REOPENING OF SCHOOLS

Why CS Magoha isn’t the right person to manage education sector

By assuming online learning is working, Magoha has succumbed to elitist thinking

In Summary

• If only Magoha would have been clearer, reassuring and less dismissive in his communication, perhaps anxiety wouldn’t be eating on students, and parents wouldn’t be worried much about school fees.

• Everyone knows, including Magoha, that with the job losses and reduced incomes, parents need to prepare adequately for school reopening.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha
EDUCATION BOSS: Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha
Image: REUBEN GITHINJI

In one of his recent press briefings, Education CS George Magoha once again gave a bad press for the Press for what he has termed tendency of journalists to mislead the public, with regard to reopening of schools.

Asked by a reporter why teachers were required to report to school on September 28, Magoha said, “To prepare for the reopening of the schools. …which part of English don’t you understand.”

Someone who was listening to Magoha’s press briefing for the first time would equally reprimand the reporter for asking a foolish question; the stuff of lazy journalism.

 

Having said that, it’s the conflicting statements on school reopening that Magoha has made in the last six months that prompt such questions.

First, Magoha said it wasn’t his place to tell when schools would reopen, then he said as far as he was concerned, learning was going on online. Later, in June, he announced that schools could reopen in January 2021 before reversing; that following drop in Covid-19 cases, schools were likely to reopen in October.

These contradictory statements caused confusion and apprehension among students and parents. Yes, the Press contributed hugely in creating the confusion, but the CS did little to resolve it.

When Covid-19 Education Response Committee announced on July 7 that 2020 academic year was cancelled and that schools would reopen in January 2021, the Press disregarded on purpose the last paragraph of that letter — which stated that reopening of schools was subject to the situation of Covid-19 in the country — and reported that 2020 was a lost academic year.

What many are asking is why didn’t Magoha come out to set the record straight that the academic year 2020 wasn’t as yet lost as the media widely reported? Why did he allow the media to “mislead” the public?

More than that, in July, Magoha announced that the government would support public universities that lacked technological infrastructure to carry out online learning.

Only rugged individualists can claim there is learning online. Encased in a shell of social inequality, our education system disadvantages poor students . In short, online learning is for the privileged urban middle class.

 

In truth, online learning hasn’t been going on in most public universities, understandably because of lack of capacity. In institutions where such learning is taking place, continuing students haven’t been taken on board. Some, such as Kenyatta and Egerton universities, haven’t been able to administer exams to their final-year students for lack of capacity.

By assuming online learning is working, Magoha has succumbed to elitist thinking, which is prevalent among people of means.

Equally, it’s not just about the reopening of schools. Psychosocial preparedness of students to return to class in completely different environment ought not to be overlooked.

Preliminary research indicate that psychological impact of school closures and academic delays have worsened mental health conditions of many students across the world.

Stakeholders in the education sector, mostly students, expected Magoha to give clear guidance on school reopening. The CS has, however, continued to behave as if he lacks such powers.

The condescending attitude with which he entertains questions from journalists represents what Frantz Fanon called ‘narcissistic monologue of the colonised bourgeoisie’. Understood in this context, monopolisation of public information is neo-colonial. Decisions are made by those in positions of authority without involving the very people to whom those decisions are to apply.

Everyone knows, including Magoha, that with the job losses and reduced incomes, parents need to prepare adequately for school reopening. Transferring students who cannot afford private schools to public institutions at short notice, as he recommends, could have psychological impact on learners.

If only Magoha would have been clearer, reassuring and less dismissive in his communication, perhaps anxiety wouldn’t be eating on students, and parents wouldn’t be worried much about school fees.

Also, there’s concern about safety in learning institutions. If Covid-19 Education Response Committee reached the decision to cancel 2020 academic year in the interest of students’ safety, and to make necessary preparations for reopening, have those conditions been met? In principle, most institutions cannot facilitate safe learning.

As yet, there are no practical measures that have been put in place to enable social distancing in learning institutions. The government had six months to build, for example, extra classrooms and dormitories across all institutions. But it didn’t.

As one columnist noted last year, Magoha isn’t an educationalist. He’s too mechanical. For this reason, he’s not fit to manage the education sector.

The writer is a journalism student at Multimedia University of Kenya[email protected]