The Role of Technology and Teachers in Accelerating Blended Learning in Kenya | EdTech
Julius Yego needs no introduction. Outside the track, the most celebrated Kenyan athlete in field events is – you guessed it – Julius Yego, who is a natural at the javelin. When he first picked javelin throwing at Kapsabet High School, he was coached the traditional way. Later, he sharpened his skills by “studying” YouTube videos of world-class javelin throwers; mixing traditional methods with valuable lessons he picked through technology.
For his dogged determination and willingness to learn, Yego holds the Commonwealth and African records in javelin throwing. His method of combining pedagogy and online learning earned him the nickname “Mr. YouTube”.
Yego’s success story just goes to prove that blended learning can be adapted for any setting; be it the four walls of a classroom or an athletics field.
Blended learning is an approach to education in which traditional in-person classes are supplemented or supported with technology and learners take advantage of both online and offline resources. On the other hand, pedagogy is the combination of teaching methods; what instructors do, learning activities, modes of instruction, and learning assessments.
It is such conversations that bring together the EdTech East Africa community. EdTech East Africa is a vibrant community of professionals in the education technology field, who congregate and share insights that help improve the EdTech space in the region. EdTech Mondays is a monthly program that brings different players in the EdTech field to discuss the challenges and opportunities in Technology enabled education. In Kenya, it is powered by the partnership of the Mastercard Foundation and EdTech East Africa.
The June 2023 edition of EdTech Mondays on NTV Kenya shared insights about accelerating blended learning in Kenya. The panellists were Lucy Wamira Gichira, a teacher from Kirinyaga County; Jennifer Wanjiru Mureithi, Curriculum Support Officer (CSO), Inoi Zone, Kirinyaga Central; and Lucy Maina, Program Director of Kenya Tech & Play (KPLAY) at IREX.
“For blended learning to succeed, the pedagogical approach must be adapted accordingly for teachers,” moderator, Moses Kemibaro kicked off the discussion. “To do so successfully, there is a need to acquire the necessary teaching skills and use technology-based tools to ensure quality learning outcomes.”
Importance of technology
Through the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), the objective of the Ministry of Education is to provide quality education and training that prepares learners to competitively thrive within a highly-integrated technology-oriented, and information-based global economy. As a result, technology has been used in educational institutions to support the teaching, learning, and management processes.
“These days, technology and learning are inseparable,” Jennifer noted. “When you want your child to learn, you need to expose them to technology because we’re in a global world and it’s very small like a village. Technology has to be there, whether we like it or not.”
Speaking of the importance of technology, if there is one lesson that Covid-19 taught stakeholders in the education space, it was that pandemic preparedness is of the essence. In 2020, school closures interrupted learning for over 17 million Kenyan school children. To mitigate the six months that were lost, the Minister of Education was forced to tighten the school calendar to cover the syllabi and ensure students stayed caught up.
School administrators had to think on their feet and develop blended learning strategies to, not only keep their learners up to speed with academics but – for some like WISER Academy in Migori County – protect their schoolgirls from social vices, such as teenage pregnancies.
“We created a WhatsApp group for the students and put all the teachers in the group. Knowing fully well that many of the girls came from families without Smartphones, we asked them to give us phone numbers of relatives, friends or neighbours who had Smartphones they could access,” Dorcas Oyugi, 67, the principal of WISER said.
“The girls were given homework, and started the WhatsApp group the week after schools were closed in March 2020.”
To keep learners fully engaged, IREX is infusing play and technology into classrooms in through Kenya Tech & Play (KPLAY) in Kwale and Kilifi. These two counties fall under the arid and semi-arid designation and are also under-served locations. The method of learning is aligned with the CBC competencies of digital literacy, communication and collaboration, and creativity and imagination. It can be used in any subject in the curriculum. The only thing a teacher needs to do is understand how the methodology works and then use it in the classroom with the learners.
Indeed, the method of instruction can make or break a course. Lucy Wamira gave an interesting analogy, where she juxtaposed cooking with a gas cooker versus cooking using firewood. In this case, a gas cooker is a digital device, but it has come without any manual. So, it just gathers dust in the cupboard as the teacher opts to cook using firewood which they are conversant with.
But Lucy was also quick to add that it is also about taking initiative. She sought help from a resource teacher, who took her through the paces. Alternatively, just like in Julius Yego’s case, help is in our pockets or handbags. IREX has a YouTube channel and it gives step-by-step processes of use of some of the technologies.
Role of CSOs
That said, CSOs play a key role in the performance of teachers. In 2022, a study was done by Alexander Kimweli and Dr. Peter Nyaga to assess the influence of CSOs’ capacity building of teachers on students’ academic achievement in Makueni County.
The research established that the academic achievement of students in KCSE is still low and to mitigate this, CSOs have been tasked to undertake capacity building of teachers. The study also recommended CSOs to devise new approaches to train teachers which may enable them to acquire skills that can help deliver quality instructional services.
Additionally, the research recommended the Ministry of Education to increase the number of CSOs to enhance the process of capacity building of teachers.
Impact of blended learning
The panellists concurred that the learning attitudes of students have been positively impacted because blended learning is fun and interactive. An online report titled, “How Education Organisations Used Blended Learning to Overcome Covid-19 Challenges” seconds this observation. The report said that in South Africa, at the height of the Covid-19 restrictions, in-person tutoring shifted to remote support primarily through WhatsApp groups. Once face-to-face tutoring resumed, the WhatsApp support offering changed to an “on-demand” tutoring service for any Grade 7-9 learners across South Africa.
In 2021, more than 10 000 learners accessed OLICO’s maths hotline. Through the roll-out of its programmes, OLICO – which offers maths resources tailored to the SA realities – found that learners practised far more maths exercises online than they did with pen and paper. They would also pause, rewind and re-watch tutorial videos much more than they would ask questions in a class setting.
Blended learning is a policy issue. And, the world over, policy issues always have an element of politics attached to them. Thus, for a policy to be fully realised, there needs to be political will. This calls for lobbying of lawmakers and holding political players accountable to fulfil campaigns.
One of President William Ruto’s popular promises during last year’s campaign was that, if elected, his government would provide free internet. Campaign promises are sometimes hard to cash in. However, with a solid data-backed proposal to show how a strong IT infrastructure can turn Kenya into the next tech tiger, the government will be more inclined to provide support, for political mileage or their legacy’s sake.
Kenya is a land of cultural contrasts. Though there may be a need for a national curriculum that provides guidelines for blended learning, the mode of implementation ought to be different from one locality to another.
As teachers from different localities know the unique natures of their teaching terrain, their opinions ought to be taken into consideration when a curriculum is drafted and reviewed. When a set group of people owns a process, they are more likely to be excited about implementing it.
This puts into perspective some of the key findings of the learning assessment report, as quoted in the 2021 Uwezo report. It stated that, among others, learning outcomes were lower in rural areas, arid areas, and poor households. Marsabit County had the highest percentage of 4 – 16-year-old children out of school at more than thrice the national average. The report went on to add that a 4 – 16-year-old child in Marsabit County was 10 times more likely to be out of school than a child of a similar age group in Siaya County.
The panellists noted that, for blended learning to be effective, parents need to embrace it more. This same position is taken by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), which champions parental empowerment to make the CBC a success. KICD adds that optimal learning can be achieved through a multi-dimensional approach involving all members of a school community.
Julius Yego got it, and he excelled. If one man, with nothing but data bundles, can change the face of world sports; the education sector with its Sh628.6 billion allocation – which is the lion’s share of the 2023/24 budget – can turn around the fortunes of this great land and nation.