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How the digital divide affected learning in Kenya during the lockdown period

On March 16, 2020 the Government of Kenya closed all schools and universities for almost 9 months as a mitigation to curb the spread of COVID-19.  The Ministry of Education later started implementing online instruction using technology through the Television, Radio lessons and the Internet.

However, owing to the abruptness of these changes, most learning institutions had little or no time to organise the means through which they could enhance the continuity of learning. The lack of internet services as well as the high cost of internet data in the country limited the amount of e-learning available to learners especially in remote rural areas and the urban slums.

This fact created a very clear learning gap between the haves and have-nots. Learners from poor background stood disadvantaged since most could not access online education due to a lack of accessibility to the internet, reliable electricity and affordability.

Those from the rich backgrounds could afford to buy some of the learning materials needed, notwithstanding being able to access computers and unlimited internet access. Unlike their counterparts from poor background, children from well off families also enjoyed enough space to learn due to living in homes with a variety of rooms including study rooms. Candidates studying and revising in the rural areas and slums was extremely hard due to the small houses they live in. Those who attempted were forced to read and sleep so late to ensure that they were ready for the exams

Parents whose children learnt in private institutions were faced with a different ball game altogether. Majority of the proprietors of these academies took the opportunity to exploit them with unreasonable and quite expensive demands in the name of maintaining their previous education standards. Most parents were not able to foot the school-related expenses such as learning materials and daily bundles. This further widened the gap in that they were disadvantaged as compared to their counterparts who could afford it. Even in the areas where electricity and technology did exist, the cost of the internet is inhibitive.

Restrictions set curb the spread of COVID-19 deterred parents from employing the services of private tutors since no one could risk exposing themselves to the virus.

Attempts by the government and some private media houses to broadcast radio and television lesson to bore very little fruits. The programmes were short and not customised to cater for individual learners’ needs and abilities. Further still, the programmes had to compete for attention with popular radio and television programmes.

Despite some of the tertiary institutions partnering with mobile network providers to offer discounted mobile internet bundles, this arrangement only worked well in areas with good internet bandwidths. Primary and secondary schools could not afford such arrangements thus never benefited.

Graduating students were either forced to defer their graduation or finish the school year remotely. Learning that required practical lessons died a natural death as learners could only acquire theoretical online lessons. There was no individualised teaching and learning. The learners had no one to channel their questions especially those who hailed from families whose parents are illiterate or were too busy to spare time for learning.

As a result of all these disruptions, quite a fraction of the learners never reported back to school due to various reasons, including early pregnancies, others being married off by their parents while others joined the labour market as casuals.

Experts have suggested that the government addresses all these inequalities to ensure access to opportunities and inclusion to ultimately ensure that learners recover and transit to greater heights of their education.

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