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Our children can learn online if we have the will

Tuesday May 5 2020

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the poor state of parent-teacher relationship in Kenya.

As the government tries to get teachers to teach online, voices of resistance continue to rise. Parents are arguing that not every child has access to broadband or devices.

In my view, these parents are abdicating their fiduciary duty on their children. When in a crisis, the immediate reaction is how do we effectively deal with it? If we ask the right questions, we might solve a big problem.

Unfortunately, we are asking wrong questions at the hour of need. Here are some of the questions that have dominated the discourse in Kenya and parents lead the pack in asking them.

Where is broadband? Is it affordable? Aren’t data bundles too expensive for mwananchi? Have teachers been trained? Where in the job description of teachers do you find online learning?

These questions point to only one thing: unbridled resistance to technology by all means. Few even consider to think that in a crisis, the first reaction is to save as many people as possible.  In other words, if the boat is sinking you cannot be asking why the boat didn’t have life fests or why you had not been on trained how to swim.  

I have taken the pain to compare our responses with those of other countries. These are some of the questions other parents and teachers are posing to their policy makers.

Can government zero-rate broadband? Can we crowdfund laptops for the poor? Can those with extra devices donate to the poor? Can the syllabus be put online for parents to assist their children? Can we have a hotline for consultations?

It is said, “where there's a will, there's a way.” Clearly these questions from other places show desire and determination to do something but, in our case, we shut out all methods of accomplishing the task of enabling our children to access an education.

Our attitudes towards anything that is not within the norm is wanting in this era of rapid technological changes. We are in serious transition into a new era called the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will change the world like we have never seen before.


The future of learning will be different even if we weathered this Covid-19 crisis. Whether you like it or not education systems must be redesigned to meet the challenges of an uncertain future.

For example, parents must inculcate in their children a culture of self-learning, curiosity and desire to work on their own.  

The sad part of all these dragging of feet with respect to technology, is the fact that the future of work is here. It has brought glaring gaps between the skills that industry wants and what students learn in schools.

As the gap continues to widen, more young people who ought to be taking advantage of their youth to create wealth will be structurally unemployed.

If you thought that I am ranting for the sake of it, type into Google “data analytic jobs in Kenya” and you will find that there are hundreds of these jobs that have been there for the past one year. Yet we have graduates tarmacking with college degrees without jobs.

A recent article in Human Resource Management's 2019 State of the Workplace, noted that the top six missing skills in job applicants are: problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity; ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity; communication, trade skills (carpentry, plumbing, welding, machining, etc.); data analysis, data science and Science, engineering, medical. 


Problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity, the most critically missing skill in our local context rarely features in our syllabi and we still hope we can deal with the problem like poverty or even dealing with learning during Covid-19 crisis. It is also a skill that parents have to play a role from the early stage of child development.

Parents, however, have been abdicating this responsibility, thinking it is the role of teachers.  This perhaps explains why they are the leading voice of resistance with use of technology to teach at this time of crisis. I am cognizant of the fact that there are challenges but, in my view, they are surmountable if we started to move where we can and deal with shortcoming as we proceed.

As it is, 70 per cent of the population, is covered by either 3G or 4G. At least 95 per cent of Kenyans have access to radio and 100 per cent can access television. The question is how do we get our children to access in any of these platforms but more specifically through broadband in the shortest period.

If we have the desire and determination, this can be achievable in the shortest period since the government has acknowledged the fact that some of the areas lacking broadband can now be covered with balloons. 

Second, the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD) should optimise their content on mobile. The government on its part, should zero-rate devices and negotiate with telecommunication companies not to charge access to specific learning websites, negotiate rates on interactive platforms and subsidise satellite TV.

Some of the best presentations can be posted on YouTube for children to access at any time using smart phones, tablets and laptops even if it means borrowing them temporarily.

Parents too can develop a habit of taking their children through what the students have covered especially for primary and to some extent secondary level learning. 

College students by now should have the culture to engage the lecturers through the platforms then compliment that with their own independent learning.

Teachers and lecturers have no choice but to adopt. Those who have attempted to use teaching platforms now understand that it requires some determination to be able to cope with changes. 

When the Unions argue that online teaching is not in teachers’ job description, it is a defeatist argument given the fact that pedagogical methods are never stipulated in job descriptions.

Therefore, when the Ministry of Education asks us to start online learning, the questions we must be asking is how can we assist to overcome the challenges of connectivity, affordability and space for learning purposes.

Since other countries will not wait for Kenya to resolve everything before embarking on education, we must show some determination that we too want to be globally competitive.

In times of crisis, we need to project a positive attitude to solving the emergent problems like learning of our children. With determination, we can resolve the challenges. 

We undermine the future of our children when use excuses to resist change that could likely be our new normal in the days to come.

The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.