Article by IEA, Kenya
It is nearly three months since the government announced the closure of schools as a measure to contain the spread of Covid-19. As a result of the decision, a total of 91,591 learning institutions both public and private were closed, disrupting the school calendar and affecting the learners (Learners from poor households have been hit hard by the pandemic as learning has shifted to the digital space). Also affected are learners with special needs.
The Ministry of Education estimates that there are 16,528,313 learners out of school, from early childhood development education to tertiary students. With less than 10% of learners having access to digital learning materials such computers, ipads, and laptops, while only 18% have access to learning through the internet and 26 % have access to electricity in rural areas showing glaring disparities in home learning as shown in table 1, the situation is worse in public schools in Kenya. Indeed, covid-19 has disrupted the education sector landscape limiting how students can access learning across the country.
Table 1: Percentage Distribution of Conventional Households by Ownership of Selected Household Asset
It is clear that without quick and alternative policy actions, the shocks to schooling and the economy will deepen the learning crisis as the country will suffer long term losses in education and human capital. The learning crisis occasioned by coronavirus pandemic presents unprecedented challenges to the government, learners and parents that will bring to the fore some of the cracks (wide gaps in digital learning) in the education sector. As we begin to grapple with these challenges, we should ask ourselves: Are we really prepared to adapt Digital Learning? Given the state of affairs today, our ability to ensure continuation of learning will depend on the ability to swiftly harness available technology, provide adequate infrastructure and mobilize stakeholders to prepare alternative learning programmes.
In a bid to ensure continuity of learners, the government adopted the use of education programming which is broadcasted via Television and Radio as well as YouTube channel. In partnership with the Kenya Publishers Association, the government made electronic copies of textbooks available for free on the Kenya Education Cloud for all students. In addition, GoK through the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and in partnership with Telkom Kenya, deployed Google’s Loon Balloons carrying 4G base stations over Kenyan airspace. While these are noble measures the government has put in place to ensure that no student is left behind while learning continues in other schools. However, looking at access of these suggested virtual learning tools by households we realize that their penetration is very low and that many children will be left out in both urban and rural households. With exception of access to radio whose access is 58.5% in rural areas verses 54.4% in urban areas, access to computers, televisions, and internet is considerably lower in rural areas than urban areas as shown in table 1 above. These numbers show the glaring disparities as far as students’ learning from home is concerned. Access to these tools is just but one of the challenges that is being experienced by learners, teachers, parents and the government.
Much worse, the consequential socio-economic burden will be borne disproportionately by students in public schools, while maintaining that national examination still stands leading to the scramble of digital learning albeit without proper transition for both student and parent whether in public or private schools.
How learners in the education sector have been impacted?
Missed learning: In Kenya, school choice is correlated to income level, and public schools differ from private schools in many aspects including population (teacher to students’ ratio is manageable, infrastructure. This therefore means that public schools are disadvantaged compared to their counterparts in instances where remote learning opportunities are available, uptake will be low from students in public schools as result of poor infrastructure. Opportunities to learn at home are limited due to lack of conducive learning environment as most of these households live in single rooms, literacy level of the parents and inability to hire private tutors.
The reality is simple, while the school closures are necessary to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, majority of students will lose track learning as the schools are employing reactive approach to learning, where no proper transition was done to both parents’ student, and teacher.
Learning inequalities will increase: The long-term impact of school closures would have deepened educational inequality. It is evident that rich families are better prepared to cope with the challenges posed by the crisis and sustain their children’s learning at home. They have access to the internet and digital gadgets and they are likely to hire virtual private tutors. All this means that when schooling restarts, disadvantaged children will find themselves even further behind their peers. For students with learning disabilities, and those living in far flung and conflict-stricken areas, the situation is bleak. This raises a major challenge around educational inequality, given the technological landscape and income inequality. The question here is; how do we support the already marginalized learners technologically during these closures? If this is not looked into, the inequality gap in education will widen and quality compromised as Kenya has no digital curriculum, even for private school currently executing learning though the platform.
Loss of Access to Nutrition: Besides missed learning opportunities, students from poor backgrounds are also losing access to meals made available by World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government of Kenya, through The School Feeding Program initiated in 2009). It is estimated that in 2018, the government provided access to daily meals to 1.5 million children in 4,000 public schools across the country who are currently deprived of this benefit. Studies have shown that school feeding programmes can increase enrolment by an average of 9%.
To reach the most vulnerable and excluded children, there is need to adopt multiple learning modalities ranging from television, radio and WhatsApp or SMS - based mobile platforms that are easily available to deliver lessons. With over 59% of the population having access to radios, it would be possible to reach learners left behind with targeted instructions through this medium. Whatever strategy the government chooses to incorporate, they must ensure that it is cost-effective - at least available within the home and easy to use by learners and their parents have some knowledge of it beforehand or can easily learn to use them.
Also, it is essential to provide support to parents so they can help children sustain their engagement with education and learning. In order to ensure proper uptake of the available resources, the government will also need to ensure that parents are equipped to create a conducive learning environment.
Households with low income experienced sudden collapse of daily incomes when lockdown measures were introduced, the burden of such shocks have disproportionately affected more girls hence the need for government to provide sanitary pads. In addition, since major beneficiary of school feeding programmes are the poor, and given the economic shocks facing the entire household, it might be insufficient to reach only children within the household; the government might need to seek ways to provide meals for entire households.
Another priority is that once schools begin to reopen, the focus should be to reintegrate students into school settings safely and in ways that allow learning to pick up again, especially for those who suffered the biggest learning losses. To manage re-openings, schools will need to be logistically prepared, the teaching workforce ready, and financing available. And they will need to have plans specifically for supporting learning recovery of the most disadvantaged students (World Bank, May 2020)
One rising proof from the current crisis is the need to embrace more innovation into the classroom. Innovative arrangements, as versatile learning innovation, can guarantee personalized learning with negligible instructor contribution, and can possibly convey better learning encounters at low-costs.
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