Kenya, like many countries in the world, has been impacted negatively by Covid-19, which has seen earlier economic growth projections for 2019/20 being slashed.
The pandemic is not only a health crisis but also a social, economic, environmental, and learning challenge.
In the midst of a crisis that threatens lives and accompanying containment measures that threaten our way of living, Kenya’s education sector is faced with the stark reality of a lockdown.
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All learning institutions are currently closed, and more than 18 million learners are at home. The far-reaching consequences of the pandemic may negatively affect the health and learning outcomes of most of these young people, going forward.
The e-learning project, which was promised in Kenya seven years ago and did not pick up very well across the country, could have solved the challenges of learning, supervision and assessment that our schools and millions of young people are facing across the country.
Critical lessons should be learned here. Given the importance of education as the foundation for development and social transformation, Kenya must learn from more industrialised countries and fast growing economies such as South Korea’s to safeguard learning.
Building learning innovations and technological environment is critical to be able to respond to the pandemic’s health, economic, social and environmental aftershocks.
One of the key policy areas that the government, private sector, development partners, the civil society, communities and households should focus on is building solid education foundations.
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This is possible if all stakeholders do things right and invest wisely and innovatively. Such investments can help save our education and training system from total collapse.
The government is implementing free and compulsory basic education and free tuition in secondary schools across the country.
The student capitation grant programme has led to a significant increase in net enrollment from less than 70 per cent in 2003 to more than 90 per cent in 2018 in primary education level.
However, studies and practice indicates that the process of disbursing student capitation and other school grants faces serious challenges. In some cases, schools receive the much needed cash late or not at all, negatively affecting learning processes.
The ministry is encountering a challenge in sending capitation grants to schools because of the disharmony between the school calendar year and the government financial year that runs from July 1 - June 30, where the first term begins in the middle of the financial year and the second term crosses from one financial year to the other while third term is in the next financial year.
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There is thus a compelling reason for a policy change. The school calendar should be harmonised with the government’s financial year. The closure of schools for more than two months now provides a perfect opportunity for this change and harmonisation.
For this to happen for the next financial year, I propose a systematic re-opening of schools and other learning institutions in phases as follows:
The first group, say this year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination candidates should open in July.
They can then be spread in classrooms which could have been occupied by other learners. Schools should be supported to create a safe environment to stop infections by providing them with personal protective equipment and hand washing facilities.
Grades 1, 2 and 3 can then reopen in September 2021 while grades 4, 5, 6 and 7, and Forms 1, 2, and 3 can open in October or November under a new school calendar.
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Institutions of higher learning will need a different modality.
Universities, for example, are think-tanks that should review their unique situations and give suggestion to the Education ministry on when to reopen based on an empirical formula. This can vary from one university to the other.
Covid-19 has provided our country with a perfect opportunity to change and build equitable, resilient and sustainable education policies for the good of millions of learners.
Prof Okwach Abagi is Public Policy Analyst /Senior Researcher at the Centre for Research and Development. (firstname.lastname@example.org)