Saving School: Children do not need to repeat school because of COVID-19

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The Urology Professor heading the Ministry of Education earned a dis/honorary degree in mediocrity when he crumpled the 2020 school year and tossed it into the dustbin like it was the TJRC report, or court order or some other useless document to the current administration.

Now we hear boarding schools might be banned next year. This is the same guy who has been pronouncing himself on when schools should open or not open without facts or mental strain, just like a bar-stool political pundit.  We were told we would reopen in July, then September, then October then January. However, none of this has ever been followed by any actual plan. Social distancing in classes was mooted but wait. Teachers will get a 7.5% pay cut in January. We can all sense it, there is no plan to open schools in January. He declared that all kids should repeat a class and I am still shocked at the complacency of the educationists and teachers in this country.

The buffalo from Siaya whose biggest qualifications seem to be his inability to summarize his CV (Or his thoughts) hence his famous resume the size of a medium-sized high school set book. Unless you have lived 4 lifetimes, that is too much.  I have been accused of slinging mud at the bastion of ineptitude he heads. “Why can’t you offer solutions?” It is not the job of the critic to offer solutions, but you know what? I have worked in education in one capacity or other since I was 18 and in sarcasm since I could talk so here are my solutions.

Don’t burn 2020

We do not need to make kids repeat a year. Seriously we don’t.  What we need to do is arrange for the form 4s to go back to school in October. Have them stay until February and they can do their exam in March. I know, “what about catching? will they cover the syllabus?” etc. We are getting to that. In the meantime, KICD and all the people under the education ministry who actually do education stuff should be on the ready to rethink and re-write the definition of the word exam.

This is a golden opportunity to reduce the fat in the system.  The form fours can have a standardized exam set for them.  It should only cover as much as it would have been reasonable to have covered until the first term of the fourth year. Then there should be a lot of weight in critical and computational thinking, general knowledge, and problem-solving. (Not the first-time general knowledge has been tested in Kenya for major exams ask your parents or grandparent).

If you think passing KCSE is critical to life, I will let you in on a secret. That engineer working on the bridge at your local river, the doctor treating your uncle’s diabetes, if they finished school between 2006 and 2009. There is a very good chance the first A they ever got in Maths, Biology, and Physics was in the KCSE. They may have been operating on C all their high school life. If you know you know. Did you die? You still might though.  The form 4 exam can be redone to make it as fair as possible and to cover application and problem-solving. It will not be fair to everyone obviously and no matter how hard we try the kids at Alliance will still have a better chance than the kids in Mukogondo. Still, it might be the fairest exam done under 8.4.4.

Social distancing

Those of you who are not social distancing from their brains will already be wanting to know; how can we open schools and uphold social distancing? Here there are 2 options. One; a thorough assessment of the schools. Every county has an education office and every school has a headteacher so no big deal. Establish how many schools have enough classes to fit social distancing and how many have even enough classes at all under normal circumstances. After this, the money that the GOK has not been giving to schools since March (Don’t think we did not think schools were partly hastily closed to “save this money”) can be distributed around to ensure every school has at least one extra class per stream (Some private schools might not survive ). This would cost a ton of money but again, the allocations for schools will not have happened for a whole academic year. The boarding schools that we have problems with would need extra dorms but students can convert some of the classes to dorms (I don’t mean sleeping during double math). That way there can be social distancing in class and in the dorms. In warmer areas, we can consider container classrooms (ahem).

Two for the price of one

This plan might require more logistics than we can muster although it is very attractive to the people procuring the work. However, a more reasonable plan would be having two academic years in the same year and automatically halve the number of students in all schools hence. Voila! social distancing.

Remember the KICD fellows? Well, let us have them take their magic wads and wave them at the curriculum. An academic year in Kenya is 12 months.  Actual class time is however around 7-8 months. The challenge will be cramming 8 months’ worth of learning into 4 months.  I will speak about high school as an example. Form 1 and 2 can be in school from January to May. Yes even as the form 4s are doing exams.  A typical form 1 studies 11 subjects and this is where we start cutting.

First, take away English literature (You are still left with oral skills and grammar). You will have freed 3 lessons in the week. In those 3 lessons, put history but merge history and literature so that you are writing English essays and criticism about the historical event. The kids can be assigned set books to read when they close school for 6 months in May. Already subject lighter. Then between History, Geography, Business Studies, CRE, Agriculture, comp studies. Do what we would have done in form 3 anyway. Have the kids drop 2 on day 1. Down to 8 subjects. Have them drop 1 science automatically as well. Down to 7. Those who are about to complain about how important English is, remember all the exams apart from Kiswahili are set in English already. If you are passing those, you probably spend enough time learning English anyway.

We can also go to our Math textbooks and remove trigonometry (because honestly why not please) anyway. KICD peeps can reduce a lot from the coursework and it will fit in the 5-6 months with a 1-month holiday somewhere in there. The same will be done for the form 3s and 4s between June and November. Actually a subject like CRE or religious studies we can safely scrap. Before you get the pitchforks, kids learn religion at home and most Sundays at church already. If your kids need CRE to become good citizens, you probably are not a very good parent. Please note these ideas are to get you thinking so don’t get too specific yet.

If we did this, then although children would still have to stay home half the year, at least they would learn their content. Teachers would be overworked for sure having to work with only like a month break. Well not necessarily. GOK would have to hire new teachers (Still overdue) and if the unthinkable happened and they only had like 40 days off the whole year. Well, they would still have 10 days more than everyone else.

P.S

Maybe they should have NIS investigate what is going down in Tanzanian schools.

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