Kenya’s Unusual Solution to the School Problem: Cancel the Year and Start Over

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Universities and colleges have also been closed for physical classes until Jan. 2021, but can continue holding virtual instruction and graduations.

Over the past two decades, private schools — from kindergartens to high schools — have mushroomed across Kenya. About one-fourth of schools in Kenya are private — supported by private entrepreneurs, religious organizations and nonprofit organizations. Some are start-ups backed by Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook.

Private schools charge fees ranging from tens of dollars per year to tens of thousands of dollars.

Kenya, like other countries, has been struggling with how to prevent the coronavirus from spreading while keeping schools and the economy humming. After strict restrictions kept the case count low, the country eased limitations on movement, and has in the last month seen a sharp rise in cases. It has reported 23,873 infections and 391 deaths, but that may be a vast undercount because of lack of access to mass testing.

When the government shut down schools in March, it introduced remote lessons streamed over radio, television and videos posted on YouTube. However, for the vast majority of students, many in poor and rural households, remote learning was not an option. They didn’t have access to television, laptops, or the internet, or even the electricity to power these gadgets.

This was the reality facing Johnian Njue, 17, a 10th-grader who lives in Nairobi, but attends a public boarding school in Kwale county in Kenya’s southeast. Raised by a single mother in the Mathare slum, Johnian had been attending the school on a rugby scholarship.

At home, with patchy electricity and no telephone, textbooks or internet, he said he has received little to no instruction from his teachers, and has not been able to access the lineup of remote classes.

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