Kenya to Showcase WhatApp-Based Virtual Classrooms at World Education Forum » Capital News

This week, heads of state, political leaders and education ministers from more than 100 countries gather at the prestigious World Education Forum in London.

This year’s World Education Forum is held under the theme Building together; stronger, bolder, better. The largest gathering of education and skills ministers comes after a difficult time when education systems around the world were stretched thin by the Covid-19 pandemic. The influential conference will address key policy issues with political leaders sharing the education system challenges they face, the solutions they have found, the learning that has taken place and the successes they have achieved.

The Kenyan delegation led by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Professor George Magoha, will present the reforms that have been implemented to establish an education system that addresses relevance, equity and inclusion. More recently, the government launched the most comprehensive education reform since 1981, which saw the introduction of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC). The objective of the CBC is to guarantee a basic education to each learner according to his abilities and needs.

The pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to social, economic and cultural life across the world. When educational institutions closed in Kenya in March 2020, nearly 18 million learners were affected, threatening the massive learning gains the country has made over the past decade.

To this day, the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt in the country’s education sector. Academic calendars have been condensed to account for the disruption. The school calendar will not be standardized until January 2023.

Private schools, including low-cost schools that are mostly in low-income urban and semi-urban areas, accounted for 30% of learners in the country before the pandemic. These schools have been particularly impacted by mandatory closures and the broader effects of the pandemic, making it difficult for them to pay teachers’ salaries and retain staff. According to the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA), nearly 400 private schools have closed, affecting over 56,000 learners.

The pandemic has revealed insufficient infrastructure such as electricity and internet connectivity across the country, and highlighted the need for appropriate technologies in education to provide more inclusive and equitable quality education to all learners.

In Kenya, a handful of innovative initiatives have bridged the gap during the pandemic. [email protected] is a perfect example. [email protected] has enabled hundreds of students in well-served and underserved communities to learn through more than 800 Whatsapp virtual classrooms and an interactive mobile phone quiz system available to students in urban and challenging areas of access. Yet there is no doubt that the learning losses that have impacted a generation of learners will be at the forefront of the minds of political leaders and decision makers when delegates gather.

One of the main topics of discussion at the World Education Forum is how to build stronger education systems? One of the answers surely lies in Public Private Partnerships (PPP). Using partners to support the government in delivering technical services can help countries achieve their education goals by improving access to good quality education for all, especially poor children living in remote and underserved communities and for children from minority populations.

In Kenya, the PPP infrastructure is already in place. The government has undertaken huge reforms to attract private actors to PPPs. In December 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Public-Private Partnerships Act. The government has also upgraded the PPP Unit to a Directorate under the National Treasury and is focusing on expanding the role of the private sector in the economy through PPPs.

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Second, building strong domestic education financing is key to building stronger education systems.

In 2021, President Kenyatta made a clear call to Heads of State of GPE partner countries to protect public spending on education. The President asked Heads of State to join him in endorsing a political declaration to prioritize, protect and increase domestic funding towards the global benchmark of 20%, set policies to ensure funding reaches the most vulnerable, without leaving children behind, and to ensure the efficient use of resources.

Data will be equally important for building stronger education systems. The learning crisis persists in sub-Saharan Africa because many education systems have little information about who is learning and who is not. The lack of reliable data makes it difficult for governments to address the issue. There is an urgent need to provide more data and better evidence to facilitate tracking and monitoring in the education sector.

A 2021 UNESCO report on gender parity in education revealed a complete lack of data on science education in low-income countries, compounding a situation where pockets of ‘extreme exclusion’ exist still.

The report entitled ‘Deepening the debate on those who are still being left behind” found that limited data collection capacity and the lack of systematic national learner assessments prevent researchers from getting a full picture of changing learning outcomes in countries in the Global South. The report calls for a longer-term data monitoring program that will inform the development of sound education policies.

Knowing what is happening in classrooms across Kenya has long been a challenge. However, recent developments show that we are moving in the right direction. The Ministry of Education has established a National Assessment Center which is housed at the National Examinations Council of Kenya. It is responsible for conducting national assessments and monitoring learner achievement studies as part of the National Assessment System for Monitoring Learner Achievement (NASMLA).

NASMLA assesses the education system at different levels of basic education and provides empirical evidence in the form of data and information to policy makers to enable the formulation of appropriate interventions.

Innovation and technology are likely to play the most important role in building stronger education systems. The world is in the midst of a technological revolution. Industry after industry is being transformed and disrupted due to the emergence of new technologies and the business models and social practices they enable.

Unfortunately, too many learners are not sufficiently prepared to thrive in this rapidly changing world. According to the World Bank, the world was facing a learning crisis even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. In low- and middle-income countries, 53% of 10-year-olds cannot read and understand a simple story.

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A relevant question facing education ministers in London is how to accelerate collaborative innovation in education to address this crisis?

Embracing innovation and technology in education has the ability to build stronger education systems to reach more children, improve learning and teaching, and build resilience for withstand shocks such as Covid-19 disruptions.

In Kenya, the government has turned its attention to more innovative approaches that seek to build on some of the technological innovations already being used in schools across the country. In an opinion piece published in the FinancialTimesPresident Kenyatta says that as governments and global citizens, we can use emerging innovative solutions to get millions of children into school, while transforming systems so that everyone can have access to quality, equitable and grounded education on technology.

Over the past decade, the country has seen an increased use of technology in education. School providers like Bridge International Academies, who have pioneered the use of innovative technologies in education, have been serving some of Kenya’s most underserved communities for over a decade, using innovation and digitalization of learning according to the national curriculum. The Bridge model has been rolled out across the continent in recent years and several governments are now using the plan developed in Kenya to bring about system transformation in their states and nations.

As delegates gather and policy makers begin to search for solutions that work on the African continent, the question will be how all governments will build stronger and better education systems. It is hoped that all governments, including Kenya, will actively identify effective programs deployed by their peers at the World Education Forum and be encouraged to mainstream new approaches to support building stronger education systems.

Norma A. Roth