As a means to control the rampant virus that is COVID-19, Kenya closed all of its schools in March 2020. Although school closures in Kenya have occurred to maintain citizens’ safety, there are problems and concerns. George Magoha, Education Prime Minister of Kenya, stated that, due to schools closing just three months into the school year, students will be a year behind in their studies once school resumes in January 2021. The school closures could further marginalize certain children and families. Additionally, teenage pregnancy is another problem that learning at home could bring.
Further Marginalization of Kenyans
Once schools shut down worldwide, many students seamlessly transferred to online learning. This, however, was not the case for rural, remote areas in Kenya like Kajiado and Samburu county. According to the World Economic Forum, only 17% of Kenyan households had internet access as of 2016. With little to no access to internet connectivity and technology itself, online learning is nearly impossible. These children are at a strikingly harmful disadvantage in comparison to students residing in more urban areas, like Naibori country. Students in rural areas cannot academically progress like other students who have the means to learn online.
Not only are students with little internet access often behind, but school closures in Kenya also greatly impact refugee students. For many refugee students living in the Dadaab refugee complex, for example, going to school and receiving an education is their best opportunity for future success. Considering lower retention rates and even being a year behind, this success may prove to be more difficult to attain.
School closures in Kenya also place a heavy burden on parents and guardians. With little to no preparation for home-schooling, parents and guardians now have to teach their children. Little to no academic planning creates major problems with information retention, causing students to be even more behind in school.
Only 10% of teenage girls who leave school ever go back. Due to the virus, young girls cannot attend school, thus potentially lowering this percentage even more. The longer teenage girls are out of school, the worse the consequences may be for their futures. One example is teen pregnancies.
According to a Kenya government-administered health survey, teen pregnancies are rapidly increasing. As of 2015, Kenya had the largest number of teen pregnancies in East Africa. According to Plan International, “98% of pregnant girls were not in school, and 59% of the pregnancies among girls aged 15-19 years were unintended.” Prior to the pandemic, education and resources for young teenagers were not readily available for many. Now, those resources are even more difficult to receive.
Moreover, going to school every day was an escape for teenage girls from predatory family members in the home. With school closures in Kenya, young women do not have the protection from family members and neighbors that their schools provided. Sexual violence in Kenya affects about 33% of girls; due to school closures, this number may rise.
Although many students do not have access to necessary resources, learning by the radio has been a very helpful resource for both Kenyan and refugee students. For the 100,000 students who reside in the Dadaab refugee complex, radio lessons have been able to reach all 22 of the complex’s schools. This allows refugee students to continue their education, thus, continuing their mobilization in society.
To promote the health and safety of all Kenyans, UNICEF delivered many basic needs to Kibera in April 2020. Kibera is the largest informal settlement in Africa where nearly 1 million individuals live on less than a dollar a day, according to UNICEF. The delivered supplies included 26,000 bars of soap and 100 disinfectant sprayers for the Nairobi City Government’s use in public spaces. Aid like this keeps Kenyans safe and should later create safer conditions for schools in Kenya.
School closures in Kenya have created countless problems and concerns for its citizens. With delayed schooling, lack of necessary technology and the potential of increased teenage pregnancies, the effects of school closures in Kenya may persist for years to come. However, organizations like UNICEF are working to provide compulsory resources, like proper education.
– Anna Hoban