Kenya’s journey to a robust remote learning environment
Kenya’s remote learning offerings are an example for the region — but how did they come about and what model does Kenya provide?
The recent disruptions in education caused by Covid led many countries to quickly implement remote learning interventions. Kenya’s Educational Media Directorate — part of the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD) — provides a model for implementing remote learning to countries in the region both during the Covid crisis and beyond.
But an environment that can support a remote learning system takes a long time to build, and replicating a mechanism that is effective in one country brings challenges. Every country’s education system is unique. Operating contexts (social, economic, cultural, political) differ significantly, and the capacity to deliver an effective distance learning approach cannot be built within a short period of time. And to build experience, a lot of practice is needed.
This blog post provides some insights into Kenya’s journey to develop a sustainable remote education ecosystem, a journey that started in 1967 with radio but today has added TV and digital platforms to reach learners.
The dawn of remote education in Kenya: radio
The journey of remote education in Kenya began in 1967. Good signal coverage and the availability of devices allowed radio to become part of daily life.
The state-owned radio channel, the Voice of Kenya, started broadcasting educational content for about four hours every day. Kenya’s government soon concluded that this content was critical to the country’s success in providing basic education, and moved the radio schools to the Ministry of Education (MOE). The MOE, in turn, brought it under the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) — currently KICD. With the help of a World Bank project, the KIE established radio studios. After KIE took ownership, the studios were closely followed by a film unit and a fully functional facility to produce educational content in 1981.
From online to offline — and back
Innovative technologies are always changing. In 1989 the Voice of Kenya — now called the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation — discontinued the radio schools due to the high cost of the medium wave and shortwave transmitters. The Educational Media Department at KIE responded by offering lessons through cassettes, but in 2008 radio lessons were resumed through FM transmitters. Currently, in 2022, these lessons are still being offered, but formats have changed to interactive radio lessons aligned with Kenya’s new competency based curriculum.
Kenya adds TV besides radio
The increased availability of television sets and the preference for television content among Kenyans led the KIE to launch a dedicated TV channel — EDU TV — in 2010. With funding secured for the first three years, EDU TV became a fully functional and free channel that covered the entire country. The KICD even had its own studios to develop content. In March 2021, during school closures because of the Covid crisis, 69% of learners and teachers were viewers of EDU TV, and it is among the most widely used education technology platforms in East Africa.
The establishment of the Kenya Education Cloud
The availability of new technologies and changing views on pedagogy and teaching methods, such as student centred and blended learning, led to the establishment of Elimika for digital teacher resources in 2012 and the Kenya Education Cloud (KEC) in 2019. The KEC initially launched with a paywall and a profit-sharing mechanism meant to sustain the platform. But, soon after the launch, the Covid crisis started and the KEC became a free platform. It now offers learners and teachers online digital learning materials, but also includes radio and TV lessons.
The integrated nature of the KICD — KIE’s new name since 2013 — made it possible to provide soft copies of textbooks through the KEC, use its production resources for radio lessons, pay for the transmission fees and fund different media offerings through one agency. Besides, devices provided to schools under the government’s Digital Literacy Programme (DLP) are intended to have access to the content offered through the KEC. But using these three media to offer learning materials brought challenges as well, especially since teachers are not always skilled in the use of technologies. Radio lesson guides and online courses in the KEC should help build teachers’ skill sets. Also, the KEC doesn’t yet reach its intended audience and the amount of content is not yet enough to cover the curriculum.
Kenya’s strong foundation to take on the Covid crisis
Kenya’s long history and experience with learning technologies put it in a strong position to respond to the Covid crisis. Selected teachers moved to studios and produced radio and TV lessons that were offered during the Covid break. Regulators stepped in and declared EDU TV a ‘must carry’ channel by all TV distributors in the country, and mobile providers extended free daily education bundles, restricted to KEC access.
But Kenya does not rest on its laurels. It’s currently in the process of implementing the schoolnet project, which equips schools with fibre optic internet connections and a local server offering KEC’s content in a device agnostic setting.
The takeaways for other countries
Kenya’s journey is remarkable for a number of reasons. It shows that using technologies that are already adopted is an effective way of bringing education to its citizens. These technologies are more often low-tech than high-tech.
Besides, Kenya’s government allowed the KIE and KICD to pilot initiatives that were not certain to succeed. Once initiatives proved their value, regulators and policymakers played their roles, and embedded the initiative in permanent organisations with their own funding. This interplay between innovation and regulation had its challenges. Government ministries and agencies often have a poor risk appetite and are reluctant to support and fund innovative initiatives from conceptualisation until pilot stages. The combination of a dedicated and experienced core team within government, and risks that were sometimes taken by non-governmental actors, such as the World Bank, managed to build innovations into established services. Services that now often provide a model for the region. A final observation is that the model cannot be replicated one on one. In Kenya, innovations were nurtured and built in response to the local context, and the KICD now brings over 55 years of experience. And it is this depth of experience and Kenya’s willingness to innovate and legislate that allowed the country’s quick and robust response to Covid.