Kenya to Showcase Whatapp-Based Virtual Classrooms at Education World Forum

Heads of State, political leaders and Education Ministers from over 100 countries are gathering this week at the prestigious Education World Forum in London.

This year’s Education World Forum is happening under the theme Building forward together; stronger, bolder, better. The largest gathering of education and skills ministers is coming on the back of a difficult period where education systems across the world were stretched to the limit 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 occurred and the successes they have achieved.

The Kenyan delegation led by Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof. George Magoha will showcase reforms that have been implemented in establishing an education system that addresses relevance, equity, and inclusion. Most recently, the government embarked on the most comprehensive education reform since 1981, which has seen the introduction of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC). The aim of the CBC is to guarantee basic education for every learner according to their abilities and needs.

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

To date, the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt in the country’s education sector. Academic calendars have been condensed to accommodate the disruption. The school calendar will not be normalized until January 2023.

Private schools, including low-cost schools that are found primarily in low-income urban and semi-urban areas accounted for 30 percent of learners in the country before the pandemic. These schools were particularly impacted by the compulsory closures and the more general 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 closed their doors, affecting over 56,000 learners.

The pandemic exposed the inadequacy of infrastructure such as electricity and internet connectivity across the country, and highlighted the necessity of appropriate technologies in education to provide more inclusive and equitable quality education to all learners.

In Kenya, a handful of novel initiatives bridged the gap during the pandemic. A sterling example is Bridge@Home. Bridge@Home kept hundreds of pupils in both well-served and underserved communities learning through over 800 virtual Whatsapp classrooms and a mobile phone-based interactive quiz system available to pupils in urban and hard-to-reach areas. Yet, there is no doubt that the learning losses that have impacted a generation of learners will be at the forefront of political leaders and policy makers minds as the delegates gather.

A key discussion area in the Education World Forum is how can we build stronger education systems? One of the answers surely lies in Public Private Partnerships (PPP). Using partners to support the government with technical service delivery can help countries meet education goals by increasing access to good quality education for all, especially for poor children who live in remote, underserved communities and for children in minority populations.

In Kenya, the PPP infrastructure is already in place. The government has undertaken enormous reforms to attract private players into the PPP framework. In December 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Public Private Partnerships Act. The Government has also elevated the PPP Unit to the Directorate under the National Treasury and is focused on expanding the role of the private sector in the economy through PPPs.

Secondly, establishing robust domestic education financing is key to building stronger education systems.

In 2021, President Kenyatta launched a clarion call to Heads of State from GPE partner countries to protect public education expenditure. The President asked the Heads of State to join him in endorsing a political statement to prioritize, protect and increase domestic financing towards the 20% global benchmark, to set policies that ensure financing reaches the most vulnerable, leaving no child behind, and to ensure the efficient use of resources.

Data will be equally important to building stronger education systems. The learning crisis persists in Sub-Sahara Africa because many education systems have little information on 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 help tracking and monitoring in the education sector.

A 2021 UNESCO report into gender parity in education found a complete lack of data on science education from low-income countries, exacerbating a situation where pockets of “extreme exclusion” still exist.

The report titled ‘Deepening the debate on those still left behind’ found out that limited data collecting capacity and a lack of systematic national assessments for learners prevent researchers from having a complete picture of how learning outcomes are developing in the global South. The report calls for a longer-term data monitoring programme that will inform the making of strong 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 Centre which is domiciled at the Kenya National Examinations Council. It is mandated to carry out national assessments and monitor learner achievement studies under the National Assessment System for Monitoring Learner Achievement (NASMLA) framework.

NASMLA evaluates the education system at various levels of basic education and provides empirical evidence in the form of data and insights to policy makers to allow for formulation of appropriate interventions.

Innovation and technology will probably play the biggest role in building stronger education systems. The world is in the midst of a technological revolution. Industry after industry is being transformed and disrupted as a result of the emergence of new technologies and the business models and social practices they enable.

Sadly, too many learners are not being adequately prepared to thrive in this rapidly changing world. According to the World Bank, the world has been dealing with a learning crisis even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. In low- and middle-income countries, 53% of 10-year-old children cannot read and understand a simple story.

A pertinent question facing education ministers in London is how should we accelerate collaborative innovation in education to resolve this crisis?

The adoption of innovation and technology in education has the capacity to build stronger education systems so as to reach more children, improve learning and teaching, and build resilience to 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 within the country. In an opinion article that was published in the Financial Times, President Kenyatta says that as governments and world citizens, we can use emerging innovative solutions to enrol millions of children back in school, while transforming systems so that everyone can have access to quality, equitable and technology-enabled education.

For the past decade, the country has witnessed an increased usage of technology in education. School providers like Bridge International Academies who pioneered the use of innovative technology in teaching have been serving some of Kenya’s most underserved communities for over a decade, using innovation and digitizing learning based on the national curriculum. The Bridge model has been rolled out across the continent in recent years and multiple governments are now using the blueprint developed in Kenya to bring about system transformation in their states and nations.

As delegates gather and policymakers start looking at solutions that are working on the African continent, the question will be how are all governments going to build stronger and better education systems. It’s hoped that all Governments, including Kenyan, will actively identify effective programming being deployed by their peers at the Education World Forum and be incentivized to integrate new approaches to support the building of stronger education systems.

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