by Jairus Kyalo – Head Teacher SBM School
The Corona virus pandemic is a global phenomenon that has affected all sectors in every country in the world including education. On March 15th, 2020, the Kenya government abruptly closed schools and colleges nationwide in response to Covid-19, disrupting millions of learners countrywide as ongoing teaching of various courses was abandoned midstream.

As a result, managers of educational institutions with thousands of students were left wondering how to fill the gap and at the very least maintain some semblance of normality. Alongside hashtags like #lockdown, #socialdistancing and #stayathome required new innovative approaches which are being used in availing education to the learners such as home schooling, radio, the TV, remote learning, online learning, distance learning, blended learning, gamification and the like.

The position of remote learning is still bleak in Kenya as compared to other countries in the west as less than 25% of low-income countries currently provide any type of remote learning and of these, the majority are using TV and radio. In contrast, in the developed world close to 90% are providing remote learning opportunities with almost all offering services being offered online. While such learning may take place in urban areas, for many marginalised children in remote villages, learning during Covid-19 school closures is a deep challenge. Learning mediated through ed-tech remains out of reach for many disadvantaged children due to connectivity challenges. In many parts of Kilifi County, for example, electricity does not reach households and for many of our SBM pupils this is a start fact of life.

Additionally, smart phones are beyond the reach of most of those rural communities. Even when adults have smart phones, tensions around privacy and kids unsupervised internet use render access for learning non-existent. And where electricity and technology do exist, the cost of the internet is prohibitive. Such disadvantages present challenges for rural families and our learners who must compete with their more privileged peers during national examinations.

SBM School closure also has implications for our learners who rely on our school feeding programme as main source of nutrition. With students now at home, families’ ability to provide food for their children has been even further reduced. In such poverty, many teens are falling victims to destructive vices such as drugs and substance abuse, teen pregnancies etc. Rural girls are likely to be used to cushion families’ income which further exposes young girls to sexual exploitation and Gender Based violence. This places girls at especially high risk of health and reproductive crisis as well as early marriages, which puts girls at high risk of dropping out when schools re-open in January 2021.

Under these circumstances, we were tasked with looking for the most appropriate ways and means of ensuring that learning continues at SBM School. We continue to meet our parents twice a week and accord them assignments individually. They go to their respective homes, their children do the assignments and then one by one, they return to have their work checked. This way of engaging the learners is one of the few available options in the village.

In higher education, especially universities, existing policies had to be re-drafted to include online learning pedagogy as an emergency pedagogy. The new teaching approaches received mixed feelings from policy makers, service providers, students and other stakeholders. But to save on time and normalise the situation, strategies were set and remote learning implemented in most local universities.

Our SBM University students, Neema Kazungu, Evans Tsuma, Juliet Mwachiru all at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa ( CUEA) and Sammy Mgoti at Maseno University have not been left behind and visit the SBM school daily to access Wi-Fi and internet services. Transferring the traditional face-to-face instruction to e-learning needs expertise and Mr. Vincent, our ICT teacher works closely with them to ensure their programmes are able to be supported online. Their Lecturers keep contact with them through social media platforms such as whatsapp and teach using web conferencing tools such as zoom, google meet, hangouts and class. Stephen Nduni has recently registered at Jomo Kenyatta University for a degree course in Pharmacy, he is also coming daily for online lectures, it is a hurdle our past pupils seem to be overcoming as all appreciate having SBM School as a support network for these studies.

While Covid-19 is a high risk for everyone, we’ve undertaken simple measures to prevent the spread of the disease. This include instructing people on the most appropriate protocols for hand hygiene, wearing of face masks when working with other students and social distancing. We are indeed in unprecedented times, but I am hopeful, there will be more innovations that will allow education to continue.