Why e-learning must go beyond Mwisho wa Lami

Wednesday May 13 2020
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MCA said his son accessing his WhatsApp was out of question. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MWALIMU ANDREW

When Kizito introduced me to a Nairobi-based teacher who guided me on how I could set up a system for online learning in Mwisho wa Lami, I envisioned myself playing an important role in this side of the Sahara, helping candidates engage with books during this Covid-19 period, as they prepare for their KCPE later on in the year, or on the date Professor Magoha will deem fit.

My motivation was not money, as enemies of development think; mine was to serve the society because teaching is a noble profession.

But I was not going to refuse money should it come as a by-product of the entire process. As advised by the teacher, I went to the school and took the list for candidates and walked around visiting their homes to see if they had access to a phone that had WhatsApp.

Look, I am not a fool, I did not visit all the homes. I just picked the top 20 students. We have some candidates in that class that no amount of revision will help.

Even if you gave them the actual exams and revise it with them, they still will not manage 150 marks.

A good example is Abdi, Rashid’s son. Even though Rashid has a smartphone, it would be a waste of time to engage them. His son even can’t memorise his index number!

We only allowed him in Standard Eight because he couldn’t just keep repeating Standard Seven.

RESOURCE

From the top 20 students, only four had access to smartphones. The daughter of the assistant chief, the son of the MCA, Maina’s — the shopkeeper — daughter and Lutta’s son.

Lutta is a former colleague who was, fortunately, transferred to another school some years ago. The next step was to form a WhatsApp group. I called it Mwisho wa Lami KCPE Dream Team.

Once the group was created, I welcomed everyone. That evening, my Nairobi contact sent me some test papers for all the five subjects.

It was a simple exercise that I expected to be done within at least two hours, but by evening, only Tecla, Maina’s daughter, had responded.

By the end of the following day, none had responded, and Tecla was asking for more work. I sent her English and Science tests directly to her WhatsApp and decided to visit the other homes to see the progress.

First stop was MCA’s home. He had received the tests but he had been very busy, and had not been in a position to give his son the phone.

“With the coronavirus, I can’t be without my phone,” he said, saying that many people needed to reach him at any given time.

DEVICE RELIABILITY

While he agreed with me that it was important that the children learn, he said his son accessing his WhatsApp was out of question. “I can’t allow him to read my other messages!” he declared.

Next I went to visit the assistant chief. She welcomed me warmly and was almost greeting me until she remembered that we needed to keep social distance.

“Watoto wamekuwa wakifanya homework,” she said, as she called her daughter. “Kuja na simu yako.” To her credit, the assistant chief had given her daughter the smartphone.

I asked the daughter why she hadn’t submitted her work. She said they had done the assignment but had phone problems. The smartphone was not so smart.

First, the phone was very small. You needed baby fingers to navigate it. It also took two minutes just to open WhatsApp, and another three minutes to open a document.

Luckily, the daughter knew how to handle it. She showed me where she had done the work. I asked her why she hadn’t taken a photo and shared with me.

“Camera iliharibika,” she showed me. I marked her two papers and sent her two more. With her phone, we could only have one way communication.

NEW MEMBERS

Next I visited Lutta. His son had gone to take care of the animals. He told me that as a teacher, I know how little we get paid.

“Anyway, I sent away my herdsboy and shamba boy, so Arafat my son is very busy with work,” he said.

I told him Arafat could do school work at night. Lutta said it’s possible but said phone charging was a big problem. His phone had no memory to download even an extra photo.

I left disappointed, but luckily, Mr Maina called me to say that he had got two other parents from different schools who were interested.

I also got interest from four other students in neighbouring schools. As at last Friday, we had 13 active students on the group, with only Tecla being from Mwisho wa Lami primary.

Today, I am inviting anyone interested in the KCPE Dream Team WhatsApp group to reach out to me and help your child pass with flying colours.

We are cover all subjects except Mathematics, for obvious reasons. Mwisho wa Lami can keep sleeping.

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