Ideas & Debate

Kenya must do more to revitalise basic education


Children play at Star of Hope Primary in Lunga Lunga village, Industrial Area Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

The world marked the third International Day of Education under the theme ‘Recover and Revitalise Education for the Covid-19 Generation’ on January 24.

There is no doubt that the education sector has been gravely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic globally. Indeed, vital quality of education indicators that had registered impressive milestones have drastically dropped.

With widespread closure of schools and loss of livelihoods as a result of Covid-19, context indicators such as student characteristics and socio-economic conditions have plunged. Input, process and output indicators also suffered significant drawbacks as finances for education were redirected. This compromised teaching quality, competencies, and completion rates. As a result, assessing learning outcomes post-Covid-19 will remain a challenge.

Like many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya’s observance of the 2021 International Education Day was dulled by struggles to return to normalcy. Pathetic conditions witnessed in schools like Ogenya Primary School in Kisumu; Loruk Primary School in Baringo County and Kapedo Secondary School are a clear sign of the gaps Kenya has to plug in seeking to attain sustainable development goal — Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

We are building back our education at a time when access to learning opportunities is held back by climate change realities. Lakes in the Rift Valley and western Kenya regions have breached known boundaries and submerged schools and homes.

The sector’s coping mechanisms have been overstretched. The affected learners are either crammed in nearby host schools or in alternative centres that are not yet fully set up for standardised operation. This will compromise quality and competency both in depth and breadth.

Education provision is delicate and supply and demand dynamics should not be overexposed to external disruptors. As such inter-county conflicts such as the ones currently being witnessed along the borders of Baringo and Turkana and Marsabit will only erode the gains already registered in the education sector. The on-going conflicts, whether resource-driven or politically instigated, should be avoided at all costs. When schools are deserted, affected children are excluded, made vulnerable, further marginalised and their basic rights violated.

This year’s celebrations focused on learning heroes, innovations, and financing. If Kenya were to adequately address these thematic areas, then we must squarely confront climate change-related issues and conflict off all kinds

As the government struggles to normalise human resourcing and create an enabling environment for curriculum delivery in the conflict-hit regions, teachers, the unsung heroes of education, will need more support.

They are facing twin enemies in these regions: the bullet and Covid-19. The impact of the prolonged learners’ stay away from school will need extra dedication by teachers to undo.

Many will have to pick up the pieces and play catch-up within a shrunken academic calendar to ensure favourable learner outcomes. This will require recognition of these learning heroes and propelling them to the forefront.

A constricted academic calendar will definitely generate pressure among students, teachers and parents. Already, pockets of students’ unrest has been witnessed in various parts of the country. A broader framework of conflict management must be adopted by all teachers if time is to be redeemed successfully. It will also ensure that curriculum delivery proceeds in a seamless manner.

Innovative technology will play a critical role in the quest to return to normalcy. Some schools will require social and physical rebuilding and others greater attention to learners and teachers’ retention. Applications such as eLimu — an interactive educational platform with content for the Kenyan primary school curriculum — will come handy in enhancing access and learning outcomes.

Most importantly, education stakeholders will have to explore innovative ways to address inequities exacerbated not only by Covid-19, but also the inherent socioeconomic and political issues.

Finally, issues around education financing will have to be squarely addressed. One of the first steps is to advocate increased budget allocation to education.

Public financing is the most sustainable way of improving the quality of teaching and realising SDG4. Increased budget allocation ensures adequate recruitment, better remuneration and quality teacher training.

Unesco estimates that close to 258 million children and youth still do not attend school globally. However, assuming that every school across the three basic levels of education (ECDE, primary and secondary) has only three learners who cannot be accounted for post-Covid-19, giving up on them would mean contributing an additional 23,5212 learners to the existing out-of-school children.

Therefore, this year’s International Education Day should invigorate our efforts, make us rethink our education framework and take stock of the gains and losses in the education sector. This will enable prioritisation of education needs for better learning outcomes.

Mbullo is a PhD candidate at Northwestern University, USA. Onunga is an educator