Learning from home in Kibera, during COVID-19
As classrooms remain closed, children continue their education from their Kibera homes.
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.”
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.
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.