Most of what I remember from my primary school days was the heavy emphasis on academic performance which led me to believe that any minute not spent studying was a minute wasted. I felt guilty for sleeping or even going to the pitch to play after school hours. Towards the end of my primary school education, I remember things getting so intense that I could only afford to use the allocated break times to go to the washroom and the rest of the time to study. Extracurricular activities were considered a total waste of time.
On 15th March, 2020, schools in Kenya closed indefinitely as the government scampered to come up with strategies to contain the spread of the covid-19 virus. For most of us, the biggest concern was the loss of learning students would experience. A few months into this directive, there were rising concerns over how the Ministry of Education was planning on ensuring that learning would not be interrupted for too long while students were at home. While this was a valid concern, looking back, I now realize how we turned a blind eye to the non-academic needs of children during that critical period when their lives were equally undergoing major disruptions.
More often than not, for most children in Kenya, school is more than learning. School means time with friends, access to a healthy meal for some, saving on some lunch costs for others or even time away from difficult family situations or forced labour back at home.
The work of one Wawira Njiru who is the founder of Food 4 Education, an organization that is currently serving over 30,000 students everyday with hot nutritious meals across 25 schools here in Kenya; is one that clearly highlights the value of lunches and meals provided in schools in helping kids from low income households access healthy meals.
In addition, the directive to move classes to online platforms also meant there was education exclusion to a good number of students with zero access to electricity, internet, or electronic gadgets. While their counterparts went on with their studies, they were left behind and have had to play catch up when schools resumed.
How could we have addressed these needs diffferently? Was there an opportunity to take advantage of children’s media whether print, broadcast or even radio to ensure they have resources to support them not just academically but also emotionally and psychologically? Was this our cue to to borrow a leaf from TV stations like Edu Tv who provided curriculum based learning to children and Akili Kids! which supplements curriculum based education and is looking to bridge the socio-economic gap in children’s media by being available on Free To Air platforms?
While curriculum-based education is critical to any child’s future, it is important that we move away from the idea that academic excellence can only be achieved by having children focus all their energies on curriculum-based activities and that it is in fact their end all be all. Instead, we need to make conscious efforts towards bringing up wholesome children. This involves fostering their physical, psychological, socio-emotional, cognitive, academic and identity development.
It’s about time we embraced a wholesome approach to children’s development.
Special Thanks to General Counsel Gerry Gitonga who inspired me to write this blog.