The first case of COVID-19 in Kenya was announced in February 2020. After that, an announcement was made on 15 March 2020 that all learning institutions were to be closed to contain the spread of the virus. Physical learning resumed on 4 January 2021. As a result, the school calendar was considered lost, affecting over 18 million students across the country. In Kenya, many aspects of society and the education sector have been dramatically affected.
Before the pandemic, Africa had worrying education outcomes where 87% of children in sub-Saharan Africa could not read and understand a simple story by their 10th birthday. The disruption caused by COVID-19 has worsened this learning deficit and previously existing inequalities.
ONE Campaign, through the Lost Potential Tracker, estimates that over 70 million children in 2021 alone, equivalent to the combined population of Senegal and Kenya, will have failed to gain basic literacy skills by their 10th birthday.
“If we are to eradicate poverty and hunger on our continent, improve health outcomes, develop a skillful workforce, protect our planet, and build a more inclusive and peaceful society, then we must empower every individual with access to quality education,” says ONE’s Africa Executive Director Edwin Ikuoria.
Nation leadership forum
A virtual forum held by Nation Media Group saw different education industries discuss the new normal in education, and how COVID-19 has impacted education systems, students, teachers, and parents. “It is not a dramatic statement to say that our future depends on the education of our children. We have seen how vulnerable education is in this pandemic,” said Alice Albright, the CEO of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The GPE is hosting an education financing conference in July to raise at least US$5 billion for 2021-2025 for 90 countries, and to get them to protect their education budgets and spend it effectively, targeting the most marginalized. “We disbursed half a billion dollars to partner countries last year to overcome the pandemic,” added Alice.
At the outset of the pandemic, Kenya received an $11 million grant from GPE to combat the effects of COVID-19. This includes expanding access and delivery of online content, training teachers, and monitoring virtual learning, among other interventions for early learning, by the Ministry of Education. Kenya is one of the partner countries that has long benefited from the fund. Efforts made with the competency-based curriculum and prioritization of education have also been recognized. As such, Kenya will be co-hosting the GPE Conference in July with the UK.
Effects of COVID-19
The Principal Secretary of Education, Ambassador Simon Nabukwesi shared the many adjustments that had to be made to make the learning during the pandemic possible. “We have added in our budget proposal a provision for a laptop for every student joining university. We want to encourage library resources for all students and staff both online and offline,” he said. He stated that moving all programs online has proved to be challenging. Also present at the Forum was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Professor Kiama Stephen Gitahi, who mentioned the measures being taken to improve learning in institutions and the importance of digital literacy. “We need to make the internet more accessible to everyone in the same way we invest in other infrastructure.”
As much as virtual learning was embraced, it has not been easy with many scholars unable to access the internet and basic infrastructure such as electricity. “We should take the process slowly so as not to compromise on the quality of education offered. There are other aspects, to learning beyond academic, that have been difficult for students eg. athletics, other talents. This has brought about mental challenges,” said Jenifer Mbogo, the Chairperson of the Multimedia University of Kenya Student Association. Raghav Gandhi, the CIO of Acorn, the developers of Qwetu Hostels, also echoed the point. “There is value in physical interactions. In education, the most important stakeholder is the student body. COVID has not only been a physical issue but a mental health issue. There is space for technology, but taking away the student-adult experience will not help. We are social beings and we learn from people.”
He also emphasized the need to have more public-private partnerships in the sector.
What can be done?
Government must fund education adequately from all sources and ensure that financing is spent effectively, targeting the most marginalized. There are several key opportunities to act on this in the next few months:
- Raise your hand and call on world leaders to fully fund the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) at the Global Education Summit on July 28-29. With at least US$5 billion for 2021 to 2025, the GPE can transform education systems in up to 90 countries and territories.
- Call on our government to protect its education budget and spend it effectively, targeting the most marginalized. They can also commit to doing so at the Global Education Summit.
- Keep them accountable to their commitments and obligations by signing our petition