Sharon was one of two million students preparing to write Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education final exams this year. These exams define students’ futures, influencing their entry into university. For Sharon, these exams were the next step towards her goal of pursuing a law degree.
You can imagine her anxiety when her entire school year was thrust into uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the height of her preparations for these pivotal exams, the cabinet secretary announced that the government wouldn’t risk the lives of children and decided to close schools.
“I felt bitter when we were asked to go home, because we hadn’t covered the syllabus. The lockdown has affected our education because we cannot interact with our teachers and other students,” says Sharon, who is also president of her student body.
Education in Kenya: An existing gap made worse by COVID-19
Even before the pandemic, the education system in Kenya was already struggling, especially in rural and marginalized areas. Limited infrastructure, learning materials and classrooms, paired with a teacher shortage in the tens of thousands, has created large education gaps throughout the country.
Now, with students being forced into remote learning environments, the lack of infrastructure, particularly in communities experiencing high and deepening poverty rates, is creating even bigger gaps in education. UNICEF estimates that globally, 463 million students cannot be reached by remote learning options, either due to the lack of necessary technology at home, or because they were not targeted by the policies adopted by their governments.
Caught in this gap are students like Sharon and her peers. For them and other students living in poverty, access to a computer isn’t a given—even access to up-to-date textbooks can be uncertain.
Thankfully, Sharon and her peers knew where to turn.
“When the schools were closed, most of the students, especially those in boarding schools, came to the [Compassion centre],” says Sandra, the director of Sharon’s Compassion centre.
The students were unhappy and afraid, sharing their anxieties with Sandra and her staff. The staff immediately sprang into action, spending the next three days strategizing on how to address this emerging challenge.
A swift response
The Compassion centre, ACK Yala Child Development Centre, is privileged to have a teacher on their leadership team who was once voted Kenya’s teacher of the year. He immediately began helping students adjust to the new reality alongside other Compassion centre staff.
The centre also mobilized 18 parents, organized by neighbourhood, to help facilitate communication to all the families and make them aware of the centre’s resources.
“We have a library and a computer lab that the students can access,” says Sandra. “We also printed and distributed revision papers and shared some of the materials via mobile phone. The library has books that the students need.”
“I can borrow books from the library [at the centre],” says Emmanuel, another Compassion-sponsored student. “The computer lab allows us to access e-learning systems for online assignments and revision papers.”
Easing anxieties and looking to the future
A student’s final year of secondary school is already anxiety-inducing, as they study for final exams, await college and university acceptance letters and prepare for all the new and exciting things in their future. Add a global pandemic to those existing anxieties, and a supportive community becomes more important than ever.
Sharon and her peers leaned on each other—and the Compassion centre staff. “Every time I’m discouraged, I call Sandra,” says Sharon. “She is always there for us.”
Sandra and her staff focused on easing students fears and motivating them even in the face of change and uncertainty. “The students first wanted to know about COVID-19. We shared information on the spread and how to protect themselves,” says Sandra. “We let the students know that they will be fine, and we encouraged them to embrace the challenges. We are regularly sharing scripture via mobile phones and work closely with older students in colleges and universities to mentor the candidates and help them study at home.”
The students share study materials with their friends in the community and have formed study groups to keep each other accountable. “Some students don’t have people to motivate them as we do. We welcome them to study with us,” says Cynthia, another Compassion-sponsored student registered at ACK Yala Child Development Centre.
The sense of community the Compassion centre has created is keeping Sharon, Emmanuel, Cynthia and their peers looking forward to better, brighter days. The pandemic might linger, but their hope of achieving their dreams remains, thanks to the support and resources available to them at their Compassion centre.
This year, the gift of a computer is more impactful than ever.
Give one to students who don’t have access through our 2020 Gifts of Compassion Gift Guide.
Feature photo caption: Compassion sponsored students in Kenya do schoolwork on computers at their Compassion centre.
Words by Alyssa Esparaz and Silas Irungu. Field reporting by Silas Irungu.
Photos by Kevin Ouma, Isaac Ogila and submitted by Compassion centre staff.