Uncertainty has never been this certain.
The last couple of weeks these words have lived through us, consciously or unconsciously, spoken or unspoken, “unusual” “unprecedented” “new normal”. Most certainly, we are living in a historic time, fighting a historic battle. A battle we may lack words to express it and a face to put up with. Covid19, has been described as the “unseen” enemy.
Conspiciously, the “unseen enemy” is bringing to light both the “unseen and seen” inequalities among us. As we speak, over three-quarters of the world’s roughly 1.5 Billion school children are not going to school and learning from classrooms as they used to and therein assumed not learning, at least, as they should (UNESCO).
For the last 6 years, I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of rural and slum schools across East Africa through Kids Comp Camp. From a firsthand account, I can tell for sure, that children in rural and slum communities in Kenya are most hard hit by this pandemic. I spoke to one of our students in rural Kenya and they told me, “I have never opened a book since school closed in Mid-march”.
Here in Nairobi, I see parents and teachers struggling to select which app best works for their children to continue learning from home, is it Zoom, Google meet, Microsoft Teams? In Kenya, we have seen court cases on how much schools should charge for online learning. The Government of Kenya, has been talking of E-learning through Television, radio and the Internet, even with mentions of Kenya Education Cloud.
According to a recent online learning report that surveyed 3,700 household in 42 counties “Less than 10% of learners in public schools are accessing digital learning materials and only 22% of students are accessing online learning resources with those enrolled in private schools being twice as likely to take part in digital learning compared to their counterparts in public schools” the Usawa Agenda report read in part.
As I think about the rural child in public school versus their peer in a private urban school. The words of Oprah Winfrey come to life. The world renown Talk show host, media executive, actress and billionaire philanthropist, was speaking to the graduating Class of 2020 #Graduation2020 on her commencement speech hosted by Facebook and Instagram. Oprah’s words not only speak my mind but speaks it loudly and clearly. She repeatedly told them.
“Inequality is a pre-existing condition”
This is it. This is what we face. This is what stares at us. The same way Covid19 is fatal to the pre-existing health conditions. It will be fatal to our pre-existing inequalities. One of the long term negative impacts of #Covid19 will the widening of the pre-existing learning inequalities between rural and urban learners.
While many of us may not fully understand what is happening or we are still in denial, Experts are telling us what we need to hear, know and come to terms with “Life may never get back to normal” Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s trusted voice on coronavirus. “Corona is here to stay, like HIV,” said Michael Ryan, the World Health Organisation director in Geneva. The WHO is warning of a second round of covid19 infections.
Therefore, with the new mindsets and renewed strategies. We need to rise to the occasion and confront the pre, on, and post #Covid19 gaps. This all begins, with a posture and attitude that something can and should be done. No matter how small it is. At such times like this. Every step counts. Every attempt counts. Every trial is worth a risk. Something is better than nothing.
While the governments and development partners do their part. Led by the sensational Kenya’s Ministry of Health Cabinet Secretary, whose solid advice has been turned into Kenya’s favorite soundbite
“If we continue to behave normally, this disease will treat us abnormally” HEALTH CS Mutahi Kagwe
I believe there is a gifted ability and grace as individuals and as communities we can offer to each other in this time of need. “Government is critical but not enough,” Said Barack Obama.
As I think about the education gaps among young learners in rural Africa. It is not hard to notice how almost everyday I receive a WhatsApp message, forwarded or written, from my village and I’m also in countless WhatsApp groups. In Kenya it is almost impossible to do anything without a WhatsApp group and this cuts across my urban and rural circles.
The question remains “How come we can’t use the same medium to support learning during and after covid19 quarantine?”. Could the situation be the same as we have witnessed over the years, that ballot boxes have no problem reaching the last of the last villages yet critical aid in dire times of crisis can’t even get to the first village? Clearly, politicians know the value of a VOTE and they invest in its very worth. As individuals and as a community we should know the value of EDUCATION and invest in it in every way possible.
The words of American professional tennis player, Arthur Ashe, should inspire us to practically think of what we can do to close the education and opportunity gap among young people in rural Africa.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
From where I sit, there are a couple of readily available resources that we can leverage on and address the growing rural urban (covid19) learning
- My fellow Kenyans. We have a place to start. We are not armed-less. In Kenya smartphone penetration is placed at 90% and 74% of Kenya can access WhatsApp, and with about Kshs.3,500 ($35) you access a smartphone. Google’s internet balloons have gone up in the air to supply 4G high speed internet connection even in rural areas.
- Dear Africans, it takes a village to raise a child, even in the digital age that is not changing. We can leverage on COMMUNITY NETWORKS. These could be schools, churches, youth groups, community groups, even Village Gossip Centres (VGC — now gone virtual on Woozap). From these networks we can raise community champion(s) to rally communities behind Covid19 interventions.
- Life is too short to be original in everything. We can pick what is working elsewhere and apply where we see clear gaps. For instance, a friend of mine is a teacher in one of the international schools in Nairobi. She is able to record lessons on zoom, compress and share with students with limited connections. We can compress (further) or shorten the content and “forward” via WhatsApp to kids in the village.
To that end we have put together a really simple intervention. Our efforts will focus and concentrate on empowering the teacher both as an instructor as well as community mobilizer. We believe the greatest hindrance to devolving education technology to rural communities in Kenya is not technology infrastructure it is lack of skill, motivation and access to a support system by the teachers.
To address that, we have put together a virtual “Rural Remote Teaching and learning” training sessions to hand-hold and empower rural teachers to learn how to create content digitally and share lessons remotely using low technology available to them. For instance, with a simple smartphone and limited connection.
The training will seek to introduce and equip teachers with knowledge and skills to use applications and programs to conveniently and effectively prepare lesson plans, share lessons content with children and parents. Also, the training will cover programs and strategies they can use to mobilize their communities to embrace remote learning as well as how they can monitor and evaluate remote learning.
How can you be part of this? You may ask
Sharing is caring. If you know rural teachers in your networks with access to a smartphone and a connection (even if limited). For now, we can only handle a group of 20 teachers per cohort and registration is based on a first come served basis. The sooner they can register the better. Ask them to register here.
And, If you can, please help us to fund this pilot project. With
- With Kshs. 2,000 ($20) per Month we will access ZOOM time to host the virtual training.
- With Kshs. 2500 ($25) per week we will access 12.5GB of Internet to coordinate and conduct the teacher training. That’s Kshs. 10,000 ($100) per month.
- With Kshs. 5,000 ($50) per month we will provide and Top Up clearly needy cases of teachers unable to afford Internet. However, we will ask the participating teachers to “Bring Their Own Devices and Internet” as part part of them owning up the project.
- If you have devices — Smartphones, Tablets, iPads, Laptops — you may consider donating to rural teachers. Please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Support can be availed via Mpesa Till Number 691 470 (Kids Comp Camp), or donate here.
Uncertainty has never been this certain. But, In hindsight Covid19 has helped to leapfrog into the future of learning and teaching. It will be such a disservice to go back to our old ways. Let’s normalize investing in technology to serve teachers better by making teaching a bit more convenient and effective.
We can’t wait to report on the progress and challenges of our “small thing” to address this “big thing” staring at us. Any idea(s) we can improve on this? Please feel free to get in touch via email@example.com.