The Covid-19 pandemic is a public health crisis whose tentacles reached into every facet of organized human life including education. One of the measures taken to curb its spread is limiting large gatherings which led to the closure of schools globally. In Kenya, schools, colleges and universities were officially closed in March and were opened for all students 9 months later in the first week of January 2021. The effects of this temporary closure on learning are far-reaching.
Inequality – Digital and Otherwise
One of the first things that happened after the official nationwide school closure was the transition to other forms of learning. Education moved onto the digital space with many students from affluent backgrounds attending consistent online classes or getting personal tutors. Other children’s education was administered primarily through TV and radio programs which excluded those in areas with no electricity and those who do not have those devices.
Both online learning, as well as through radio and TV had problems of access with research showing that worldwide 31% of children cannot be reached by broadcast and internet-based remote learning techniques. There were other challenges for children and teachers who were accustomed to a different method of instruction being forced to adopt new methods of teaching and learning. There was a further group of students whose education stopped when physical classes stopped. Some of these children were forced to work to supplement the family’s income or help their parents some of whom lost their incomes as a result of the pandemic.
The pandemic has had the effect of increasing the already massive inequality in education caused by class differences. Now that classes have resumed, there are students whose learning was never hampered and students whose learning effectively stopped with the school closure, all competing for the same opportunities in a capitalist system that claims to be meritocratic when it could not be further from it.
Schools have resumed with certain students in top-of-the-line facilities and others learning in dilapidated structures succumbing to the effects of the elements or even being taught under trees. It’s a safe bet that that gap that has been increased between the rich and poor students will never be closed, compounding generational education and wealth inequality for generations to come.
Child Abuse and Pregnancies
It turns out that schools are underrated safe havens for girls. The school closures have had the effect of making already vulnerable girls more vulnerable with the withdrawal of their only protection. The nation was rocked by the news that in just the four months that schools had been closed, 4,000 children had been impregnated in Machakos Country alone. In Narok, the number was approximately 5,500 pregnant children and these figures are replicated in too many counties to name.
These were children from age 10 to 19 years old. While this was framed by some as parental failure to protect children or worse moral failure on the part of young girls, this is clearly a case of paedophilia and abuse. There is no other explanation that suitably covers the fact that ten-year-old girls are counted among pregnant students. Research shows that about a third of girls and a sixth of boys experience sexual violence that they do not report.
The bad news, apart from the willful rape and abuse of minors with no consequences to perpetrators is that too many of these girls default to dropping out of school altogether. The good news is that schools are admitting their pregnant students back. There are countries in which pregnant students are kicked out of school, but here, there has been a concerted effort by both schools and the government to convince the pregnant girls to come back to school and convince their parents to let them go to school.
Schools are also making adjustments for pregnant students to make their stay as easy as possible including dietary provisions to deal with cravings and other problems regarding morning sickness and foods that exacerbate it for each student. They are also offering counselling services to them.
School Feeding Programmes
School was not just a source of protection and education for students, it was also for many their primary, most consistent source of nutrition. School closure occasioned by the pandemic has led to poor nutrition among low-income students who got food from school. Schools have feeding programs by both governmental and non-governmental organizations that were discontinued for many students with the effect of increasing the number of food-insecure children in the country.
Increased Dropout Rates
Economic hardships are part and parcel of this pandemic. Many poverty-stricken families rely on their children to work to supplement the family income in normal times, this has been exacerbated by the pandemic with many parents losing their jobs, businesses and sources of income. This has increased the strain on children of all ages, but mostly those of older high-school-going age to work to support their families.
Many of these children who have spent months working will not be able to resume their studies because there is no money to take them back to school with parents unable to afford fees, uniform, school books, face masks and other requirements not to mention the fact that their income is now critical for the family’s survival. This long period of disengagement with the education system will make it difficult to go back to school for many with the priority shifting from learning to survival.
Congested Classes and Dormitories
Before the pandemic, public schools were grappling with the problem of overcrowding and extremely high student to teacher ratios. This has been worsened by the pandemic. The long period of closure led to the permanent collapse of private schools particularly those in low-income neighbourhoods. All the students from the defunct schools will now be joining the already congested public schools. This during a pandemic that requires students to maintain social distance to curb its spread. Students have to share desks and other facilities, touching and sharing everything in a way that teachers and parents fear is a huge risk for the spread of Covid-19.
The problem of congestion is not just limited to classes but extends to dormitories for those in boarding schools. Some schools because of the social distancing restrictions were forced to do away with their boarding facilities and operate just as day schools. Other boarding schools are making every effort to implement the social distancing measures in the classes, dormitories, eating areas, and other shared spaces although it is proving difficult.
The pandemic led to the adoption of new teaching methods, taking advantage of different technologies from online learning solutions to broadcast methods like TV and radio. These methods are no longer being used for many students, with the return to the classroom. They were also highly ineffective for younger students whose concentration is not developed enough to maximize the technologies.
They will, however, continue to be used by those in higher education including colleges and universities with lecturers undergoing continuous training to build their skill set in the use of online learning solutions and technologies. Universities have embraced the online space with many even holding graduation ceremonies online in lieu of postponing.
This has been done because of the recognition that the world has gone digital and the pandemic is likely a long-term problem necessitating a change in the way business is conducted even in the academy. There has been a focus on teaching students on working digitally even as a significant population begins working remotely instead of congregating in offices. However, too many university students will not be able to resume their studies because of their parents’ loss of income and the necessity of making a living.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable effects of the pandemic on education has been how it has altered the academic term calendars. The term dates are projected to stabilize and return to normal in 2023.
The pandemic’s effect on education and learning ranges from changes in teaching and instruction methods to term dates altered for the foreseeable future. It affected the students themselves, increasing inequality that was already present because of class differences and making already vulnerable students vulnerable as seen in the alarming number of sexually violated and pregnant students as well as those who became food insecure during the school closure period. Then there are students whose formal education has stopped for all intents and purposes, dropping out in order to support their families or because they are pregnant. These effects will certainly be felt for decades to come.
For more on the effects of Covid-19, here’s an article on the effect of the pandemic on the social behaviour of Kenyans and The Impact Of Covid-19 Pandemic On Travel And Tourism In Kenya