Since March, over 90,000 Kenyan schools have remained closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Ministry of Education Emergency Response Plan, 2020, the closures have affected close to 20 million children and over 300,000 teachers.
To say the school re-opening task is herculean is an understatement. However, to breathe life into the recommendations shared in the response plan requires entering into partnerships as seen below.
- Intra-Government Partnerships
Schools are currently interspersed across the country with urban counties bearing the brunt of the student and school density. Water and sanitation poses a significant challenge since a large number of these schools do not have access to piped water. With COVID-19 protocols requiring frequent hand-washing with running water, there is an urgent need to provide safe water points to all schools to ensure student safety and general well-being. The government should also allocate funding for the drilling of boreholes, where piped water is not available.
Secondly, the infrastructural state of many schools in the country requires urgent attention. With large class sizes in most schools, there is an impending challenge to teach in smaller recommended sizes to maintain social distancing policies. It is imperative to think beyond the walls of the classroom and reimagine the classroom.
For instance, due to the urgency of the solutions, the government could facilitate the construction of open tented facilities to accommodate the students and therefore reduce the class sizes. This would then open a new opportunity to increase the number of teachers to cater for the rising streams with a two-fold benefit. More teachers would mean better teacher to student ratio with better outcomes, and second, more teachers joining the payroll would find better livelihoods with a significant impact on the local economies.
“For instance, due to the urgency of the solutions, the government could facilitate the construction of open tented facilities to accommodate the students and therefore reduce the class sizes. This would then open a new opportunity to increase the number of teachers to cater for the rising streams with a two-fold benefit.”
Third, the government has, in recent times, promoted with success the rollout of the student laptop program to facilitate online learning. Naturally, the expense to equip every child with a device may be too ambitious and costly if the government is to re-open with any sort of normalcy by January. However, there exists an opportunity for asynchronous learning. In the scenario, the government can invest in labs where students can assess learning in socially distanced groups.
The labs can be connected to the recently deployed Google loons to facilitate the download of work to be completed off-line. In addition, the government, through its national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), can allocate funding to increase student education coverage through radio and TV in support of the learning process. This will significantly contribute to the educational outcomes in the period post-COVID-19.
Fourth, Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) is an essential component in any health emergency preparedness and response action plan. An infodemic has accompanied the COVID-19 outbreak and response: that is, an overabundance of information from various sources – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard to decide a trustworthy source of information.
This can lead to suboptimal uptake of protective practices, adoption of unsafe behaviour/practices and social phenomena such as mistrust and stigma. Government should embark on a campaign aimed at incisive education to reduce the stigma associated with COVID-19.
“The labs can be connected to the recently deployed Google loons to facilitate the download of work to be completed off-line. In addition, the government, through its national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), can allocate funding to increase student education coverage through radio and TV in support of the learning process.”
2. Private Partnerships
Following the government directive that all students should be admitted to schools, the pressure on government-owned schools has continued to rise. That has presented opportunities for private schools offering 8-4-4 and soon to be Competency-Based Curriculum to able families.
The pandemic has forced many private schools to permanently close. Further, with dwindling earnings, many families will revert to taking their children back to the free public schools. By extension, the class sizes will continue to rise, posing catastrophic exposure to children resuming classes in January.
The private sector, especially banks, can create products to support these private enterprises so that pressure on the school system can be alleviated. Favourable terms in borrowing, extension and short-term cash flow support will allow these schools to keep their teachers and students with positive financial outcomes to communities as the country recovers from this pandemic.
“Following the government directive that all students should be admitted to schools, the pressure on government-owned schools has continued to rise. That has presented opportunities for private schools offering 8-4-4 and soon to be Competency-Based Curriculum to able families.”
There is an opportunity for technology organisations to form a partnership ecosystem to support the education community and indeed the government to augment education through equipment provision or contribution to pedagogy that will define the future of our education system.
Further, the government is in talks to create a Kshs 7 billion credit facility to support private institutions that have been financially impacted by COVID-19. This fund should prioritise the public education ecosystem to ensure a smooth and safe school return for all our learners.
3. Community Partnerships
Recent reports have indicated that there has been a significant rise in teenage pregnancies partly due to the temporary school cessation owing to the pandemic. These pregnancies will no doubt have substantial constraints in our social-economic fabric as we struggle to raise children born by other children.
Communities and parents play a vital role in the development of our scholars. They should rally to support our children emotionally at the base to safeguard their future. Parents should also take active roles in school boards and lend their critical skills and influence. This participation will positively impact on the outcomes of their learners and contribute to the development of the schools.
County governments should partner with communities and offer programs such as awareness training opportunities to reduce or prevent teenage pregnancies and the effects on their livelihoods.
“County governments should partner with communities and offer programs such as awareness training opportunities to reduce or prevent teenage pregnancies and the effects on their livelihoods.”
Targeted communication strategy is needed to ensure children go back to school. Most vulnerable children will most likely not resume school if a proper back to school campaign, involving parents, community influential(s) and peers, is not in place.
The economic impact of this crisis will be life-changing to the most vulnerable families. Families may have to choose, among other things, whether to engage their children in income-generating activities and/or child marriage, leading them to drop out of school altogether. To address this, social protection packages that provide incentives to facilitate a return to school and reduce the economic burden on learners and their families would be an excellent way for counties to partner with the community.
4. Donor Partnerships
The donor community has been active in support of the government during this pandemic. There is an opportunity in partnership to enhance learning through sustainable programmes in support of the country.
Such programmes can be the creation of learning-support programmes to improve teacher education and to prepare them for the future tech-enabled classroom, partnership in the provision of water and sanitation to areas without piped water sources and resource-sharing through peer schools in other global jurisdictions to enrich learning outcomes to name a few.
The numerous foundations that have pledged support can partner with the government in a concerted effort to alleviate the pressure the government is facing in its efforts to grapple with this crisis.
5. Research, Development and Innovation Partnerships
The future rests with the innovative. Kenya is steadfast in its innovation leadership. One of the biggest losers will be our generation’s education future. It is even far worse off for societies with low technology integration and access, whose generation will be left behind.
There is an opportunity for the government to partner with our local innovation hubs to develop contextualised solutions in the education space. The government through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) and with the support of the Ministry of ICT, can set up a sandbox to test out and validate many of the emerging applications in preparation to support the learning ecosystem in January.
With donor, government and private sector support, a coaching and mentoring ecosystem can be created to assist learners interested in technology for contextualised solutions.
“The government through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development and with the support of the Ministry of ICT, can set up a sandbox to test out and validate many of the emerging applications in preparation to support the learning ecosystem in January.”
Since March, the global society has been trying to figure out how to safeguard the health of its citizenry while dealing with struggling economies resulting from lockdowns. One of the biggest losers will be the education future of our generations. While there are opportunities to settle into new normal, there is a risk that in societies with low technology integration and access, many will be left behind.
Kenya’s school-going children have lost a full year of schooling. Active partnerships will be essential in mitigating systemic failures that could prevent our learners from resuming classes. If we are to meet the SDG 4 goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, we must all pull together to avert a generational learning disaster.
Muchemi Wambugu is a Digital Transformation Consultant and Executive Coach. He is the Founder of Sirius Consult www.siriusconsult.co.ke and the former Chair of Kenya’s Presidential Digital Talent Program (PDTP).
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