Education is identified as a human right and a key enabler of development in the Kenya Vision 2030. The role of education in ensuring an empowered citizenry and inclusive societies cannot be underestimated. It plays a crucial role in driving systemic change and is often banked upon as a measure to eradicate poverty in all its forms by reducing inequalities. Education is also a social protection measure and is often considered a way of providing safety for learners, especially in fragile situations. However, various shocks disrupt the education systems whenever they occur. This includes natural calamities such as pandemics, floods, droughts, insecurity and workers’ industrial action.
The education system in Kenya, for example, was not spared by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Education piloted the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) in 2017 and the national roll-out took a phased approach with pre-primary 1 and 2 and grades 1 to 3 in 2019; and grade 4 in 2020. The first cohort of CBC grade 6 graduands is scheduled to join junior secondary school in January 2023, which marks a milestone in implementation of the system. However, the COVID-19 put a pause on CBC implementation because of the closure of learning institutions by the government in March 2020 in a bid to manage the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Education developed a COVID-19 response plan to support continuity of learning while still promoting the health, safety, and well-being of learners, teachers, and other education stakeholders. The Ministry of Education adopted alternative modes of mostly depended on mass media and digital technology.
The pandemic exposed fragilities in the system in terms of planning, educational infrastructure, and resources. Furthermore, the pandemic revealed inequalities in access to education among learners from different regions in the country and more so for the vulnerable children, youth, and adults, those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, persons with disabilities, and forcefully displaced persons. Missed teacher-to- pupil/student learning contact and increased dropouts among the vulnerable pupils and students was also evident. Post-pandemic, the education system has grappled its way to normalcy through phased re-opening of schools.
Climate change has led to unpredictable weather patterns resulting in destructive floods and droughts. Recent floods affected over 35 schools in Baringo and Kisumu counties. They caused havoc by destroying school facilities and hindering access, thus inhibiting learning. Floods lead to loss of lives and livelihood, destruction of infrastructure, rendering roads inaccessible, displacing communities, and increasing disease outbreaks.
Similarly, the persistent drought situation has also caused many learners to drop out of school. For instance, 13,000 students in Marsabit and Samburu counties struggled to stay in school due to drought. This is due to inadequate access to food and clean water, which negatively affected their attendance rate and threatened their nutrition status.
Insecurity leads to increased tension and loss of lives, hence hampering learning in the affected areas. Recent bandit attacks in Baringo County affected more than 5,000 learners, in more than 20 primary and secondary schools. Recurrent insecurity in the region has derailed schooling, with candidates performing poorly in national examinations. Enrolment and school attendance among learners has also been low due to migration of families to other safer regions.
Further, the education system has in the recent past experienced persistent industrial action because of the conflicting interests between the Teachers Service Commission and Teachers’ Unions. This has been a recurring conflict resulting from salaries, poor working environment, low motivation, and mishandled grievances. These disputes have hampered learning activities in schools as teachers participate in industrial action.
Considering these events, various issues present themselves in terms of the preparedness of the education system during crises; effective response to aid in the resumption of education during crises; and recovery of education following setbacks brought about by crises. Various efforts have been put in place by the government together with other stakeholders to support the continuation of learning during the crises. These include the development of policy frameworks such as the Education Sector Disaster Management Policy (2017), the Kenya Basic Education COVID-19 Emergency Response Plan (2020), and the Guidelines on Health and Safety Protocols for Reopening of Basic Education Institutions amid COVID-19 Pandemic (2020). In addition, humanitarian assistance to communities affected by droughts and floods, security reinforcement, and collective bargaining have also been put in place to ensure continuity of learning. However, much remains to be done to ensure that Kenya’s education system remains crisis-proof. These approaches include:
Adopting crisis-sensitive planning: This involves developing education sector plans that address disaster risk reduction. Furthermore, enhancing existing policies and planning documents to incorporate strategies that address emerging crises is critical. It also involves risk analysis posed by conflicts, natural hazards, and disease outbreaks. The education sector also needs to be mainstreamed in national disaster management plans for effective response and continuity in education service delivery.
A holistic multi-sectoral approach: This incorporates the government through its national institutions and humanitarian and development actors. These institutions need to leverage on the common goal of building the capacity of educational institutions, individuals, and communities in crisis management. For instance, the government could sensitize communities based on early warning system for forecasting flood instances to enhance preparedness. This is in addition to helping build flood stockpiling, digging trenches in prone areas, and encouraging the planting of trees and sisal fences to break and reduce flood flow and prevent erosion. The Government could also consider employing professionals to design, assess, construct, and maintain the facilities in the education system. This is for purposes of addressing resiliency to recurrent floods and weather-related crises. As a proactive measure, incorporating flood management into the education syllabus is essential to sensitizing the school communities in flood preparedness. A centrally located crisis management unit is also crucial to coordinate preparedness and response activities.
Innovative, inclusive education planning and delivery: For example, the COVID-19 crisis exposed inequalities in access to learning especially for children from vulnerable communities. There is therefore need to close the digital divide in education and leverage the power of technology to accelerate flexible learning modes such as blended learning. The Government of Kenya needs to amplify the existing remote learning opportunities to ensure continuity of learning for all students during fragile situations. This can be done through public-private partnerships.
Development of fiscal resource mobilization frameworks by the Ministry of Education: Coordination and streamlining of fiscal resources supports planning during emergencies. Embedding crisis management with a dedicated budget for unforeseen circumstances aids in averting the impact of crises on education. This will enhance research, policy development, and dissemination and the development of infrastructure,
and acquisition of educational materials. Education and training need to be prioritized in national fiscal response during emergencies.
Enhancing education information systems to support the production and dissemination of data related to crises. Information systems provide information related to the impact of interventions and hence a platform for improving interventions. The government needs to invest in information systems that aid decision-making, policy analysis, planning, monitoring, and management of interventions related to stabilizing schooling in event of shocks.
Continuous capacity building of education stakeholders: As communities and the education sector recover from the impact of crises, supporting and empowering teachers and education stakeholders are critical for effective recovery. Continuous capacity building in crises management at the national, county, sub-county, zonal, and school leadership levels is essential in enhancing knowledge and skills among education stakeholders. Furthermore, teachers need to be effectively trained on digital pedagogies and information communication, and technology to support the continuity of education during crises.
Engagement of communities and caregivers: There is need to incorporate caregivers and communities in the development of approaches related to education in crises. The policy and planning frameworks need to reflect and respond to realities at the community level and in families. Caregivers and communities need access to information on evidence-based practices for supporting children’s learning, so that they can deliver stimulating learning environments and support children once they are re-enrolled back to school.
Effective monitoring and evaluation frameworks would help in collecting and analyzing relevant data related to the effects of crises and the needs of learning institutions, teachers, and learners. During uncertain situations, it is essential to ensure that strategies and plans are well understood by users, stakeholders, and beneficiaries. The government and other stakeholders need to ensure that there is continuous monitoring on how the proposed measures are implemented and perceived by students, teachers, parents, and the larger education community. This will help in development of knowledge management platforms where innovative ideas, success stories, lessons learnt, and recommendations are captured for dissemination.
Authors: Corazon Milimu, Young Professional, Social Sector Department
Robert Onyoni, Young Professional, Private Sector Department