Governments are doing their best to replace in-person with online learning and digital home-based curriculum following amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw schools closed down.
As the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development steps up its virtual learning output through radio, TV and the internet, unequal access to the digital space locks out thousands of children, especially in the marginalised areas in the north and northeastern arid and semi-arid (ASAL) counties of Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit and Turkana counties.
With schools considered high-risk areas as regards the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus, the government should take stock of the areas that need support in accessing KICD’s virtual learning programme.
Schools and other learning institutions will possibly remain closed for the better part of the year with more than 15 million learners staying at home. The Education ministry should expand access to virtual learning so that children lose as little learning time little as possible.
Once schools reopen, the government must make huge and targeted investments in strategies to address the consequences of the prevailing challenges and lift up all students in the marginalised areas.
Teachers also need to be prepared for the transformational curriculum. They have to acquire all the technical and pedagogical skills that will enable them to integrate digital technology effectively and efficiently into the curriculum to realise success in virtual learning uptake.
But even as we adjust, policymakers should be wary of the assumption that all childre are learning online in a meaningful way because it is not a reality. And the digital divide in the ASAL regions is just a tip of the iceberg of factors impeding provision of education there.
The situation is aggravated by the TSC’s withdrawing more than 3,000 teachers from the northeastern region. Worse, that was done without a consultative forum with the counties’ leadership and security apparatus to get a workable solution to arrest the education crisis, leading to mass closure of schools and disruption of learning.
In 2018, then-Education CS Amina Mohamed proposed the lowering of entry grades to teacher training colleges for candidates from northeastern counties from C plain to D-plus in a bid to address staffing shortages. But the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) challenged the proposal, faulting the ministry’s legitimacy on the matter.
Desolately, TSC and the ministry have for the last epoch implemented erratic policies that disfavour learning in regions gazetted as marginalised, such the counties of Mandera, Wajir and Garissa, which have borne the brunt of the education crisis coupled by lack of virtual learning.
Many parents are now struggling to help their children with schoolwork. But although homeschooling is encouraged, the absence from school has also denied nutrition to thousands of children who benefit from school feeding programmes in this region. Meals are used as a bait to increase school enrollment across the northern frontier counties due to poverty and pastoral lifestyle of the communities.
The government should also adopt postponement of school holidays to ensure pedagogical continuity and minimise the weight of the negative impacts that the interruption of courses could have on academic performance of many schoolgoing children in the various places where access to online tutorials is limited.
The government should also provide an “electronic listening service” via a toll-free number to support learners, teachers and parents, who can send questions and suggestions for advancing distance learning in urban areas, which have internet.
Even with the addition of sign language to the e-Learning menu, there is little evidence of deliberate initiatives to address the issue of inclusion across board. Inclusion seems to be still challenging, including for households without TV, electricity, internet or radio and where parents or guardians are not literate.
The government should invest in increasing electricity, solar power and internet connections in rural schools in the ASAL regions. That will decrease school drop-out among the pastoral communities — at least until when the pandemic is finally brought under control.
As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I hope President Uhuru Kenyatta will hear the cries of the region and consider affirmative action to allow education diploma and degree entry grades lowered for the northern and northeastern counties.
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