Coronavirus is slowly proving to be the factory reset button that systems have needed for a while. There are two sides of this crisis’ coin; the apparent bleak reality and the potential awakening of people who now know to demand better. It has taken only 7 months since the confirmation of the first Covid-19 case in China for nations to realize that the systems they have had in place are not fully efficient and undoubtedly not capable of adapting to change.
Two months into the pandemic, Kenya is already dealing with a crumbling economy, a hunger crisis, a health crisis and now an education crisis. The latter especially risks being overlooked as the government struggles to ensure that her people do not die of COVID and non-COVID related illness or starve to death as they’re confined in their homes.
The problem with not addressing the challenges ailing the education system with urgency is that we might be looking at long-lasting effects of COVID19 on the education of Kenyan students. Press briefings by the Ministry of Health continue to share rising numbers of infected cases in the country proving that this crisis will be here for a while longer than we anticipated.
This uncertainty, therefore, means that the reopening of schools still hangs in the balance and therefore e-learning is the route to go in order for students to stay on track with the syllabus. The problem with this, as is with almost every other public system currently, is that the country was ill-prepared and is now playing catch up. The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof. George Magoha admitted that not every student is able to access virtual learning when he appeared before the National Assembly Committee on Education and Research.
“When schools open, the syllabus will start from where it stopped, therefore those who did not have the benefit of e-learning will catch up. The process will be all-inclusive,” he said.
This approach will only widen the gap between economically advantaged and economically disadvantaged students. In addition to this, CS Magoha has stated severally that the Ministry would not cancel the national examinations scheduled to happen at the end of the year. As it were, the KCPE and KCSE exams have been critiqued as being an inaccurate assessment of students since the nature of the exams do not factor in the various socio-economic challenges that students from different social backgrounds face. Throwing in the inaccessibility to e-learning into that mix simply makes education a luxury.
The government is placing undue pressure on economically disadvantaged students and their parents. It, therefore, calls on the Ministry to adapt to change that would benefit many if not all as opposed to only those with the privilege to thrive under the current circumstances.
With this in mind it might then be necessary to amend the Basic Education Act, 2013 as it was proposed by the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) when they made their submissions to the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the COVID19 situation in the country.
Section 28 (1) of the Act states, “The Cabinet Secretary shall implement the right of every child to free and compulsory basic education.” The prevailing circumstances do not mean that this right is waived. The onus is on the government to develop inclusive and practical strategies to carry on with education even us the country fights coronavirus. It is high time to include virtual learning in the definition of schools under this law.
A quote by renowned Japanese Author, Kakuzo Okakaura reads, “the art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” Our surroundings are far from normal and being rigid to change will truly be an easy route to our downfall. The government should indeed put the best brains to good use to achieve a balance.
Kenyans on the other must now know the importance of holding leadership to account. It is remembered that one of the ambitious goals spelt out in the Jubilee manifesto when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto ran for office the first time was the provision of laptops to all class one students in the country. This, of course, rubbed off the wrong way with a good section of Kenyans who termed it as misplaced priorities. In hindsight, this might have been a smart move that would protect the education system from any sudden changes like COVID19.
Had the government implemented this project we would have seen technological advancements across the nation. The ripple effect would have been the installation of masts for connectivity, private-public agreements and partnerships between the government and e-learning gadget manufacturers and internet service providers and ultimately the digitization of the syllabus for seamless remote-learning countrywide.
The problem with kicking the can down the road is that sometimes you do it so hard that it goes beyond your line of sight. This is the case for Kenya now as e-learning today remains a far-fetched dream. The government now must work to make true their promises to avoid compromising the futures of our children.