Schooling Unusual

As history goes, in 2020, Covid-19 disrupted the normal as we knew it.

From the World Health Organization declaring the novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020, to the abrupt shutdown of Kenya schools in March the same year. Indefinitely, at the time. Additionally, the average family unit faced more blows including job losses for a majority of breadwinners. Even I lost my new job in school transport after a month of work. I had just learnt all the children’s names and their birthdays.

It is no wonder then that most parents and guardians alike grumbled at the phased reopening of schools six months later for targeted learners- the candidates. How well could parents hide their anxiety to even more nervous students with the unspoken pressure to do well in their ‘crucial last year’ of primary or secondary education? Not forgetting the mandatory national examinations a few months down the line.

In came January 2021 where all other learner groups resumed school. Here was the usual; back to school stationery supplies, school fees payment bank slips, haircuts and cornrows, the great migration-boarding school students crossing streets with large stuffed bags.

The unfamiliar? Several parents went in search of new school admissions for learners whose private schools closed up or turned to agricultural farms for sustenance. Others had to take out loans to afford pricy school supplies, not forgetting new uniform for learners who had completely outgrown the extra pairs they previously had in 2020. What’s more, the school supplies list was inclusive of hand sanitizers, face masks and wet wipes for some students. On the other hand, several special education institutions had to turn away learners as they could not afford preventive measures against the spread of Covid19. Here, parents chose to withdraw their children from the schools as fees became a tall order to meet.

School administrations were not spared either. The Kenyan government instated rules to protect our learners from the risk of Covid19 infections. The Ministry of education went on to issue more desks to schools for additional personal space. Teachers needed to figure out how to make more classes out of other facility rooms or under trees in the schools; encourage social distancing in classes that would typically be crowded in most public schools; ensure learners keep their masks on and audibly participate verbally in class; have learners regularly hand wash at the school water points- if any; limit stationery sharing or friendly hand holding among learners; restructure the syllabus to recover the ‘lost’ academic year etc.

Nevertheless, the variations of education are not to be ignored. There are learners who continued to learn remotely from home by attending virtual classes. Others moved to homeschools and unschooling- creating one’s learning paths away from school schedules and environments.

One thing all Kenyans can agree on is that schools did resume, eventually. I consider public schools privileged to educate a majority of learners from vulnerable households. One appreciates it the more when they deliberate that schools, to some degree, acts as safety zones from childhood risks like child labor, early marriages, domestic violence and hunger for children from impoverished backgrounds.

However, forgive my asking, but do parents understand how and why we educate children? Do we enroll learners into schools because they “belong to the government” and there is free education? Do parents and guardians care beyond buying stationery and paying school fees- for those who do? Do we iterate the need for guardians to say more than, “I am sacrificing a lot to send you to school so make good grades this year,” to children? Are we interested in what and how our students learn?

If anything, my volunteer experience at StarKids Initiative has strengthened my resolve to be more involved in how I facilitate learning for a child. As partners seeking to enhance children welfare, do we view quality education and structured guidance as foundations for life-long learning opportunities?

And what about the various opportunities of learning beyond school academic work? Have we made time to engage the child on how they are coping with such dynamics in their young worlds? Part of the reality is that several children lost family, classmates, friends and teachers to the Covid19 pandemic. Others watched one of their own labor to battle the virus.

My ultimate question is, do Kenyan educators welcome 2021 as a learning opportunity despite of Covid19 schools-shutdown or because of Covid19?

As the world marked the International Day of Education on 24th January  2021, I took the lesson that school unusual can take many foundations and forms. The year 2020 proved it; 2021 continues to affirm it.

-Waceke.

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