By Eric Olsen
TRANSFORMING EDUCATION SERIES ONLINE FORUM - KENYA
Kenyan, Ugandan, Nigerian and American educators, administrators, and government ministers examined the unique challenges of supporting students and providing equal access to online learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic that has shuttered schools across the region and throughout the world. Some 300 educators joined an April 30 Zoom seminar, “Engaging Students, Teachers and Parents During Covid-19, organized by the Global Peace Foundation Kenya.
"We are here because our children have been at home the last six weeks, and like others, they’re not sure what will become of them," Hon Zack Kinthia, Chief Administrative Secretary of Kenya's Ministry of Education, told the forum in opening remarks. “Schools have been disrupted in the past because of a strike, clashes, or other events, but this time no one knows when it will end. This may lead to a new normal, so how do we adapt? For those of us who believe education is an equalizer, how do we proceed?
Global Peace Foundation Vice President Dr. Tony Devine observed that Africa has the world’s youngest population but questioned what the life prospects for youth were for a future of peace and prosperity.
“Scientific knowledge is creating new opportunities and solutions that can enrich our lives, while at the same time fueling disruptive waves of change in every sector,” he said. “In large parts of the world, inequalities in living standards and life chances are widening, while conflict, instability and inertia are increasing.
“It is time to start mapping out a strategy of a hybrid online learning approach in concert with the in-school experience,” he said. “We need to proactively get ready for the next crisis with increased online learning capacity and training.”
Patrick Kogola, coordinator of training at the Center for Mathematics and Technology Education in Africa (CEMASTEA), said CEMASTEA was already hosting online resource and capacity building before the pandemic struck and had already trained over 3000 secondary teachers in online instruction.
“But what about the children that don’t have internet access or resources? How can we bring in the ones who are left out? The pandemic has called us to rethink education, to realize it is not confined to four walls of the classroom. We need to build capacity among parents and teachers to assist in learning outside out of the classroom.”
Technology and the home environment
Other presenters representing both public and private schools shared concerns about equitable access to technology when depending on the home environment for instruction. “Some parents don’t have smart phones and students are relying on relatives,” observed Indimuli Kohi, Chairman of the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association. “There are also issues of bandwidth and printing costs for materials. Parents want to know if they will be reimbursed.”
“Insufficiency of devices at home was an immediate issue,” agreed Ms. Mutheu Kasanga, Chairperson of the Kenya Private Schools Association. “There are far more homes without even a smart phone, we found. The second challenge was technology literacy on both ends. When a head teacher is not technology literate, he provides no leadership at all to the team of teachers. We found that at home, particularly with primary students, if parents were not tech savvy instantly there was failure. The digital divide is real.”
“The pandemic has called us to rethink education, to realize it is not confined to four walls of the classroom. We need to build capacity among parents and teachers to assist in learning outside out of the classroom.”
Ms. Kasanga said the one medium of communication with the widest reach is radio. According to UNESCO some 80-90 percent of homes in sub-Saharan Africa have access to radio, and with a post-covid future uncertain, radio must be considered among the key media for delivering educational content.
Other speakers noted a troubling uptick in domestic violence, with added stresses in the home from the pandemic. Speakers urged support from the Ministry of Health to coordinate health oversight in the absence of school attendance.
Participants representing county governments, newspapers in education, and IT educational platforms explored many complementary approaches to meeting the covid-19 crisis and the uncertain post-pandemic educational landscape.
Representatives from both Oracle Academy and Google Classroom emphasized that entirely free resources, including curriculum, classroom learning resources, software, cloud technology, and practice environments, were available for every level of instruction.
“We have never been overwhelmed like the last few weeks for ways to help with remote education,” said Oscar Limonke, Cloud Lead for Pawa IT Solutions, representing Google Classroom. “A virtual classroom naturally still needs a teacher and no way does this take away their role; it is not a magical software to do what teachers do.”
Also contributing to the forum, Dr. Phillip Mutisya and Talighta Batts, representing North Carolina Central University (NCCA), a leading Historically Black College in the United States, described the university’s “myEducation on Demand,” which provides professional certifications, a learning management system and digital learning. NCCA partners with GPF to support LeapHubs technology mentoring programs in Kenya.
Concluding the forum, Kenya’s Health Minister Hon. Zack Kinuthia warmly thanked the organizers and participants. “I am impressed to say the least,” he said. “This is the richest combination of resources that I have come across and the single most important source of information. A post-covid19 world beckons. What you are doing is not for any personal compensation but from your own motivation. On behalf of government, I am sincerely grateful.”
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