Home Education How The Digital Divide Affected Learning In Kenya During The Lockdown Period

How The Digital Divide Affected Learning In Kenya During The Lockdown Period

by Musa Abdirahman
  • Although the education system was unprepared for the massive changes in learning models, a few months into the pandemic, many learning institutions adapted and leveraged remote and online learning options through the internet, television and radio.
  • Teachers on the other hand developed online academic material while parents taught the exercises and lessons provided by teachers to their children at home.
  • Simply having access to a computer and an Internet connection does not ensure effective distance learning.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic forced Kenya to close schools in March 2020 as a way of curbing the spread of the novel corona virus.

The country turned to virtual and remote learning.

Although the education system was unprepared for the massive changes in learning models, a few months into the pandemic, many learning institutions adapted and leveraged remote and online learning options through the internet, television and radio.

The digital divide

A report released by Presidential Policy and Strategic Unit in July 2021 which aimed at documenting experiences of adolescents during the pandemic indicated that that despite the government’s push to integrate technology in education, Kenya still lags behind in the digital divide.

Teachers on the other hand developed online academic material while parents taught the exercises and lessons provided by teachers to their children at home.

Considering that the use of digital tools in education has dramatically increased during this crisis, and it is set to continue, there is a pressing need to understand the impact of distance learning.

By making the learning process rely more than ever on families, rather than on teachers, and by getting students to work predominantly via digital resources, school closures exacerbate social class academic disparities.

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Teachers had to develop online academic materials that could be used at home to ensure educational continuity while ensuring the necessary physical distancing.

Primary and secondary school students suddenly had to work with various kinds of support, which were usually provided online by their teachers.

For college students, lockdown often entailed returning to their hometowns while staying connected with their teachers and classmates via video conferences, email and other digital tools.

Despite the best efforts of educational institutions, parents and teachers to keep all children and students engaged in learning activities, ensuring educational continuity during school closure—something that is difficult for everyone—may pose unique material and psychological challenges for working-class families and students.

Unequal access to digital resources

Although the use of digital technologies is almost ubiquitous in developed nations, there is a digital divide such that some people are more likely than others to be numerically exclude social class is a strong predictor of digital disparities, including the quality of hardware, software and Internet access.

Simply having access to a computer and an Internet connection does not ensure effective distance learning.

For example, many of the educational resources sent by teachers need to be printed, thereby requiring access to printers. Moreover, distance learning is more difficult in households with only one shared computer compared with those where each family member has their own.

 Furthermore, upper/middle-class families are more likely to be able to guarantee a suitable workspace for each child than their working-class counterparts.

In the context of school closures, such disparities are likely to have important consequences for educational continuity.

Virtual classes

According to the Presidential Policy and Strategic Unit which on the impact of the pandemic on adolescents in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kilifi and Wajir counties, where students between ages 15 and 19 explained their emote learning experiences, majority of the learners interviewed reported not to have participated in the virtual classes and instead resorted to reading any materials available at home.

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“Only one per cent of learners had access to computers during the pandemic, highlighting the significant digital divide in education in the country,” the report noted.

Although some teachers relied on mobile phones to send assignments to students and receive answers as text, the medium was very limited.

Less than a third of students were able to use mobile phones for learning. Some schools and teachers in marginalised areas were completely unable to offer any virtual or digital lessons.

This was evident in Wajir County, where the learners were left to study on their own without any interaction with teachers.

In Nairobi, only 32 per cent of adolescents had access to mobile phones. In Kisumu, there was only 25 per cent, while Kilifi and Wajir recorded the lowest number of learners who had access to materials from schools through phones at 12 and 2 per cent respectively.

Internet and electricity

Lack of internet penetration and electricity worsened the plight of learners in rural areas, who attempted to access lessons through radio and television, while others completely ran out of digital options.

About 53 per cent of the learners in the four counties reported not participating in virtual lessons due to lack of electricity, while 40 per cent stated that lack of data bundles hindered them from accessing lessons through smartphones and other devices.

Unequal digital skills

In addition to unequal access to digital tools, there are also systematic variations in digital skills.

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Upper/middle-class families are more familiar with digital tools and resources and are therefore more likely to have the digital skills needed for distance learning.

These digital skills are particularly useful during school closures, both for students and for parents, for organizing, retrieving and correctly using the resources provided by the teachers (for example, sending or receiving documents by email, printing documents or using word processors).

Social class disparities in digital skills can be explained in part by the fact that children from upper/middle-class families have the opportunity to develop digital skills earlier than working-class families.

Unequal support from schools

The achievement gap and its accentuation during lockdown are due not only to the cultural and digital disadvantages of working-class families but also to unequal support from schools.

This inequality in school support is not due to teachers being indifferent to or even supportive of social stratification. Rather, we believe that these effects are fundamentally structural. In many countries, schools located in upper/middle-class neighbourhoods have more money than those in the poorest neighbourhoods.

Moreover, upper/middle-class parents invest more in the schools of their children than working-class parents, and schools have an interest in catering more for upper/middle-class families than for working-class families.

Additionally, the expectation of teachers may be lower for working-class children e.g, they tend to estimate that working-class students invest less effort in learning than their upper/middle-class counterparts.

These differences in perception may have influenced the behaviour of teachers during school closure, such that teachers in privileged neighbourhoods provided more information to students because they expected more from them in term of effort and achievement.

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