What the lost academic year means for candidates

From left: Alvin Agunda, Melvin Mango, Jeremy Namenje and Tittiannah Morison. PHOTOS | POOL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Morison spends her free time reading novels to broaden her mind and to relax. She also helps with chores at home and makes handcrafts, something she enjoys.
  • Like most of Morison's form four classmates, 2020 was the year Morison h had planned to achieve all her academic goals.

As Covid-19 swept through the country and infection rates rose relentlessly, the Kenyan government declared 2020 a non-academic year for primary and secondary schools.

That announcement meant that approximately 15 million learners would have to repeat their classes next year, including nearly two million primary and secondary school candidates.

The only other time the school calendar was disrupted was in 1982 when learners stayed away from school for nine months following the attempted coup. This shows that learners in Kenya are writing history.

This week, we sit down with form four candidates whose final exams have been postponed. They talk about their new plans for the future, their thoughts on the decision to cancel the entire school year, and what they are doing to maintain a positive outlook on life.

Alvin Mango.

Melvin Mango, 17: Juja Preparatory & Senior Schools

On learning that this year’s academic calendar had been cancelled, shock was Melvin’s initial reaction.

I never believed that something like that could ever happen in my lifetime. I felt very frustrated because I had put a lot of effort in preparing for my final exams, he says.

But Mango admits that the President’s announcement didn’t come as a complete surprise. From the moment schools were closed in an effort to tame the spread of coronavirus, he had feared that he and his classmates might not manage to sit their exams this year.

“Looking back in hindsight, and after speaking with my mother, class mates and teachers, I feel that the government made the right decision. It was about our safety. On the other hand I wish they could have explored other options such as e-learning.

“Closing schools has its downsides such as early marriages, teen pregnancies and child labour. Some children are bound to quit school completely,” he says.

Now that schools have been closed until next year, Melvin doesn’t feel like a candidate anymore, although he continues to do his revision.

“Because Covid-19 is so unpredictable, sometimes I think the government will postpone the exams even further than next year. However, I am praying for the best. Besides studying, I am learning new recipes and taking simple jobs like typing,” he says.

Mango is particularly concerned about the spike in new infection because if the numbers keep going up, there is a high likelihood that he and his class mates will remain at home for longer.

My plan was to join university next year and pursue a course in information technology, but now, my goal has been delayed. The uncertainty is even more troubling.

Through it all, Mango is picking important lessons during this period, especially about how to manage stress.

“Seeing the numbers rise exponentially every day can be stressful, and the more you worry about that the worse you feel about everything. I am learning to have a more positive outlook on life,” he says.

His advice to other candidates?

“We will all sit exams at the same time. It might seem stressful now but the important thing is that we shall be alive when this is over. Take advantage of the extra time you’ve been given to do more revision. Also, learn a new skill if you can and stay occupied because an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”

Ian Muchiri.

Ian Muchiri, 17: Ikuu Boys High School

“The cancellation of the school calendar made me really sad. I feel like I’m wasting a whole year,” Ian says.

As part of his academic strategy, Muchiri sets fresh targets at the beginning of every school term, which then mesh into his annual targets. The fact that he could not complete his first term this year means that he has not achieved any of the goals he set at the beginning of this year. Slowly, Ian is beginning to understand why the government cancelled the academic year.

“In my class, there are about 50 students. I believe the cancellation was necessary. It gives my school principal and the management team ample time to modify the school premises so that we can practice social distancing when we resume,” he says.

Besides taking time to revise, this period of inactivity has afforded him an opportunity to spend more time with his family, exercise, play some computer games and to interact with his friends, albeit virtually.

“I am really worried about our worsening caseload. And because there is still no cure, I am concerned that things might never be the same again, and this has a negative effect on my future. I was hoping to travel abroad for my university education, but now my options are limited,” he says.

Ian thought that schools would reopen in September, and he was really looking forward to seeing his friends again. These plans have all been dashed. However, he has learnt never to take anyone for granted, and to value the time he gets to spend with his friends because things can change very quickly. He has also learnt the importance of maintaining high standards of hygiene, and that something so small can have such devastating effects on the world’s population.

“My advice to other candidates who have been affected by this pandemic is that they should hope for better, have faith in God and continue with their studies. This is not the end of everything,” he says.

Jeremy Namenje.

Jeremy Namenje, 18: Nairobi Milimani Secondary School

News of the cancellation of the academic calendar brought severe disappointment upon Jeremy.

“I don’t think it was the best decision. If the government searched hard enough, I think they would have found a better solution especially for candidates because some of us had already set goals and planned for the next phase of our lives,” he says.

Still, Namenje admits that the decision was in the best interest of students. School heads, he says, were not well equipped to handle Covid-19, and some learners would have ended up getting sick falling behind while in isolation.

“I am now focusing on my talent in dancing, and I encourage other students to focus on their talents. I think this situation is giving us the chance to not only focus on school work. But also on our talents. Dancing keeps me away from vices such drugs and depression,” he says.

Jeremy is acutely aware that students are also at risk of catching the virus. Therefore, besides the rising infection numbers, he is concerned about the future, especially if, come January, the virus will still be ravaging and students have to stay home longer.

“Things feel so uncertain. I am not even thinking about university, as was the case was before Covid-19. My focus is on staying alive and safe,” he says.

Jeremy has learnt that good health is very important.

“I have come to realize that it is high time students stopped overly relying on face to face interactions with their teachers,” he says.

Alvin Agunda.

Alvin Agunda, 17: Alliance High School

“I was very disappointed when the news about the cancellation of the academic calendar came. My classmates and I had put in so much time and effort in our studies. For us, this was the last lap and we took everything seriously knowing that our performance was going to determine our future,” he says.

The pandemic struck right through these plans and now Agunda and other candidates have to wait, perhaps indefinitely, for their final examinations.

“While I would have preferred to have students allowed to continue with school and take their chances with the virus, cancelling the academic calendar was actually a proactive decision by the government. It was aimed at ensuring that we stay healthy and alive,” he says.

Besides helping with chores around the house, the spare time now gives Alvin more time to watch live football matches, a sport he is very passionate about.

“Unfortunately, we still can’t play with my friends as I would have loved to,” he says.

“I am mostly concerned about our health. We are all at risk of contracting this dreadful virus and we should strive to adhere to the set guidelines by the Ministry of Health.”

The fact that he is off the normal school, schedule has caused him to slack off on his revision and that, he is worried, can easily compromise the quality of career excellence his parents and teachers have been working so hard to build.

“Because of Covid-19, I have learnt critical lessons about the importance of saving for a rainy day. I have also learnt the importance of being innovative. That is the only way to survive such turbulence,” he says.

Alvin’s parting words are that the pandemic has challenged everyone. “We ought not to give up but instead focus on working hard, sacrificing and being persistent,” he says.


Tattiannah Morison, 17: Blessed Hands High School

“I was extremely devastated and disappointed by the news that the academic calendar had been cancelled,” Morison says.

Like most of her form four classmates, 2020 was the year Morison h had planned to achieve all her academic goals. The news seemed to shatter these dreams. But the more she thought about it, the more her outlook towards everything changed from negative to positive.

“As students, it is better if we take this as a learning process. This situation gives us more time to revise. I believe the government made the best decision because if we were to reopen schools, the society as a whole would be at risk. Being a day school student, I would probably carry the infection to my family and the spread would increase so rapidly. I am sure there will be different challenges in boarding schools,” she says.

Other than her studies, Morison spends her free time reading novels to broaden her mind and to relax. She also helps with chores at home and makes handcrafts, something she enjoys.

I'm concerned about the hard economic times we find ourselves in. What breaks my heart the most is how people are losing their lives due to domestic violence, hunger, depression and things like that.

Naturally, she is worried about what the future holds for her, given the prevailing circumstances.

“But I am training my focus on the positive and taking it all as a learning process and a time to develop my skills,” she says.

“Covid-19 has taught me that anything can happen at any time. I've learnt to live a day at a time and to appreciate the small things in life, especially the ones we usually take for granted. Cancellation of school has taught me to be patient and resilient. I take all these things positively no matter how painful the process is,” she says.

She understands that the situation is not easy, but her advice to other candidates is to take one day at a time, and not focus too much on the negative.

“Use this time to build yourself academically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Always put God first and everything will fall into place,” she says.