The initial shock at the prolonged closure of schools by the government over Covid-19 fears is ebbing but the harsh reality is beginning to dawn on learners, teachers and parents.
This is the first time in Kenya that a whole generation of learners has lost an entire academic year. Even during some of the worst moments, such as the aftermath of the aborted military coup of 1982, schools were not closed for a long time.
Only universities were closed for nine months to deal with restive students, some of whom were allegedly involved in the insurgency.
The learners’ greatest challenge now is coping with the reality that they have to repeat a class, irrespective of their academic abilities, and what they should do with themselves for the next five months.
That is quite distressful and dispiriting. In the same vein, parents have found themselves in uncharted territory. Staying with their children at home since March, without a proper plan for their schooling and academic progression, is discomfiting.
Most of them are thoroughly disoriented and unsure of what to do. Equally troubled are teachers, who have to stay out of work for months, worry about their learners and are unprepared to deal with the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
When schools were closed, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) embarked on an intensified school broadcasting programme to fill the void. To its credit, many programmes have gone on air and, more than ever before, the public is much more aware of the online lessons.
However, there are discernible loopholes. In the first place, the broadcasts to schools were conceived as supplementary to face-to-face learning. In the absence of physical classroom sessions, the programmes are inadequate in delivering the curriculum.
Secondly, the programmes do not reach all learners, given the logistical challenges such as lack of access to the requisite gadgets as well as connectivity.
Additionally, the mode of delivery is traditional; there is little interaction between teachers and learners. Yet modern learning is two-way: Interactive and participatory.
Having deferred school reopening to January, the government has to give direction to learners, teachers and parents. The ministry should mount communication campaigns to sensitise parents and communities on what they should do to support children.
We are faced with unprecedented challenges and it is not sufficient to postpone school reopening without providing guidance on how to cope with it.
The psychological, social, academic and economic ramifications of the long closure of schools will reverberate for years. That is why we call for psycho-social support to learners, teachers and parents.