Future dim for poor teens after Coronavirus ended 2020 school calendar

A mother walking her child home from school. Shutterstock

“I feel bad because ‘corona’ has destroyed everything, and we cannot go to school.” said a 15-year-old, who spends her time wandering the narrow laneways of Kibera, a slum in Nairobi – AFP.

Kenya’s schools were closed as a precaution to contain the pandemic in March. But in July, as cases soared in Kenya, the government announced classes would not resume until January 2021, declaring the 2020 school year “lost”.

The decision upended life for millions of keen students like Otieno, who will be forced to repeat a year when she eventually does return and endure months of worry and boredom until then. 

“It’s really frustrating for the girls,” said Rachel Esther, the deputy director of the Kibera School for Girls, which teaches 330 girls between five and 15, including Otieno, during the January-October school year.

“They rarely stay at home for so long. I’m sure most of them don’t like it.”

Even before abandoning the school year the government admitted in its emergency response plan that many parents with low literacy levels or who may not have a television or radio may struggle with homeschooling, and that this may deepen inequalities.

Parents, caregivers, and the older community members fear idle students will fall so far behind they may not return.

Experts have reported a rise in teenage pregnancies since Kenya’s lockdown began, with more girls pushed into transactional sex to survive while others have more sex as they stay away from school.

The shutdown has heaped enormous pressure on Kenya’s private schools, which deprived of fees have struggled to keep staff and maintain their campuses.

Some 2.3 million primary school students attend private institutions in Kenya — some funded by donors — taking the load off public schools which are underfunded and overcrowded, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

“The government alone cannot manage education for all its citizens,” says Peter Ndoro, chairman of the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA).

Some teachers in the private sector have not been paid for months and have sought out other work to survive. 

As of early August, more than 120 private schools had announced they would not reopen in January.