Monday, April 15, 2024

The Tough Test Of Homeschooling In Slums

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With schools closed and families cooped up at home as a result of the pandemic, children in Nairobi slums appear outclassed by their middle class counterparts in homeschooling.

While pupils from well-off households are taking virtual classes remotely from the comfort of their study rooms at home, those in informal settlements are cut off from home internet access. Also, study space is a luxury.

Besides their single-room shacks lacking a fixed internet connection, most slum households either lack or possess feature phones that cannot go online. Yet according to Internet World Stats, Kenya takes the lead in Africa in internet penetration at 87.2 percent, mostly driven by the country’s high level of smartphones adoption.

At face value, Kenya’s deep penetration rate may suggest that nearly all citizens in the country use the internet, with only 12.8 percent of the population still unplugged. The stark reality is that the access is unevenly spread among the population.

While each family member of middle class homes boasts more than two smartphones, a laptop, and a home and office connection, on the other end of the spectrum are poor households that can hardly afford one internet gadget. This highlights the disproportionate distribution, effectively putting slum dwellers on the back foot in homeschooling.

It’s particularly harrowing for pupils in Grade Four and below, who are the first cohorts of the new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), since their lessons need an internet connection. The new curriculum aims to impart learners with practical skills applicable in the modern-day job market where technology is at the centre of operations. It’s set to replace the 8-4-4 system that has been faulted for being too theoretical and exam-oriented.

“My phone is a feature phone, so I cannot access the online resources to assist my Grade One son in his study. I simply can’t afford it,” Emily Akinyi, a resident of Kibera slum on the outskirts of the capital, said outside her mud-walled shack, hapless. Sounding almost resigned to her fate, her moist eyes widened, then narrowed.

Kibera is dotted with overcrowded shacks, the alleys are narrow and littered, and has long grappled with poor sanitation and acute poverty.

It’s mainly made up of shacks – mud and tin-walled structures with corrugated tin roofs – owned by slumlords.

With schools closed, and a high possibility of children staying longer at home amid the pandemic, several publishers and technology firms have made public online learning resources to enable homeschooling and continual assessment. The hurdle for low income homes, however, remains a lack of internet devices to access platforms such as Google Classroom, Ubongo Kids, Kytabu and the eLimu apps.

For Felicia Nabwire, a Class Eight candidate at Raila Educational Centre in Kibera, the absence of an internet connection has heavily stood in her way. Yet the girl sees education as her way out of the grinding poverty around her.

“I have heard about online learning tools on television but I’m yet to try them out since I have no phone and my mother’s phone has no access to the internet,” she said.

With the coronavirus barreling across the world and inflicting damage on economies and healthcare systems, there is no telling when exactly the wave will blow over. As a result, schools reopening dates remain uncertain and this has spooked candidates like Nabwire who were due to sit for national exams this year.

Like her colleagues, Nabwire is fretful about the idea of being asked to repeat the same class, if things don’t improve.

“I honestly don’t want to repeat,” she said, a look of worry spread over her face.

Before the deadly bug struck, slum students depended almost completely on textbooks in public schools alongside community libraries. But with closures, they were left to their own devices.

That was until several slum-based agencies stepped in to save the day. One such organisation is Feminist for Peace Rights and Justice Centre, which has until now been running a community library in Kibera and a rescue centre for sexual and gender-based violence cases.

With the library doors shut, the agency has had a strategy rethink to ensure slum pupils continue accessing learning materials. To this end, home distribution of textbooks and storybooks is working just fine. While the agency’s focus has previously been on empowering the girl child, the books distribution drive now covers both genders.

A member of Feminist for Peace Rights and Justice Centre registering pupils nwho have received the textbooks

“We want the learning culture to continue within our community despite the disruption the pandemic has caused. We cannot adhere to the social distance rule in our library because it’s very small and that’s why we saw the need to distribute the books in our library to their homes,” said Juliet Ochieng, a director at the agency.

To ensure that learning takes place, the organisation has recruited 20 instructors, who will be following up and closely monitoring the learners. For assessment, the instructors will subject the students to evaluation tests every two weeks right from their respective homes while adhering to hygienic practices.

“We’re targeting 150 students for a start, since we do not have enough books, but we hope to extend beyond this number with time. Meanwhile we’re encouraging the students to exchange the books after completing a topic while maintaining hygienic behaviour, creating some form of a books exchange pool. This will not only assist us in reaching more students but also enable them to study broadly,” said Ochieng.

“We’ve also picked their parents’ phone contacts for follow up. If a student finds it difficult to understand a topic, our instructors are on hand to reach out for assistance,” she added.

From the slum community libraries, the smell of books has drifted to homes and will linger around for some time until the coronavirus cloud drifts away. And whether the learners had an internet connection or not, they will all emerge on the other end of the dark tunnel more educated, regardless of the homeschooling approach taken. That’s the vision and mission of Feminist for Peace Rights and Justice Centre.

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