Magoha announcement no surprise: Writing had been on the wall

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha. Photo/PD/RAPHAEL MUNGE

Amos Kaburu

Yesterday’s announcement that schools will remain closed until next year did not come as a surprise, after all.

The writing had long been on the wall. It was an open secret that we have been staring at.

Last weekend, I hosted two boys who were candidates for the now aborted 2020 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams.

Even as late as Sunday evening, they still hang on to the hope that they could sit the examination and transition to secondary schools of their choice after spending seven years in a world in which the word “repeat” remained foreign.

I had to be the bearer of the bad news that they will repeat Class Eight come next year.

Their well-educated parents looked at me with disapproval as I dashed any last hopes that hang on the teenagers’ minds.

“This is a health crisis, we are not dealing with a teachers’ strike which you can do something to avert,” I said as I pulled the chair to their dismay.

The same verdict was rendered less 48 hours later. Reopening in January was a long foregone conclusion.

We have to put a few things into perspective even as we start the never walked journey.

Never in the history of post-colonial Kenya has school closure of such magnitude been witnessed.

Our education system, just like others in the christened global south, has exposed its soft underbelly.

The fundamentals of our education system have been thrown into a spin where a calendar often determined in October of the previous year has been reduced into a piece of aspiration not capable of withstanding shocks.

Today, the 18 million children in the school system, millions of parents, and close to a half a million educators remain clueless over the momentous challenge none of them had ever thought possible.

A cough that started thousands of miles away in a livestock market of the little-known city of Wuhan in China has grounded even those who may only have read about the Asian country on the merchandise in their houses.

As we begin the long walk, we have crises in our hands. A teenage generation battling with adult stuff that comes with consequences, a clueless community whose ability to parent has been stretched beyond limits, the hundreds of thousands of empty classrooms across the country.

The little the children had grasped for the 10 weeks they were in class is evaporating and dissipating into the thin air minute by minute. After all, children learn and lose what they learnt in equal measure.

Amidst this reality lies the salient issue: An education system that lacks strong fundamentals save for predating private investors waiting to cash in on the systemic failures of our collective disregard of the public system.

The coronavirus pandemic has also exposed our inability to harness technology as a precursor for blended learning after we bungled the much-hyped laptop project promised by the Jubilee administration.

Even more sobering is the fact that the fate of more than 100,000 teachers in our private schools hangs in the balance.

As a number of private schools are struggling to innovate in order to stay afloat, the public system will still be waiting for the signal, especially in rural areas where technology penetration is still a pipe dream, besides the astronomical cost of accessing it.

Beneath this lie the reforms that should now happen in the context of mediating recovery of and reconstruction of a beaten education system. 

This renders the question: Will education reforms proceed on the basis of the same principles? Shall we close our eyes to these realities and assume business as usual?

Amidst all these, it will be a tough call to prepare to resume learning. It is not in doubt that it will be a long walk for teachers as they prepare themselves mentally for the “new school”.

It will be a calling to recalibrate a learners’ community that will have shut off from the traditional school and slowly be emerging from the “university of life”.

Question is, will we examine them on what they learnt in that university of life of growing weeding and taking care of goats?

Obviously, the journey to reopening school will be long, winding and torturous!.  — The writer is the Manager for Advocacy and Action at People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network — [email protected]

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