Due to the yawning digital divide in the country, the lockdown, which meant learning could only be done digitally, disproportionately worsened learning for the poor. Despite an increased access to digital devices and the internet, the gap persists. In Kenya, students from low-income households and those from remote areas struggle to access the internet, making online learning impossible for many. The pandemic exposed the digital underbelly of our society. While some were able to access learning from their computers and phones, the majority had to constantly question where their next meal was going to come from.
Inadequate digital equipment and resources are some of the causes of the digital divide in learning institutions in Kenya, a fact nailed down by poverty. It is estimated that there is approximately one computer to 150 students compared to developed nations where the average is a computer to 15 students. The pandemic exposed an underlying problem with our education system. The digital gap widened during the lockdown as the pandemic punished students without the internet. Students in remote parts of the country stretching from Samburu, Garissa, the corners of Moyale and Nyamira were disproportionately affected by the divide.
When the country went into a lockdown on 20th March 2020, learning institutions had to shut down, with digital learning becoming the go to alternative. Good as it may sound, this move did not help students in rural areas and those from low-income households which unfortunately represent the majority. Most parts of rural Kenya lack internet access and the supporting infrastructure such as electricity. Our government is yet to establish a framework that supports online learning in our schools. Like most developing nations, we were caught our pants down. Our schools, and here I mean our public schools, lack internet connections while others are not connected to power. Some private institutions have the facilities and took to online learning meaning a few privileged had a significant advantage further complicating the matrix of social climbing.
Critics argue that the impact of the digital divide has been enormous during the pandemic and students with access to high-speed internet are likely to perform better than their counterparts without the same access. To clearly highlight the impacts of this, here’s a summary:
Digital divide led to student demoralization. For example, students in slums and rural areas without adequate resources to access online learning were demotivated. Most of them felt that they had dropped in performance and there was no possibility of catching up. As the pandemic ravaged and more stringent measures such as cession of movement were implemented, some students lost hope as they could not move to neighboring counties to access internet.
Teachers and lecturers were equally affected by the call to implement online classes due to lack of training. Most schools did not have systems and infrastructure to support online classes, which was a huge setback. Moreover, some teachers in remote schools are not very techno savvy while their counterparts in urban areas had some exposure to digital devices and the internet. This meant that there is disequilibrium in the learning process. Students and teachers who lacked necessary technology and required skills had limited access to learning resources and materials, and so their performance was negatively affected.
Inequality in access to digital learning resources led to unfair competition. Students with access to digital education resources and information had a better chance to perform better than their counterparts. They had a better competitive advantage which can be deemed as unfair competition.
Disability is another dimension of the digital divide in learning during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. For example, students with eye problems, especially those who cannot focus for long on screens, cannot keep up with others. These students were likely to fall behind in online class programs.
The lockdown was immediate, and there was no adequate time for preparation which exacerbated the situation. Most schools lacked systems in place to conduct online classes while others who had online programs before the pandemic having an edge. To narrow the existing gap there is need for the government to develop infrastructure and provide adequate resources for online learning in all parts of the country. The emergence of new variants of the Covid-19 virus is an indication that we are not out of the woods just yet. There could be another outbreak that will prompt another lockdown, so adequate preparation is imperative.