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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

How COVID-19 changed learning in Kenya

By The Frontier Post Reporter

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On March 15, last year all Kenyan schools were shut and learners stayed at home until October, exactly six months later.

The COVID-19 pandemic caught schools, especially learners, teachers, the Education ministry, education stakeholders, parents and the government by surprise.

More than 15 million learners in public schools could not access classes during the shutdown.

Due to the long break, a large number of pupils and students is reported to have engaged in drug abuse and pre-marital sex, leading to thousands of teenage pregnancies.

Sadly, the education sector is still reeling from the vagaries of COVID-19 pandemic that upset the education calendar, making 2020 the most challenging year in recent times for learners, teachers, parents and all other education stakeholders.

Candidate classes of Grade 4, Standard 8 and Form Four went back to school on October 12, while the rest reported back in January this year.

The revised 2020 to 2023 school calendar will see learners engage in a crash programme.

Primary and secondary school learners will have a two-year packed school calendar, with the normal schedule expected to resume in January 2023.

Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) also revised the exam timetables for the 2020 for the national exams Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations.

Standard Eight candidates are now scheduled to start their exams on Monday, March 22 and finish on March 24, while Form Four candidates will sit for their written examinations from March 26 to April 2. Practical exams started on Monday last week.

Education Principal Secretary Dr Julius Jwan said the government had learnt valuable lessons from the pandemic that will inform future policy changes.

“The education sector, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other education stakeholders, has developed and published the Kenya Basic Education Emergency Response Plan 2020 that aims to ensure continued learning and promote health, safety and wellbeing of learners, teachers and education officials during and post the corona crisis,” said Jwan.

The government has faced accusations that it was caught napping and did not have a coordinated response to the crisis. But Jwan terms Covid-19 as an unprecedented pandemic, especially its magnitude.

“No education system had any preparation in place. The right decisions were made to protect teachers and learners and the reopening was both strategic and timely.”

As most learners in private schools and colleges almost seamlessly switched to online classes, COVID-19 exposed the big class divide in the country, reflected by total learning paralysis in public schools.

The Education Cabinet secretary, Prof George Magoha, declared that no learners would gain advantage over others through the online classes when it seemed like the more privileged, who could afford reliable internet connection and learning gadgets, were pulling ahead of the rest.   

For the first time since the 8-4-4 curriculum was started in Kenya in 1985, learners did not sit their Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) exams at the end of the year.

The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Kenya on March 12, and President Uhuru Kenyatta closed schools three days later, on March 15.

Opening of schools was to be determined by the decreasing number of the coronavirus cases in the country, and that took months to achieve.

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary-general, Wilson Sossion, said the government must take valuable lessons from the crisis and prepare for future pandemics.  

According to Sossion, government should ensure the laptop programme is implemented in schools to achieve the goal of digitizing learning in public institutions.

“It is going to be difficult to address such future pandemics if the government will not invest in digitization,” said Sossion.

In October, more than 20 students were found by the police in a house in Nairobi taking alcohol and having sex. Such scenes were replicated in various places around the country.

In an effort to salvage the ‘lost’ year and save learners from repeating classes, Prof Magoha appointed a COVID-19 National Education Response Committee to advise on reopening of schools. The committee was also mandated to review and organize the school calendar as part of the Covid-19 post-recovery strategy.

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