Community-Based Learning (CBL) is a new term in the Kenyan public. Why now? What does it involve?
After the closure of schools in March, students have since stayed at home indefinitely. Pressure for the re-opening of schools was piled on the Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Education Prof. George Magoha for some time. On his part, he did not shy away from giving feedback from time to time.
Stakeholder opinion on whether to open schools has been divided. A task force put in place to advise the CS put the matter to rest when it ruled out any re-opening of schools and colleges during the 2020 calendar year. All along this time, there was pressure piling among the children and it was only a matter of time that it would come to the surface.
There were reports of many teenage pregnancies to a level not recorded before across the country. In addition, there were numerous reports of students who were involved in criminal activities with videos of culprits confessing to their mischief.
It was at this point that it was realized that the role of the teacher in the lives of the learners was important. The children had been away from their teachers for long and somehow had not found a replacement from within their communities. Yet every community had teachers among its members. That is the genesis of Community-Based Learning. Some teachers were active with their students within their communities. Their efforts were dampened by the perceived negative stand by the ministry against any form of tuition especially at the initial stage of the pandemic and long holiday.
The Ministry of Education, under advice from the Ministry of Health, discouraged any form of groupings. With time, the knowledge base about the coronavirus Pandemic expanded, allowing us to take precautions and safely conduct business.
When the ministry softened its stand, social media was awash with several teachers displaying what they have been up to. Now it is official. All teachers employed by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) are taking up CBL across the Country.
Let us put CBL in perspective. A teacher is at home because schools are closed. In the home are school-going children, sons and daughters. That is a home set up. What would the teacher do to help these children make the most of their time? Several parents have been captured in the media supervising their children go through various forms of learning, online or otherwise. The teacher in the home will besides academic knowledge endeavour to build their children to successfully respond to the challenges thrown in their path.
In addition, they shall be on standby to provide support in unfamiliar circumstances. Now let us expand the web. There are children from the extended family. These may include Brothers, Sisters, Nieces, Nephews and in the African setup, Uncles and Aunts. They are all within the community and are in the school-going age group.
The question is whether there is anything that the same teacher can do to help these children to cope up with the pandemic situation? The answer is Yes. Not only have they been doing it, but other community members have been doing the same.
Many teachers are confronted with issues like “kindly talk to your niece. She is very rude to me of late.” That would be a plea from a sister to a brother (who happens to be a teacher). Family members have always relied on each other to build strong families. The same would happen when a family has a Medic, Lawyer, Business Person, finance expert, Politician, Police Officer, Religious Leader, the list is endless.
They all give back to their families in one way or the other. Finally, consider the web beyond the extended family. There are neighbours and friends. We all occasionally step forward for each other during times of need. A friend has an issue with the child and you have always been glad to assist in your area of expertise. That is what CBL is all about. The main difference is that now it is more of an obligation. Call it a compulsory exercise.
In the current vision of CBL, all teachers and learners will convene at the school nearest to their Residence. The exception will be Headteachers and Deputy Headteachers who will be at their official working stations.
The first task will be to divide the learners into related age groups namely Grade 1 to 4, Standard 5&6, Standard 7&8, Form 1&2, and finally Form 3&4.
Each group shall then be further subdivided into a maximum of fifteen (15) learners and be assigned to a teacher. This will be followed by allocation to a room or space including under trees, halls, churches and other available options within the community. Therein lies the intricate balancing act amid COVID-19 Regulations.
Thereafter, the teachers will hold a four-hour daily session with the assigned learners probably between 8.00 am and Midday. It must be understood that CBL is not a reserve of teachers alone. It is time to call upon every member of the community to play their part.
The four-hour sessions with teachers are of importance. They are however not everything. It is the same story that has made schools call upon parents and the larger community to up their game — especially during school holidays.
For any success to be realized, every individual must take up their roles. As mentioned above, we must all join efforts and lend a hand to our future generations. We should not have waited for the government to step in. Community-Based Learning should have and should continue naturally within our communities without external pressure like it is the case now. This is about everybody being responsible.
There are two main subject content areas of CBL namely the Coronavirus Pandemic Situation and Life skills. Throughout the time in memorial, teachers have been relied upon to disseminate knowledge and skills to others.
Every profession must develop reliable personnel for teaching. In our case, here, most teachers may not be experts on matters Coronavirus Pandemic Situation. The country is however not short of such persons. It shall be therefore the turn of teachers to bring themselves to the correct knowledge base, to pass on the same.
It would not be surprising to see many other people being roped into the program with a few conducting learning sessions. There are two main components in teaching, Content and Pedagogy. The latter is being brought to sharp contrast as the content for these sessions is dynamic, and based on need. The teachers will report to stations with their experience in communication analyse the situations and get the program rolling.
The Kenya Institute of Curriculum (KICD) is expected to release the official Curriculum soon. Until then, it is the creativity of the teachers that will carry the day. The need for a multi-agency approach cannot be overemphasized in this situation.
The ministry of interior has been outstanding. Besides, the ICT ministry, the interior ministry continues to play an important role in basic education in the country.
Perhaps the eradication of Examination malpractices in National Examinations is the most important achievement of this Multi-Agency Approach. Traditionally, it should be the role of parents to get their children to school. But as it has been observed with the one hundred percent transition from Primary to Secondary Schools, a push is necessary especially for some parents from some parts of the country.
The second major aspect of the CBL is the issue of Life skills. This subject is allocated the least time on the regular timetable during the normal school program. Specifically, the number of lessons per week reduces as one moves up the grades to one lesson per week in Secondary Schools.
The sad part of this story is that it may be unfortunate that Life skills classes are not undertaken in some few schools. Where it is timetabled, it is done so to meet the legal requirements. It is a common practice for the lessons to be taken up by other “important” subjects.
Sometimes it is the teacher who is allocated to teach it that uses the lesson for an examinable subject. That is more or less the fate that befalls Physical Education (PE). The drive to produce better grades and better ranking has consumed our education system. The chicks have come home to roost.
It should be mentioned that there are still many schools which have taken Life skills and other value addition programs seriously and are proud to have their learners coping well during these challenging times. Indeed, this pandemic is bringing to the fore the role of wholistic approach in education as opposed to the emphasis on the final examination grade.
It is time we all agreed on the importance of a balanced curriculum delivery approach and avoid sacrificing values for grades.
Finally, as we roll our CBL, we must anticipate some challenges. The obvious ones will be teacher-student ratio and attendance. There will be areas with a surplus of teachers while others will be in want. There are chances that some schools/villages will have only the Headteacher and the Deputy Headteacher reporting to work.
Thankfully, the TSC has undertaken to quickly redistribute the staff according to need. The need for capacity building of local personnel must be addressed if all learners have to benefit from the program. Sanitization facilities will differ from place to place. Then there is social distancing and the use of masks. All in all, these challenges can be overcome if everybody plays their part.
Eventually, CBL is a strong advocate for more day schools and community involvement in education. Just like online Education, CBL will outlive the COVID-19 pandemic. As the teachers take the leading role, it is time for others, including religious organizations to stand up and be counted for our children.