BACK TO SCHOOL

Why Grade 4s remain home as schools reopen

In Summary
  • They will start the 2021 school year together with the rest of the learners in July
  • Justice and equity require that all children, regardless of status, access quality and inclusive educational available opportunities
Education CS George Magoha speaks to a grade 4 pupil Cate Atieno at Olympic Primary School, Kibra on October 12, 2020.
Education CS George Magoha speaks to a grade 4 pupil Cate Atieno at Olympic Primary School, Kibra on October 12, 2020.
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

Last week Education CS George Magoha warned private schools against recalling Grade 4 learners as schools reopen for third term this week.

Implicit in the attempts by some private schools to recall Grade 4 learners alongside other learners are clear legal, educational and moral questions that stakeholders in education have been invited to think about.

In all education systems the world over, government authorities stipulate certain number of days in a school calendar—and a set quantity of hours in that school year.

The Ministry of Education has accordingly prescribed a curriculum, together with stipulated time, which we know as the school calendar for this purpose. The school calendar, whose determination is guided by the Basic Education Act, 2012, as read together with Section 84 of the Basic Education Regulations, 2015, is deemed sufficient to facilitate effective teaching and learning of the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes embedded in the curriculum or content.

The ministry has set out what it terms school hours—the number of hours during weekdays—when learners are actually supposed to be in school. The section has further provided for what it calls class hours. Class hours, or instructional time, is the time learners are participating in learning activities of the curriculum in the classroom.

Under Section 84 of the Basic Education Regulations, 2015, the ministry stipulates that learners in primary education have a maximum of four hours per day and 20 hours (from Monday to Friday) per week engaged in learning.

The regulation stipulates that learners in secondary education have six hours each day and 30 hours per week (from Monday to Friday) officially engaged in learning guided by the teacher in the classroom.

The 30 minutes and 40 minute-long lessons in primary and secondary education create what educational researchers call academic time. This is in educational jargon the precise period when an instructional activity is perfectly aligned with a learner’s mood to learn. And this is actually when the probability for learning occurs.

The government took into consideration all the factors that underpin education while reorganising the school calendar—courtesy of the distortion caused by the prolonged school closure the curbing of the spread of Covid-19 necessitated.

Recalling the Grade 4 learners means that they will have a longer school or instructional time in Grade 5 than the rest of their counterparts in previous years. That means increasing school time for them will be very expensive. Their parents and guardians will pay more for the extra term.

Policymakers and stakeholders took into account the quantum of knowledge and skills learners ought to acquire as well as the values and attitudes, which are embedded in the curriculum, they ought to internalise. The difference between the total time available for teaching and learning during pre-Covid-19 times and during the revised school calendar is negligible.

Whatever substantive difference there are lies in the commencement and completion of the school year. We have always began the school year or calendar in January and ended in November. We have ended the 2020 school calendar for the learners in Grade 4, and 2020 KCPE and KCSE candidates in April.

We shall formally end the 2020 school calendar for the rest of the learners in Basic Education institutions in early July, and belatedly commence the 2021 school calendar for all learners later in July.

In other words, learners in Grade 4 are way ahead of their counterparts as far as learning in the prescribed basic education curriculum. However, they will start the 2021 school year together with the rest of the learners in July.

Therefore, attempts to recall Grade 4 learners by a section of private schools violates the policies on instructional time the government has stipulated. Implicit in their attempts is the notion that these schools require longer school days, and therefore longer instructional time, to deliver the prescribed curriculum.

The leadership of these schools is also saying that parents and the community have no role whatsoever in moulding children.

The assumptions underlying recalling learners in Grade 4 is clearly mistaken. Apart from being unlawful, it has questionable educational and moral basis.

Recalling the Grade 4 learners means that they will have a longer school or instructional time in Grade 5 than the rest of their counterparts in previous years. That means increasing school time for them will be very expensive. Their parents and guardians will pay more for the extra term.

Will they learn more? Hardly. It is the quality of time spent in learning that is more important than the quantity. It is the proper use of instructional time that improves learning and not the amount of time taken to deliver the curriculum. The instructional hours the government provides, under the Basic Education Regulations, 2015, are sufficient to deliver the content.

Parents play a big role in moulding children. While a school environment provides a protected space for children, it does not have all that children need to grow into whole persons. Policies in curriculum delivery takes into account parental and community role in nurturing children. The school calendar is aligned in ways that provide parents and the community room to influence children’s moral character, life aspirations, community responsibility, and family loyalty.

The great moral question attempts to recall Grade 4 learners has raised is on two areas. Respect for established authority. Firstly, the schools intended to disobey a government proclamation on the reorganised school calendar. It was about to set a bad example to the very learners the curriculum seeks to nurture among others values and respect for authority.

Secondly, the schools also sought to create some levels of iniquity between children in public and private schools. The fiction that you can follow different sets of school calendar within one educational jurisdiction and at the same time be equal is hollow. Justice and equity require that all children, regardless of status, access quality and inclusive educational available opportunities.

That is what Prof Magoha sought to protect in advising some private schools against recalling learners in Grade four back to school