Learning from home in Kibera, during COVID-19

As classrooms remain closed, children continue their education from their Kibera homes.

Andrew Brown and Brian Otieno
Shiela studies at home in Kibera
07 May 2020

This story first appeared in the Star newspaper on 10 May 2020.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, going to school gave children in Kenya a safe and supportive learning environment, with access to free school meals and other services. Yet today, as classrooms remain closed, children continuing their education from their Kibera homes are grappling with problems such as intermittent power and limited space to play or exercise.

Home to up to a million people (estimates vary), Kibera is Africa's largest informal settlement. Unemployment and poverty levels are high, with many residents living on less than a dollar a day. A lack of basic services, including running water and health care, and the close proximity of makeshift homes make Kibera an especially challenging place for children to live.

In total, over 18 million students in Kenya have been affected by the closure of schools. An extended period of closure will impact children’s wellbeing and have a long-term impact on inequality, as the most vulnerable families may not send children back to school.

“UNICEF is focusing on providing the most vulnerable children with access to learning, including those in informal settlements, refugees, and children with disabilities,” UNICEF Kenya Chief of Education Marilyn Hoar says. “We are supporting out-of-classroom learning on radio, TV and online, and informing parents how to access lessons. We are also preparing guidelines for the safe reopening of schools.”

Elizabeth stands on a wooden staircase
Elizabeth stands on a wooden staircase leading to her home in Kibera, built precariously on top of another house. The weather is Nairobi is turns cold at this time of year and Elizabeth wears a coat to stay warm. “I want to pass my exams,” she says. “I would like to go to secondary school and study law at University.”
Elizabeth watching an educational TV channel
Elizabeth continues her studies at home by watching an educational TV channel. Today’s focus is social studies, a broad subject that covers humanities, history, geography and political science. Elizabeth is joined by her neighbour’s son Justin who often studies with her as his family doesn’t have a television at home. “I enjoy studying with another student around,” Elizabeth says. “It makes me feel more like I am in school. What worries me the most is that I can't answer the questions the teacher asks because he is on the other side of the TV screen.”
Elizabeth reads a textbook
After the televised lessons end for the day, Elizabeth continues her studies through her textbooks. She stands in her home reading a book on Kiswahili. “I like the lessons on TV, they are good,” she says. “It's just that I don't feel like I relate with the teacher. I really want all this to end so that I can go back to school.”
Justin studies using the television
10-year-old Justin studies using the television at his neighbour’s house in Kibera. He is joined by his five-year-old brother Morara who is in kindergarten. Morara draws pictures in his brother’s exercise book.

To support children across Kenya in continuing their education, UNICEF has been working with the government to provide radio, TV and Internet lessons. Despite the challenges in Kibera, many children are using these resources to continue learning.

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) estimates that 47% of learners are accessing lessons through radio, TV or the Internet. This means that over half of Kenya students are not able to access remote lessons, either because they are outside of broadcast range or do not have the necessary equipment.

To address this, UNICEF is mapping areas without radio and exploring ways to reach children, including by distributing 27,500 solar powered radios for learners without access to lessons. We are also distributing textbooks to 18,350 students in refugee camps and have provided academic and physical fitness tutorials through smartphones to children in informal settlements, including those with disabilities.

Sandra stands at the door of her house
Schoolgirl Sandra stands at the door of her house in Kibera. She hasn’t been to class for two months, since the Government closed schools to curb the spread of COVID-19. Sandra is now in the final year of primary school. "I am worried because I do not know when I will go back to school and when I will take my exams,” she says.
Sandra studies at home.
Sandra studies at home. "I was very upset when the schools were closed,” she says. “When I try to study at home, there's a lot of noise.” Despite the challenges, Sandra is doing everything she can to continue to learn at home. Her class teacher sends assignments to her father's phone, which she takes to a local print shop to get printed. “I come home to work through the assignment,” she says. “Once I’ve completed it, I wait for another text to return the assignment to my teacher.”
Sheila with her school textbooks
Sheila stands with her school textbooks in the narrow corridor leading to her home in Kibera, where she lives with her mother, father and one of her brothers. “It’s hard to concentrate on my studies because the neighbours play very loud music,” she says. In her last year of primary school, Sheila is worried that without being able to go to school, she might fail her exams or be forced to repeat the same class.
Sheila and her mother, Florian.
Sheila sits at the table she shares with three other family members, working her way through her textbooks as she studies for the exams marking her final year of primary school. Her mother Florian is helping her with her homework.

As well as responding to the situation of children not in school, UNICEF is also planning ahead for the next stage of the COVID-19 response.

“We are working with the Ministries of Health and Education to prepare schools to re-open safely when the time comes,” UNICEF Kenya Chief of Education Marilyn Hoar says. “This includes disinfection of any school buildings that have been used as quarantine facilities. And we will continue supporting schools to ensure that children have access to hand washing facilities.”


By Andrew Brown, UNICEF Kenya, and Brian Otieno.