By Emmanuel Manyasa, one of six GEM Report 2021 fellows, who presented their work at the 2021 CIES Conference
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic threw most countries into a spin, disrupting their operations in many sectors and exposing a level of systemic dysfunction never imagined before. As case numbers rose, forcing countries to lock down in a desperate move to contain COVID’s spread, for a moment, there was a thought that the pandemic had come to reset the world to default settings. To some people, the pandemic was an equalizer, pulling the developed societies back to where their less developed counterparts were.
It was not long, however, before the real effects of the pandemic became apparent. COVID-19 was no equalizer. In fact, its impact on the education sector, in particular, was aggravating and entrenching inequalities within and between societies. The pandemic forced schools across the world to shut down and left governments and education stakeholders clutching at straws in an attempt to mitigate the expected learning loss.
Most countries turned to information and communications technology (ICT) platforms to support learning continuity. Kenya, like many other countries, engaged in multiple, uncoordinated responses by a multiplicity of actors that proved barely effective in promoting access to learning continuity interventions. The interventions reached only 22% of the school-going children, mostly those in urban areas and attending private schools. This was sobering for a country that had been implementing an ICTs in education policy since 2006, aimed at integrating ICTs in teaching and learning. Two outstanding features of the policy are the distribution of digital devices to all public primary schools and training of teachers to deepen integration of ICTs into the teaching and learning process, which should have been handy, but weren’t.
The dark COVID-19 cloud, however, came with a silver lining – it exposed wide gaps between what governments promise to do in enacted policies, and what they actually do and achieve in implemented policies. For Kenya, no systematic analysis of the policy implementation process had hitherto been done to highlight gaps between the enacted and implemented policies in any sector. The struggle of the country’s education sector to leverage even low-level ICTs (e.g. radio) to support learning continuity offered a moment for introspection on just how effective the implementation of the ICTs in education policy was.
From the stated goals of the policy, its ultimate aim is to enable the education system to turn learners into ‘digital natives’. But the analysis of the implementation of Kenya’s ICTs in education policy I carried out during my GEM Report Fellowship reveals that the country is attempting to raise digital natives without naturalizing the digital immigrants. Information illiterate teachers cannot prepare their students to be information literate and only 19% of primary school teachers and 25% of secondary school teachers have been trained on ICT integration in teaching and learning.
This is symptomatic of the bigger problems in policy implementation: policy fluidity, under-funding of implementation, and the fact that politics dwarfs policy.
Firstly, the fluidity of the policy has caused policy implementation structures to be unstable and often scattered. Consequently, other problems arise: it is difficult to consolidate and target investments when the critical actors are scattered; secondly, it is also difficult to hold the implementing agencies accountable for the lack of progress when the targets and resources keep shifting; and thirdly, there is a coordination problem arising from the implementing agencies being scattered in different ministries, often with divergent sectoral priorities.
Secondly, most of the activities proposed by the Ministry of Education in the last four years to implement this policy have either received less funds than they asked for, had the funds disbursed too late in the financial year for full absorption, or were simply not funded.
This under-funding is linked to the third problem of politics dwarfing policy. One of the consequences is that governments have tended to invest heavily in the delivery of digital devices to schools way before teachers were trained on their use. The digital devices program was domiciled in the Ministry of ICT while the Ministry of Education owns the policy. Its prioritization over teacher training was akin to putting the horse before the cart. When politics take precedence, what optimizes the political support functions prevails over the lessons learnt from implementation. This in turn impacts the requisite investment and sequencing decisions, tilting them in line with political considerations.
One lesson learnt from this is that when it comes to policy implementation, political influencing may be more impactful than policy influencing.