Since his students left school, Sam Kanyiri has started doing something he never used to before.
He goes to an empty class, props up his phone on a desk, and for about 10 minutes, does the same thing he would do in a Mathematics or Chemistry class, drawing schematic diagrams or explaining formulae on the whiteboard.
“In the videos, I introduce the lesson then give examples. I then share the video through WhatsApp. It was awkward at first talking to an empty room but I’m used to it now,” the teacher at Kijabe Boys says with a chuckle.
Explaining a chemical or mathematical formula to his students in 10 minutes was part of his routine but with his students away from class because of the coronavirus pandemic, he has learnt to record and send it to them.
Because he is also a class teacher, he has to keep up with his students broadly and deliver his lessons, racing to finish the syllabus.
He plays his role as a class teacher by liaising with other subject teachers, collating all the assignments and lessons, and sending them to the students’ parents via WhatsApp, which they then share with their children.
With the Education Cabinet Secretary saying that schools would remain closed for 30 more days but the national examinations are on as scheduled, the sense of urgency remains.
For those who can, e-learning has taken centre stage and teachers and parents now share the job of ensuring attention to what is being taught, follow-up on assignments and keeping the students disciplined.
Safaricom has aided learning by doubling the bandwidth on Fibre To The Home at no extra cost to ensure the increased demand as people work, study and stay entertained at home.
Partnerships with Shupavu291, Longhorn and Viusasa are also designed to get learners more access to materials online at a low cost.
In the process, teachers, like Sam, and parents have had to learn new skills to enable them to interact with apps and other technology to facilitate the transition from face-to-face learning to virtual platforms.
For Millicent Rapudo, who has two school-going children, a girl in Form One and a boy in primary school, the closure of schools led her to discover several apps to help her daughter and son learn better at home.
“It’s like I’m back in school again,” she says. “I’ve discovered apps like Zoom and Google Classroom, which I didn’t know existed. Until now, I didn’t even realise how powerful our phones are. My phone is currently my computer.”
Her children receive their assignments from teachers through WhatsApp. After they finish, she prints, scans and sends the assignments back to the teachers for marking.
“We have to purchase Safaricom data bundles to ensure we keep up to date with the assignments. Some of the notes are huge documents which are expensive to print,” she says.
Having to supervise her children’s studies has not been easy and to ensure maximum productivity in schoolwork, she has had to set up a schedule to establish a routine that works for her and the children.
Her daughter tackles school work from 6.30am to 9.00am, the best time she can concentrate without interruption.
Millicent lets her help around the house with chores for the rest of the day. Occasionally, in the afternoons, she watches educational programmes on television.
Her son is in lower primary school and she realized she needed to guide him.
“Getting him to concentrate in school work is not easy. We mostly do his assignments in the afternoons but not every day. His assignments require him to draw, paint and do number work. We have to make it fun for him by singing and playing along,” she says.
The children also listen to lessons on You Tube.
School closures around the world mean that millions of parents who are used to sending their children to school for traditional lessons are now transitioning to become homeschoolers.
And although the lessons won’t be as professional as they are used to getting, parents at home are learning and discovering useful skills in order to navigate the world of digital learning to set up classes for their children.
For Eric Mwangi, e-learning has been a total eye opener for the main reason that he was “unaware of e-learning in Kenya’s primary school setting.”
Through research, he has however learnt that there are Kenyan online learning platforms like Longhorn.
“For now, we are using Longhorn and YouTube. But we ordinarily rely on the teacher to send us practical work and papers via WhatsApp. I have also had to invest in monthly home internet subscription,” he says.
His daughter, who is in Grade 2, has quickly learnt typing skills and online website navigation when using the home computer. He says she is quickly adapting and enjoying this new learning method.
Eric has recreated a schedule similar to the one in her daughter’s school to ease the transition to a different learning environment.
“I make sure that there are no interruptions by ensuring that she studies in a quiet room alone. We have also developed a timetable to ensure we have a functional daily routine. We treat this routine like normal school time where no snacks are allowed during study time, no television and no interaction with siblings,” he says.
He adds: “On a typical day, she wakes up, takes breakfast and starts studies at 10 am, at 11.30am we break and resume in the afternoon at 2pm. If the papers are available from school, we do one paper per day.”
Coretta Memusi, whose child is in PP2 (Pre-Primary 2), considers herself a tech-savvy person but has had to learn how to maneuver Sukuul, the app and website her son’s school is using.
“The kids were taught using a tablet at school. As parents we however had to be given instructions to learn how to use the application which has a lot of parameters. Once you log in you have to navigate through the primary school section to the kindergarten section where you’ll find homework that the class teacher has uploaded,” says Coretta.
Playing the role of a teacher has made Coretta greatly appreciate the work her son’s teachers do
“I have to guide him through the homework which is quite tiring; If the teacher says they have to do number work, he has to write on a book, then I take a photo, send it to my email, download it then upload it to the application. It’s a long process but it has to be done. Additionally, I show him which buttons to press on the computer because that’s the only way to answer on the comments section.”
At the end of the day, and despite her struggles with the app, her son enjoys the learning and is happy to discover that there is more to phones than YouTube and downloading games.
“He always wants to do more, even after finishing the assigned work, he is excited to do things online,” she says.