On March 15, 2020, the Kenyan government abruptly closed all schools and colleges nationwide in response to COVID-19, disrupting nearly17 million learners countrywide. The closure of institutions not only affected learners and teachers but it also brought forth numerous economic and social issues, including interrupted and loss of learning, education exclusion, homelessness, nutrition and economic crisis, childcare challenges and increase in teenage pregnancy cases, financial cost implication to households, and sexual exploitation among others. The effects have been more severe for the underprivileged children and their households from the urban poor communities.
With the government adopting a remote and digital mode of learning the learning gap has increased and most learners being excluded from online education due to challenges of access to internet and reliable electricity. According to an article on the standard newspaper most parents are not able to finance the school related expenses such as learning materials and daily internet bundles, thereby they are disadvantaged compared to their counterparts who can afford these items. This further widens the inequality gap and impedes their ability to access quality education and continued learning. This has resulted to limited and minimal learning within the areas, especially in urban informal settlements. Additionally, smartphones are beyond reach for most of these communities. Even when adults have smartphones, tensions around privacy and children unsupervised internet use render access to learning non-existent. Areas where electricity and technology do exist, the cost of the internet is prohibitive. Such disadvantages present challenges for the marginalized families and learners who must compete with their more privileged peers during national examinations.
On the other hand, extended online interrupted learning that disengages children from the process has the potential cost of reversing gains in learning results. An even higher cost comes from the disengagement of students with learning challenges who may not effectively cope with remote learning strategies or cannot access the information. For instance, children from marginalized communities whose parents may have low literacy levels, limited education re-sources and limited time to engage in their child’s learning process are at a risk of loss of learning. Not only are these parents frustrated at having to homeschool without adequate preparation, they also cannot reinforce their children’s learning considering they have limited knowledge. The parents may also focus so much on fending for their families for survival, leaving the children with no one to give guidance on their school work. This further indicates that remote learning cannot entirely replace classroom learning as it is intended to supplement knowledge that children already have.
School closures have also had implications for learners who relied on school feeding programs as a main source of nutrition. With everyone now at home, families’ ability to provide food for their children has been even further reduced due to loss of income and jobs. School feed-ing programmes have always provided both educational and health benefits for the most vul-nerable children thereby increasing enrolment rates, reducing absenteeism, and improving food security at the household level. According to a blog developed Commonwealth it clearly indicates that many children are missing out particularly at this time when increasing number of families are dealing with unemployment and loss of income .With the rise of the pandemic and closure of the institutions this has become a shattered dream thus leading to loss of learn-ing unless alternative arrangements are put in place.
Remote learning has also faced a lot of challenges due to lack of well-defined infrastructure. With both children and teachers at home the government had limited time for preparation of the sudden change. Most of the teachers and education stakeholders have limited knowledge for online dissemination of knowledge, lack of detailed costs of teaching and preparation of online teaching, online assessment and evaluation. This has further resulted to slack in the im-plementation of online learning.
Further to this, children lack the gadgets to use for online learning and this has resulted to part of the challenges in access to online learning. In 2019, the government launched a 24.6 billion laptop project with the aim to bridge digital learning in Kenyan schools. The gadgets were supplied to some schools but others were not as it turned out to be too expensive. Addi-tionally, some schools that had received the gadgets had no prior expertise on how to use them, thus implementation was ineffective. With this it has made remote learning close to im-possible especially for the marginalized areas.
Due to loss of livelihoods particularly in low-income households, some children have been forced into income-generating activities to support their families’ survival. In such poverty-stricken areas, securing food takes precedence over learning. For instance, children from poor families from disadvantaged neighborhoods have resorted to working as opposed to learning in order to provide for their families. This raises the increase on sexual exploitation with the young girls engaging in transactional sex in order to gain not only access to essential needs like sanitary towels but also to support their families. This has highly contributed to early and unplanned teenage pregnancies which has been projected to be on the rise during COVID-19 thus contributing to loss and disruption in learning.
As a country, there is need to navigate through these challenges and ensure continued access to provision of quality, equitable and inclusive education as cited in Article 53 of the constitution during and after the pandemic. The government should develop measures and policies that are practical to each and every member of the society to ensure inclusion of all. As the total number of deaths from the pandemic continues to rise, it is still not clear when schools will resume, therefore remote and digital learning might be permanently and fully embraced. Government must include digital learning as part of new policy interventions necessitated by the pandemic, otherwise it will be difficult to sustain education in the country if left to parents only.
Catherine Jelimo is programme associate at Hakijamii. This blog post has been reposted with permission. The original post can be found, here.