RETHINKING LEARNING

Schools have been closed, but did we need them?

Learning is the cognitive process of acquiring new skills or knowledge and it is a lifelong process.

In Summary

• The Ministry of Education broadcasted an advisory for us to consider the 2020 academic year as having been wiped off the face of the academic cycle map.

• Through this directive, the Ministry of Education applied the yellow flag principle drawn from the car racing track competitions.

Education CS George Magoha and Education stake holders address media at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development Studies Nairobi on 8th July 2020./WILFRED NYANGARESI
Education CS George Magoha and Education stake holders address media at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development Studies Nairobi on 8th July 2020./WILFRED NYANGARESI

 

“Someni vijana, muongeze pia bidii, mwisho wa kusoma, mtapata kazi nzuri sana”.

Our parents believed this mantra wholeheartedly. In turn, we believed it too, unquestioningly. Were we played? Absolutely.

This week, the Ministry of Education broadcasted an advisory for us to consider the 2020 academic year as having been wiped off the face of the academic cycle map. They told us that with the exception of Standard 8 and Form 4, all the other classes will remain in their current classes in 2021. The Ministry went further and directed that school fees paid in advance for second and third term will be carried forward to the 2021 school year. This is how dead the 2020 academic year is.

Through this directive, the Ministry of Education applied the yellow flag principle drawn from the car racing track competitions. When a yellow flag is displayed, it requires the race car drivers to slow down due to a hazard on the track, typically an accident or debris across the road. When the yellow flag is raised, the drivers behind are forbidden from overtaking those ahead of them until the hazard is removed.

Begs two questions; was closing schools and deferring a full academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic the last resort for the Ministry of Education? It probably was in light of the challenges of ensuring prevention measures regarding social distancing, mass testing and sanitization. However, does the yellow flag principle give unfair advantage to those following international cuccirula? Undoubtedly.

However, believing that a whole academic year is lost only obtains if you understand learning to be synonymous with schooling; and grade advancement with education. While we may lament that corona has costed us a full academic year, the more appropriate question we ought to interrogate is “are our children learning or schooling?”

Learning is the cognitive process of acquiring new skills or knowledge and it is a lifelong process. Schooling on the other hand, is the process of being formally educated between four walls with a rigid schedule, inflexible timelines, a regiment drilling of instructions and information, complete with bells and buzzers.

In the 2019/2020 budget, the education sector got the highest budgetary allocation of approximately KES 200 billion. The allocations were for tuition, infrastructure, human resources, tools and equipment, construction, exam waivers and higher education student loans. And this amount does not include the billions in CDF that our benevolent MPs spend on student bursaries and construction of mud classrooms and pit latrines. But what are the returns on this investment funded by your taxes?

According to the 2018 World Bank Education report, globally 6 out of 10 children and adolescents do not achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. In Kenya specifically, grade 3 students were asked to read the sentence “The name of the dog is Puppy”. 75% of those tested did not understand what the sentence meant. The report also documented that despite completion of secondary school education, more than 40 per cent of 19 to 20 year olds score below the basic literacy levels. Due to this, Kenyan children can only be expected to reach 52 per cent of their potential. Sadly this the return on investment.

If there is anything positive the coronavirus pandemic has accorded us, it’s the freedom to re-imagine; to dream; to innovate; to try the hitherto thought improbable. So let us reconceive what our learning would look like.

The idea that children need to be enclosed within four walls to learn needs to be re-explored. As human beings, we are hard wired to learn; to explore; to discover. These qualities do not magically appear simply because we are in class. If anything, they are smothered by being confined into one.

So let us imagine if we could model learning around the nyumba kumi concept. In this model, children would learn in their neighborhood with sizes not exceeding 15 per class, thus reducing overcrowding in poorly ventilated classrooms, increase teacher student attention ratio, and would not require children to wake up at the crack of dawn to squeeze into an already overflowing matatu to get to school on time. It would also reduce the expenditures parents spend on paying school fees, buying uniforms, school buses, facilities maintenance and fancy school trips.

Learning would take place indoors, or outdoors, depending on the weather. Learning would expand to include activities such as neighborhood clean-ups and tree planting. This would encourage students to acquire additional skills of responsible citizenry. Learning would also be pragmatic for instance, a basic mathematics class could be practiced in a market or supermarket as students shopped for their households.

Teachers would be directly interviewed and hired by the parents and would be drawn from the large pool of unemployed graduates or energetic retirees. This would reduce unemployment while improving livelihoods and would also reduce teacher absenteeism that greatly undermines student learning. A 2015 study by African Population and Health Research Center found that there is a 20 per cent teacher absenteeism rate in Kenya which translates to an equivalent loss of at least 60,000 cumulated teaching days in a week.

This model may not be the perfect dream that crosses all the t’s and dots all the i’s. But seeing as life has presented us with a canvas to reimagine, where is the harm in dreaming? After all, did you know that according to a report by the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of the children entering primary school now will ultimately work in a job that doesn’t exist today? Given this stark reality, how well are we preparing our children for this rapidly evolving career landscape using a rigid curriculum, with rigid learning hours, using rigid learning methodologies while wearing rigid regalia? Where is our creativity? Our imagination? Our innovation? And our artistry?

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to the Ministry of Education; you cannot get rid of the rain, but you can minimize the extent to which you can get wet by buying an umbrella or a raincoat. Likewise, from all expert accounts, we may not get rid of coronavirus soon or by January 2021, but we can minimize the effect it will have on our children’s learning, by making the distinction between learning and schooling. Do you have the courage to dream?

The best teachers are those who tell you where to look but not what to see -Anonymous