It has been a busy week for parents and families in Kenya as all children have finally been allowed to return to school. Parents have been queuing for hours to buy uniforms, school supplies and other necessities. Others have been busy negotiating for new school placements – at least 56,000 learners faced the closure of their schools as a result of COVID-19. Many more learners are transferring from private to public schools as a result of the economic hardship facing their families after a year that pushed many families to the edge of survival. Sadly, other children remain at home, as public schools are charging fees for enrollment, despite instruction from the Ministry of Education that says otherwise (typically, public schools seem to be asking for Ksh3,500 per child, approximately $33). Children who have successfully made it back to school are learning under trees, with little social distancing and limited supplies of everything from masks to desks, with no mention yet of textbooks or other learning resources!
As children and parents get back to school, the Dignitas team are working to prepare school leaders for the same. Much of the focus at a government level has been on infrastructure, and the national dialogue has focused on the safety and logistics of a return to school whilst COVID-19 is still a reality.
Beyond these infrastructure and logistical concerns, the Dignitas team understands the role of school leaders and the importance of offering these leaders the right support. School leaders need new competencies and resources to allow them to carefully manage the period of school reopening and recovery, and it is with this in mind that we have developed training and coaching content to equip school leaders and their teams for this season.
The series of modules, to be delivered virtually and accompanied by in-person, school-based coaching support (as allowed by public health guidance) over a period of 4-6 months is designed to equip school leaders with the competencies, skills and mindsets they need to get learning and well-being back on track, for all children. Dignitas is currently working with 101 schools across our cohorts in Nairobi and beyond to offer this support.
Since 2018, guided by the findings of an external evaluation of our work, Dignitas training and coaching has focused on three critical levers of transformation:
- Instructional Leadership
- Learner Engagement
- School and Classroom Culture
The three critical levers remain at the core of our School Reopening and Recovery content. The content is designed to provide leaders with specific instructional leadership competencies to ensure safe reopening of schools, and learning recovery. The content borrows accelerated learning strategies with the aim of bringing all learners to the expected level quickly and efficiently, hailed by the World Bank as a ‘smart buy’ for education. Based on our lessons learned in 2020, and the growing global rallying call for socio-emotional learning to be given priority, we have also placed content on Learner Well-Being at the core of our Learner Engagement strategy. We recognize that, for this to be possible, we also have to prioritize educator well-being and a series of modules will focus on just that, in the hope that by supporting educator well-being, we not only ensure educators approach teaching with the right mindset, but that school and classroom culture is healthy and nurturing. Further, based on lessons learned form 2020, school leaders will gain new competencies that will equip them to engage parents and caregivers as key partners in learning, extending a healthy learning and teaching culture beyond the school compound.
Finally, with the recognition that schools may be closed again, and to curb the impact of future disruptions to learning, we will also be equipping all school leaders with competencies that will enhance their integration of technology for learning and management, and emergency remote and blended learning.
In short, the Dignitas team recognizes that children can only learn, thrive and succeed at school when their school leaders and teacher leaders are empowered, equipped and supported to lead in a way that nurtures vibrant learning environments. Our partnership with schools for School Reopening and Recovery will ensure that thriving school leaders lead impactful teams of educators who will transform opportunities for the next generation.