COVID-19: Kenya ensures kids keep learning amid lockdown

A state body under the education ministry has intensified delivery of school programmes through radio and television broadcasts

By Maina Waruru
Published: Tuesday 31 March 2020

Many Kenyans would call Isaac Thuku a privileged parent in the depressing times of the novel coronavirus disease. Unlike many other children, Thuku’s daughter, Wambui, is able to take school lessons on the internet as she would in a regular class. Her less advantaged friends, however, miss out on them.

Teachers in Kenya’s schools are making sure students are given regular assignments to do after the online lesson. Wambui has been told that she won’t miss out much during the two weeks of school closure.

The Kenyan government, on March 12, 2020, closed all learning institutions as it recorded its first case of COVID-19.

“Like other children, my daughter, too, is striving to ensure that she catches up by making use of technology,” said Wambui’s father.

She studies in a private school in Nairobi, which is charging extra for delivering lessons at home.

Those from the less privileged backgrounds are also not far behind. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), a state body under the education ministry, has intensified delivery of school programmes through radio and television broadcasts.

The KICD has since the 1970s offered schools programmes broadcasting select lessons to mostly primary school learners, but never before has there been a bigger need for broadcasts as in the past two weeks.

At the same time, never before has the public come to appreciate this form of learning.

“Following the closure of learning institutions in line with presidential directive on containment of COVID-19, 15 million primary and secondary school learners are at home and need guidance on home-based learning,” said a statement by education minister George Magoha.

“The ministry of education has therefore found it necessary to step up measures to facilitate learning during the period when learners will be at home. Beginning March 23, the ministry will enhance curriculum delivery through four different platforms of radio, television, YouTube and the Kenya Education Cloud,” the minister had added.

The Kenya Education Cloud has been updated with extensive digital content free of charge, and includes videos, audio and PDF material and e-text books provided by education publishers. On the other hand, YouTube channel Edu TV has been airing lessons for schools.

The measures have relieved parents whose children had been missing out on essential school lessons.

Kenya’s health minister Mutahi Kagwe has discouraged citizens from practices that can spur rise of COVID-19 infections, including cash transactions. He noted that hard currency could be a medium for transmitting infections. Instead, he encouraged the use of mobile money besides other forms of cashless transactions.

At the same time, as the government banned assemblies at eateries, there has been a surge in online orders.

“This is unprecedented. Customers are buying food using mobile money. This helps prevent infections through hard money,” said Lydiah Wanjiru, who runs a cafe in Kikuyu suburbs of Nairobi.

To encourage cashless transactions, local telecom Safaricom Ltd waived charges for transactions of US$10 and below, as well those for mobile transfers from bank accounts.

While it cannot be ascertained how cash transfer technology has fared over the last few weeks, it is known that more people are sending and receiving money, encouraged by the absence of charges on small amounts, according to mobile money agents interviewed.

About 42 people had tested positive COVID-19 from over 830 tested as on March 29. One of the early patients died and one has fully recovered. About a thousand of those who had travelled from abroad, along with those who came in contact with “high risk” people, have been quarantined.

Mass testing is one among the measures recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) besides a raft of hygiene practices, including now widely practised regular hand washing.

These measures kicked off in Kenya March 30, as it directed its domestic factories to manufacture protective gear such as masks.

Gatherings, including religious ones, funerals and meetings have been banned — as have been bars and clubs. A 7 pm-5 am curfew is also in place since March 27.

“An additional 1,000 healthcare workers will be recruited shortly to ensure capacity-building and ability to respond timely in case the numbers grow,” the health minister announced March 29.  

Experts have warned that infections could increase in the coming few weeks.

“In essence, we are expecting multiple cases of local transmission from those who recently returned from abroad. The Achilles Heel of the disease at this stage lies in social isolation. People need to stay inside their homes,” Stella Bosire, director of sexual and reproductive rights group Uhai, said.

She added that movement from urban to rural areas, where a lot of old people, should be discouraged.

“The government needs to be lauded for its decision of shutting down schools. However, this virus (SARS-CoV-2) is wholly dependent on behavioural patterns. It doesn’t spread spontaneously; people spread the disease,” she told Down To Earth.

She called for a conversation around social isolation and its implications for the poor and vulnerable in Kenya, where almost half of the population is unemployed and over 70 per cent are daily wage earners.

“Restricting movement has social and economic implications and need to be prioritised. Here also lies our greatest challenge, which calls upon all of us to support the poor and marginalised in the society,” Bosire said.



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