Distance Learning and pupil support at Patmos School during Covid-19 school closure
On the 15th March, 2020 the Kenyan government, in response to the threat of coronavirus , ordered that primary and secondary schools be closed with immediate effect. The country was put in a partial lockdown after President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the closure of schools, and imposed sweeping travel restrictions.
The government had originally planned to re-open schools in late June. However, they have now announced that children will not be able to go back to school until January 2021.
During this time of temporary school closure, as well as providing outreach support in the community in respect of food and water supplies, the Headmaster together with the teachers and school social workers have also continued to try and provide a holistic approach to ensuring the general well-being of the children. Teachers have also tried to ensure wherever possible that the children have sufficient revision and home work to do whilst the school is closed.
The pre-school children have been receiving written homework provided by the teachers in exercise books. The parents/guardians of the children are asked to attend at the school at certain times to collect the work. Once the exercises have been completed by the children the work is then returned to the teachers for marking and the parents are given the next set of exercises for the children to complete. Some of the teachers have also been able to send out some school work digitally via Whatsapp to the mobile phones of parents/guardians.
The middle and primary school teachers are setting questions for their pupils on each subject on the curriculum manually, the homework set is then duplicated on the recently purchased heavy duty photocopying machine so that each child in each of the grades has a hard copy. Prior to the installation of this machine which was funded by Yatima Outreach, the teachers were having to write out everything by hand multiple times. Children then collect the work from the teachers and once it is completed they return it to school for marking and for correction where needed. The children are seen by a teacher in groups of three so as to comply with the social distancing regulations. As well as the question papers, the children are also given supplies of exercise books, pencils and pens.
Teachers have been submitting the work covered to the Deputy Headmaster, Mr Aquines Sikuku, for evaluation. This has enabled him to then review the situation and have meetings with the teachers to design the best way forward with the Distance Learning program. During the time of school closure the emphasis has been on trying to ensure that as far as is possible all pupils are able to continue with some of their studies.
In this respect, the Headmaster reported that by the end of June that 169 out of a total of 174 children at Patmos School (97%) had been seen by a teacher, received guidance and instruction from them and had their home work assessed.
There have been many challenges during this period for the teachers in trying to provide a Distance Learning program in Mathare; many of the parents/guardians do not have smart phones and are not able to afford to buy the 'bundles' for their phones. For the children, working in isolation and therefore not being able to collectively work through exercises and share ideas and feedback has been a major challenge. Some children have needed encouragement to ensure the home work is completed on time and returned to the school. The social workers have throughout this period been instrumental in consistently following up with the children and their families to ensure the work is completed and taken to the school for marking.
During the period 20th July through to 10th August, 2020 the teachers at Patmos School conducted assessment exams of all the school children. Because of the social distancing restrictions which are still in place in Kenya, the school organised three sessions a day at the temporary school building during which three children from each of the 11 classes would attend to sit the exams. This meant that a total of 33 children were able to sit the assessment exams at any given session. The assessment exams were organised in the temporary school hall which was large enough to be able to maintain social distancing. The exam took an hour and there were two sessions in the morning and one in the afternoon. The results of these assessment exams will help the teachers to determine those areas of the curriculum on which the children will need to focus in September.
In July and August both group and individual counselling sessions were organised for female pupils by the school social workers in collaboration with the teachers. The aim of these meetings was to raise the issues of gender based violence (GBV) and the risk of teenage pregnancies which are prevalent in Mathare and which have escalated during the Covid-19 lockdown. During these meetings the girls were encouraged to raise any concerns they personally had and help and guidance was given by the staff. The social workers also educated the pupils on measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The social workers have also facilitated regular distributions of sanitary towels to the school girls.
7th September, 2020
After a short school break, the teachers and children returned to school. The teaching staff devised a safe system of tuition at the school which enabled them each to teach 5 pupils in the morning and 5 pupils later on in the day. In total 127 pupils attended at school to receive lessons on the current syllabus, and they were also given past test papers to aid them with revision work. The teachers have reported increased attendance at school this month since the school has resumed providing a breakfast of porridge for the children. Our thanks to Orphan Outreach and Yatima Outreach for funding this feeding program.
Week commencing 21st September:
Teachers continued teaching pupils in their respective classes. Grade seven showed improvement in class attendance as compared to the previous week . This increased the school roll from 125 to 147. Social workers are still following up on pupils who are currently not reporting to school.
October - December 2020 Update:
Throughout the months of October, November and December the school provided a daily breakfast and lunch to those pupils, under the government guidelines, in the Grade 4 and Grade 8 classes who have returned to full time learning at the new Patmos School building. In the third week Of October the pupils sat exams to gauge their level of understanding of subjects since the school closure.
The remaining pupils have continued to be taught under the Distance Learning Program and they and their families have received regular supplies of food from the school on Wednesdays and Fridays of each week as well as access to the school bore hole.
There was a parents/teacher evening organised at Patmos School on 25th September at which 100 parents attended. The aim of the meeting was to update parents on the progress of the new Patmos School building as well as highlighting new dates for the distribution of food to families in the community.
A former Patmos School pupil called Elvis, who is due to commence a BA course in Commerce in late September at Nairobi University, has been assisting 16 former Patmos School children who are currently at secondary school. Elvis has been giving these former Patmos School children personal tuition in science subjects from the school premises which has helped to keep their minds focused on their studies during this period of temporary school closure.
When Elvis graduated from Patmos School several years ago, Orphan Outreach very kindly supported this young man with his secondary school fees. He excelled in his KCSE exams and scored particularly highly in the science subjects.
It is indeed heart-warming to hear of the efforts of this young man to reach out in this way, to give back to the community and to try and help other pupils, just as he received help and support when he needed it.
The secondary school students were very grateful to Yatima Outreach who had provided Patmos School with a photo copying machine as they were able to print out past exam papers which helped them in the revision process.
Action Plan for Adolescent Students at Patmos School:
An Action Plan for Adolescent students at Patmos School has been devised to engage 77 students in meaningful activities during the period of school closure. The activities which will be conducted by the 2 school social workers, the teaching staff, the project officer at Yatima Outreach and 2 volunteers will run for the period July – December 2020. This program has been designed for pupils from Grade 5 to Grade 8 classes as well as for former pupils who are now at secondary school level.
Tuesdays and Thursdays – Counselling on topics such as menstruation, personal hygiene and nutrition. There will be sensitisation forums and videos on effects of early pregnancies, abortion, peer pressure and peer influence. There will also be counselling on gender based violence (GBV) and sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).
Friday and Mondays - There will be indoor physical activity games which will include drama and dance, poems and plays and storytelling with specific themes.
Wednesdays - There will be spiritual support for the pupils as well as leadership development.
The school social workers are continuing to liaise with all the school children and their families in their home environment during the period of school closure. By keeping in close contact with the children they are in a good position to be able to quickly identify any concerns regarding the potential risk or abuse of vulnerable children.
To read about how the Richard Wanjala Manya and his school team have also been supporting the children and their families with food, water and soap: