Last week, I participated in a webinar titled Covid-19 and the right to education, organised by the International Commission of Jurists.
Some of my fellow panellists censured the government for suggesting use of online learning as an alternative to the traditional mode of teaching.
One of the legal experts cited Article 53 of the Constitution and threatened to sue the government if the exams for this year aren’t postponed or cancelled.
The Constitution is clear that every child is entitled “to free and compulsory basic education,” he concluded.
My philosophy is that we should look for opportunity in moments of adversity. Amidst the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a silver lining.
This disease could linger around for 18 months. If we fail to teach our children by any means, we shall be left behind.
That means we are likely to be uncompetitive against those who can leverage technology to move their children forward.
Gently, I made my case that this could be the greatest opportunity to test emerging concepts like mass customisation of education. This means personalising education for every child and doing it in scale. The current model of education has failed to address problems of at least one third of school going children.
Research has shown that even those who’ve done well in the current model of education, often act like robots. Their natural creativity and problem-solving abilities are never explored in their education.
Under normal circumstances, the current crop of educated people cannot voluntarily make the decision to change their industrial model of educating children. Their form of outcome is passing of exams. No wonder inventing a Covid-19 cure is such a daunting task.
Although I didn’t respond to the threats of suing government over exams this year, I did check Article 53 of the Constitution.
Indeed, sub-section (b) states that every child is entitled “to free and compulsory basic education.”
Sub-section (e) emphasises a right “to parental care and protection, which includes equal responsibility of the mother and father to provide for the child, whether they are married to each other or not.”
Sub-section (e) did not feature in our debate. It was not by accident. More often than not, we run away from responsibility and blame someone else. The habit of evading the truth reflects poorly on our cultural disposition.
Taking responsibility is the first step in ensuring that children get an education. Without it, even government can fail to ensure the children’s rights. It was is my view that we should stop passing the buck to government and start to act by asking questions that can lead to a solution for every child.
The Hebrew culture, for example, attributes responsibility to individuals for acts they did not commit but they allowed to happen. If we borrowed a leaf from the Hebrews, we should not allow children to fail to leverage technology for learning since we have the responsibility on their future.
In technology, we can answer such questions as how do we deliver mass customized education at current costs of standardised education?
In order to even discuss this, there has to be a paradigm shift in our thinking. The mention of online learning is met with immediate opposition not because it is a bad pedagogical method but because of selfish interests by people who do not want change that can destabilise their jobs.
Unions, for example, are rushing to protect their membership at the expense of national competitiveness.
Yet the future of learning is slowly taking shape in Kenya. The Competence-Based Curriculum was going to require everything that we need now to sort out issues around Covid-19.
We are lucky the crisis has thrust us into what will emerge as a new normal.
The Philippines' Multigrade Teacher's Handbook noted:
“Children are unique. They are individuals and no two children are alike: physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually, each child is a unique individual. Because children are unique, even if there are common needs and characteristics that children of a particular age or stage of development share, they must be understood by their parents and teachers in their uniqueness, and their individuality must be respected… the teacher must be able to get to know and understand each of the children and prepare teaching and learning activities that will respond to and reflect these individual needs of children.”
The future of learning will demand effort from both the parents and teachers to encourage and grow a child who can apply their creativity to learn independently. Similarly, the future of work will demand natural creativity and problem-solving abilities.
Discipline is key in the new normal. We need to quickly aggregate local content into available digital tools, invest in capacity building around instructional design and teaching practices, and develop policies and practices that support the use of digital learning tools to provide individualised learning opportunities.
It is counterproductive to fight change even when it is glaringly clear that the future is here. It is being facilitated by the pandemic.
Essentially, we are into the new normal. Humanity faced many transformational moments in history. It survived because it adapted. We have yet another chance to adapt.
The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of business.