E learning, home schooling, and standards in the face of a pandemic

BY DAVID ONJILI

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned upside down what was normal. With an emphasis on people not being in crowds to help curb its spread, education was ultimately going to suffer the most. Schools had to be closed to protect both the learners and teachers.

At first, the Ministry of Education courtesy of its Cabinet Secretary, Professor George Magoha issued a statement postponing the schools re-opening by a month. Then, appearing before a parliamentary committee, he observed that as long as children were safe, he was not afraid to have them home longer. This was a clear admission on the part of Government that school-going children will stay home much longer.

The Jubilee Government assumed office in 2013 on the promises of digital learning and free laptops to school going children. This would have been an apt moment for them to utilize the digital learning they promised the electorate during the political campaigns. Yet all that was just political rhetoric, a colourful manifesto to hoodwink the gullible public. It has come to haunt them but what are Kenyan school going children experiencing in these times?

Schools have in one way or the other invested in online or digital learning. The efficacy of this cannot be quantified as of now. A number of parents feel short-changed. They feel that with their children at home, it makes no sense in paying fees.

Of course parents must pay fee, the amounts can however be negotiated. Schools still operating and there are fixed costs like teacher salaries, which cannot just be wished away. Just because the teachers are not physically with the children does not mean that they are absent. Schools have integrated teachers not just in online learning but also in the production of lesson plans, notes and even schemes of work during this period.

Learning is about teaching processes. That is why there is a scheme of work for teachers and lesson plans which have objectives that need to be met by the teachers and learners.

The curriculum developers feel the need to instil a particular skill in the learners in each step. This is why the ministry normally has education officers who go around schools ensuring that teachers follow the teaching guidelines issued by the ministry. Specific concepts in the school textbooks must be taught and learners assessed to ensure objectives are met. The teachers, at the end, must give remarks both on lessons taught and topics covered as an assessment they have made on the learners.

At higher levels of learning, marks are awarded for correct formula and substitution, working out, and, finally, for the correct answer. A student can still pass their examinations without getting any correct answer but by simply following the correct process.

A simple mathematical question requires students to find the value of an angle, (y), exterior in a triangle by realizing that the sum of two interior opposite angles will give you that. While this question may seem straightforward, the skill the teacher needs to instil in learners is; one, they should be able to identify the 2 interior angles and two, they should know that given the exterior angle and one interior angle, they could work out the arithmetic backwards.

Any learner, who does not get these basic mathematics or geometry principles, may get the correct answer but will have problems as they advance in their learning. Why? Because if they were to be an engineer or designer, then properties of triangles, angles will come in handy.

This is key, especially after seeing a section of parents belittle teaching, shouting that they could teach their children. Their emphasis, however, is only premised on the learners getting the correct answers.

Learning is a process and not an event. Learners must be taught and made to grasp the fundamentals of the learning principles needed in each subject topic.

It is impressive to see a politician take to his social media pages to help candidates revise for their KCSE. But we must ask whether in his revision, he is enabling the learners understand the marking points an examiner will seek when marking an examination. This caution should be taken for all other folks out there revising examinations and subjects for learners. Anyone can get the correct answer, but few can follow the step-by-step guidelines required to solve questions especially when it is one of the STEM subjects. 

Marks, too, are never provided for correct answers without showing clearly how you arrived at the answer. Parents need to be careful not to teach their children how to produce the correct answers while failing to grasp the basic concepts of the examinable subjects. It is not the parents’ problem but schools must also be asked to print and circulate lesson plans, notes and schemes of work for parents to use while guiding the learners.

There is also the sad assumption that all parents can access the internet or have electricity in their houses. The latter is an indictment on the incompetence of the Jubilee Administration. They reneged on their promise to ensure all if not most homes have electricity. The ministry using national broadcaster, KBC to air lessons is good but how effective is it? How many homes have television sets? 

This is not to excuse anything, this period is just widening the academic gap between school going children in public schools versus those in private ones. Never mind that all students belong to the Government despite this inequality and will sit the same examination at the end of term or year.

Kenya continues to face challenges when it comes to education. Already, higher institutions of learning are faced with the challenge of issuing marks to unworthy students in exchange for gifts that include but not confined to money and sex. If we begin to compromise on the lower levels of learning, that which is supposed to be the foundation; then the country is headed downstream.

No nation, globally, expected this pandemic would hit this hard. Interestingly, nations that value education have seamlessly transitioned to online learning. This is a great opportunity for tech startups to consider the education sector. A perfect example is Zeraki Learning that we once featured in this publication. They have video tutorials for learners that can be downloaded from the app store and utilized.

The ministry of education must clearly analyse this years’ academic progress and experts be brought together to do a report and share publicly the findings. Such an effort will bring forth seminal lessons for posterity. 

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