“Hello, this is Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, how can I help?”

Parent replies, “I am a parent and I am confused about the new curriculum and the type of books I need to buy for my child”

“We have the Orange Book, it has a list of all the approved books”    The agent responds.

“I don’t know about the orange Book, I need textbooks for my child. The child keeps demanding these digital textbooks, where can I get them? ” The parent asks.

“In that case, let me transfer your call to the bookshop where Judy will be able to help you”

The agent then transfers the call to the bookshop and in a few seconds, she is able to continue with her queries.

“I want to buy books for my child in grade 4.  I need to know which books to buy for the new curriculum but the child keeps demanding these digital or online books, I am not sure how to get them. Do you also sell such books? ” The parent inquires.

The bookshop agent responds “For textbooks, just go to TextBook Centre and for the digital content, go to Kenya Education Cloud”

To find out how easily accessible digital learning platforms are, I posed as a semi-literate parent seeking digital and online learning tools for my child.  As the conversation goes, I was advised to search the website: Kenya Education Cloud https://kec.ac.ke/

Adult digital literacy rates are not yet documented in Kenya.  There is an assumption that the inability to access digital learning platforms will perpetuate inequality in education.

A look at the Kenya Education Cloud website’s performance on StatShow as of January 2021  indicates website, which is the source of government-approved online learning content has had a -63%  visits decline over the last 3 months. It reaches roughly 1,950 users and delivers about 4,350 pageviews each month. Its estimated monthly revenue is $12.60.

Parental engagement in online learning curriculum

Online learning has presented unprecedented levels of parental inclusion and engagement in education. In the case where a household has access to the internet and the necessary gadgets for online learning, it is necessary that parents’ guide the children to ensure their safety online.

 

When parents have digital literacy, it will be possible for their children to access quality and relevant educational content while the children are away from the care of teachers and the school system.   

Kenya’s ministry of ICT has rolled out the DigiSchool platform that promotes digital learning for both children and teachers.  ICT Authority of Kenya claims 99. 5 percent successful installation of the Digital Literacy Program in all the 47 counties.

Despite this claim, government-approved digital learning content on the Kenya Education Cloud seems to have insignificant access to parents and learners per month during the COVID school closures.

There seems to be no clear strategy for tagging along with parents in digital literacy. Parents are key partners since they are the ones who can monitor homeschooling or distance learning through digital platforms.  Digitally illiterate parents will take away from the efforts of the government and teachers while exposing the children to numerous dangers online such as cyberbullying and age-inappropriate content among other distractions to ELearning

 Alex Twinomugisha, World Bank Senior Education Specialist says, “The pandemic has revealed the crucial role that parents and caregivers play in children’s learning and the importance of the home learning environment in complementing learning at school. In addition, the home is the primary, and in most cases sole, learning space during the pandemic, parents and other caregivers have had to take on additional responsibility for children’s learning. Many parents internalize that they have a critical role in the education process of their children, and they have the skills, including digital skills, to play that role.  But, this is not true for all. While parents are not there to replace teachers, they do have an essential role in creating a favourable space for children to learn.”

If online learning during the pandemic is to work, then, parents need a clear understanding on how the internet works and how it can benefit or harm their children depending on how it is used.

Education Technology

According to sources from the World Bank Education Technology program, COVID-19 has created the worst crisis in education and learning in a century.   At the peak of school closures in April 2020, 94 percent of students – or 1.6 billion children – were out of school worldwide, and, still, around 700 million students today are studying from home, in a context of huge uncertainty and with families and schools having to navigate across options of hybrid and remote learning, or no schooling at all.  In most countries, there is no end in sight to this uncertainty.  Early evidence from several high-income countries has already revealed learning losses and increases in inequality.

Education technology (EdTech) can be a powerful tool in supporting teachers, children, principals, and parents; expanding accessible digital learning platforms, including radio/TV/Online learning resources.

In the past, the focus has been on building classrooms, buying books, expanding libraries and building more schools in general.  Currently, local media reports say the ministry of education has spent about 2. 6 billion in Kenya shillings on re-opening schools. The budget has significant spending on repairing classrooms and buying news desks.

Reports from across the country have witnessed schools unrest and high levels of student indiscipline. Could this point out to underlying issues that might have affected children during the 9-month school closures?   Some children have shown behaviour that points out to deep psychological and emotional issues. Could it be that the lockdown months have affected children in ways the school system as it used to be can no longer handle?

Schools unrests have been witnessed even before the pandemic, but could this new wave inspire a rethink of teacher-student relations in schools?

Even as schools have re-opened in Kenya, the pandemic has not fully subsided as other parts of the world are experiencing the spread of the new variant and stricter lockdowns.

Education investors and thinking otherwise. Brick and mortar classrooms seem to lose their former appeal as schooling adapts to the ongoing or subsiding pandemic.

The new education technology prompted by the pandemic is presenting an opportunity to give more learners access to quality education at a possible lower cost.

“The global pandemic has exposed the urgent need to build dynamic and resilient education systems that expand access to learning inside and out of the classroom.  We believe that learning in the future will use technology to enable students to learn anywhere and anytime, to enable teachers to deliver individualized instruction, to assess children continuously, to deliver practical blended teachers’ training at scale, and to improve management of the education system. Therefore, the use of e-learning and other Education Technology approaches will be an important part of the education system and is and will continue to be a part of the World Bank’s support to countries.” World Bank Senior Education Specialist, Alex Twinomugisha explains.

The World Bank in collaboration with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), is supporting the expansion of existing remote learning. Specifically, the operations support access and delivery of online content such as the Kenya Education.

The digital divide could hamper online learning

Effective digital learning can only be made possible with basic infrastructure such as electricity connection, stable internet, gadgets such as laptops/ desktops, smartphones or tablets available.  This implies that rural and poor urban families with limited access to this infrastructure will be left behind in learning.  25 % of Kenyans still do not have access to electricity.

Education technology could give cheaper, wider and easier access to schooling

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum development currently run the Education Cloud service.  This is a great step towards acquiring online learning tools. But the question of access remains a daunting responsibility.

There needs to be data on the number of teachers, parents and children with the gadgets and budget to access this content.

ICT infrastructure was identified as a priority action area for creating sustainable development. In 2003, the Kenya government prioritized efforts towards bridging of the digital divide between Africa and the developed world. One of the six high priority areas identified was the e-school initiative. Its main aim was to integrate ICT in the delivery of education curriculum at secondary and primary school levels.

Microsoft Founder Bill Gates has warned of a worse pandemic yet to hit. If his prediction is anything to go by, then how resilient is the education system that is currently being re-opened.

The Future of EducationGovernments and education investors, therefore, need to put into account how rural schools and those in less privileged urban areas could be incorporated into online learning.

Could the internet help decongest schools and make fewer teachers serve more learners?