reopening of schools is happening while there is undisclosed planning on vaccinating the populace against Covid-19 in Kenya. Further, access and administration of the vaccine especially in the Global South will still take sometime. Therefore, in the absence of this, MoE needs to institute regulations and guidelines to have continuous testing of Covid-19 and ensure strict adherence to the health protocols provided as well as provide free masks. This poses a challenge in implementation given the high cost of testing and the same school infrastructures that were built for a pre-Covid 19 era. This therefore makes the case for online learning as one of the strategies that cannot be off the table.
Students and Parents Involvement on the way forward
Students and Parents are critical stakeholders who need to be involved in finding solutions and making policies regarding learning in this crisis and beyond.
Consider a hybrid model of certifying online learning as it does physical class learning.
There is need to proactively review education policies, regulations and procedures as we embark on this steep learning curve and pivot to new ways of learning. Some of these regulations include evaluation of digital content, recognition of distance-learning and certifying institutions to offer distance-learning programmes after meeting standard criteria. This does not require re-inventing the wheel as the assessment criteria are easily accessible from certifying bodies across the globe.
Provide access to healthcare for the students
The Government ought to reconsider and negotiate medical insurance to cover treatment for all students in the event they are infected with Covid-19 as they will be more exposed unlike when they have been under the care of their parents.
Author: Carolyne Waraga.
Carolyne Waraga is a Consultant within an International Advisory Firm. She specialises in research and project management in the education sector and health. Email: [email protected]