All learners should move to the next grade
During our most recent reunion, the Kenyatta University College (KUC) languages class which graduated in 1985 took time to reflect on the impact of Covid-19 on education in Kenya.
In the online meeting were teachers trained in English, Kiswahili and French who have served across the country at various levels. This was the last class of the then Constituent College of the University of Nairobi.
After appreciating the devastation that Covid-19 is having on education globally, the class reflected about Kenyan students and the challenges they are currently experiencing including anxiety, sense of loss, body changes, peer pressure, social media excesses, and tension with their parents.
Parents are overwhelmed as they try to balance the educational pursuits of their children and catering for their basic needs. Not knowing what the future portends, many learners are expressing desperation.
Education is a social and cultural practice which can be deconstructed to serve communities better. While the ministry of Education has underlined that the safety of children is paramount, there is little evidence that much is being done to prepare schools for reopening.
By the time schools closed in March 2020, many classes and dormitories were extremely congested. There were water and sanitation challenges across the board and the teacher-student ratio was shockingly off the mark.
Teachers were under immense pressure to cover the examination-oriented syllabus because that is the culture of education in Kenya. Obsessed with passing of national examinations, the system is rigid and not open to disruptive and novel innovations.
Covid-19 is teaching us to listen more, to be innovative and to adjust our beliefs and practices to the new normal. Just as social interaction and the culture of the daily commute and the office space have been disrupted, so must the classroom and lecture hall.
It must adapt to the new realities of mask wearing, physical distancing, meeting in smaller groups, sanitising, washing with water and soap and ensuring basic hygiene. The school infrastructure must be changed drastically as a matter of urgency and imbued with a new culture. Investment in the new health conscious school and university ought to be a priority.
The ministry of Education has been sending mixed signals to parents and students, causing much anxiety. There are a few things that the ministry can do in addition to fixing the school infrastructure. The learning syllabus is a facility to enable acquisition of knowledge, inject curiosity and encourage creativity and discovery among learners. But learning should not be imprisoned by the syllabus. All students ought to transition to the next Grade if learning institutions reopen next year.
There is no reason for any learner to repeat a class. Transitioning all learners would minimise the challenges brought by backlogs. There are at least three reasons why no student should repeat a class due to Covid-19.
First, the one year loss will have lasting psychological effects on the learners. Our educational system has been designed in terms of movement across levels which mark achievement. But there is no magic to the content that is covered in any one level.
Content not covered in the preceding grade can be taken over in the consequent grade and covered in an accelerated manner. Children have been under immense psychological anguish and ought not to be subjected to further pain by not transitioning to the next grade when schools open in 2021.
Competency Based Curriculum
Secondly, the educational system is already burdened and weighed down by the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) reforms. The CBC reforms require that Grades 7, 8, 9 be domiciled in secondary schools. To ensure that there is 100 percent transition, there is no national examination required for Grade 6 learners. Where will the upper classes in primary schools be domiciled when schools reopen?
The third reason for the automatic transition relates to the fate of private schools. Despite the fact that the expansion of private schools is a consequence of state neglect of public schools over the years, one cannot deny the critical role they play within the educational system.