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Magoha should give our children a break... and laptops

Friday April 24 2020
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Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha gives an update on the fate of KCSE and KCSE candidates, at Afya House in Nairobi on April 19, 2020. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By GABRIEL OGUDA

Prof George Magoha, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, left many mouths open this week when he announced that it is needless to postpone their year’s national exams because children are currently learning online and making friends with television remotes.

It was one of the most out-of-touch statements to ever come from a public policymaker of national clout. Kenyan parents would have taken his statement as another light moment meant to cheer us up from the coronavirus gloom that visited us without first giving us time to arrange the furniture and put our house in order.

But the Education CS is not known to be a friend of jokes, so it was a forgone conclusion that he meant every word he said, even though we couldn’t read his lips because he had a face mask on.

It’s been a long time since someone at the Education ministry mentioned internet-based learning as a means of bringing the classroom closer to stay-at-home children and their curfew-obedient parents.

It immediately reminded Kenyans of 2013, when the president and his deputy campaigned on a platform of a digital revolution, promising that if they won the elections, every pupil in Standard One would be given a fully networked laptop for them to compete with their peers in developed countries who eat computer programmes for breakfast.

COST OF LIVING

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That child, who was in Standard One when this promise was being made, will be sitting the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams this year, having seen a laptop only on their classroom wall-charts.

You would imagine that those in charge of our education policy are aware of this broken promise and work towards making it real first before calling the media to share their blonde moments.

But how could they know these things when the only real contact they have with schools are brief inspection tours in fuel-guzzling choppers to pose for the cameras before heading back to their cool city offices to sign off their field allowances — and apply sunscreen lotion?

Privilege is such a burdensome cross to carry. It makes one blind to the lived reality of suffering Kenyans, even when they’re wearing powerful eyeglasses the price of a coronavirus sanitation booth and an accompanying overhead sprayer.

Privilege deliberately refuses to remind you that the cost of electricity remains out of reach for most Kenyans, especially for households currently struggling with basic needs after government measures to contain Covid-19 left them either jobless or diverting drying resources to essential household services, like stocking up immunity boosters and buying quality face masks that don’t ask your nose for permission each time you rise up to speak.

ICT UBIQUITY

Listening to Prof Magoha make that declaration this week, one would have been forgiven to think that all Kenyan homes are currently experiencing an avalanche of fast internet and school children are spoilt on whether to download Albert Einstein’s works of genius or watch Teacher Mike Sonko’s lectures on the advantages and disadvantages of doing business with National Government.

This makes one wonder where economically disadvantaged Kenyans, who can’t even afford reusable face masks, would get the money to buy internet bundles that evaporate faster than the free alcohol-based sanitisers we’re still waiting from the government.

The Education CS shouldn’t have made such a sweeping statement without tabling the number of school children with ICT learning tools at home.

Ever since the president asked Kenyans to prepare to welcome flying internet into our borders, no one has bothered to explain how Kenyans would open an account with the balloons to withdraw internet whenever they need it.

We have children living in one-room houses that triple up as living room, bedroom, and kitchen. You surely wouldn’t expect a child to watch online lessons from below the in-house cloth line while sitting on their parents’ bed with one hand on the shallow frying saucepan.

DISCRIMINATION

There’s a reason the government spends a lot of money financing the running of teacher training colleges, and it isn’t to train teachers on how to dump assignments on parents without a manual.

There are parents who cannot tell the difference between a wavy and zigzag line, and you wouldn’t entrust them with helping their children with homework

Education is supposed to be an equaliser, bridging the gap between the filthy rich and the dirt poor. When you find yourself discriminating school children along socioeconomic lines, you need to wear a sackcloth and return to God.

The author comments on topical issues. [email protected]

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