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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak

In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, many Governments have ordered a nationwide school closure as an emergency measure to prevent spreading of the infection. Public activities are discouraged. Prolonged school closure and home confinement during a disease outbreak might have negative effects on children’s physical and mental health. Evidence suggests that when children are out of school (eg, weekends and summer holidays), they are physically less active, have much longer screen time, irregular sleep patterns, and less favourable diets, resulting in weight gain and a loss of cardiorespiratory fitness. Stressors such as prolonged duration, fears of infection, frustration and boredom, inadequate information, lack of in-person contact with classmates, friends, and teachers, lack of personal space at home, and family financial loss can have even more problematic and enduring effects on children and adolescents.

In the event of home confinement, parents are often the closest and best resource for children to seek help from. Close and open communication with children is the key to identifying any physical and psychological issues and to comforting children in prolonged isolation. Parents are often important role models in healthy behaviour for children. Good parenting skills become particularly crucial when children are confined at home. Besides monitoring child performance and behaviour, parents also need to respect their identity and needs, and they need to help children develop self-discipline skills. Children are constantly exposed to epidemic-related news, so having direct conversations with children about these issues could alleviate their anxiety and avoid panic. Home confinement could offer a good opportunity to enhance the interaction between parents and children, involve children in family activities, and improve their self-sufficiency skills. Parents should actively promote a health-conscious schedule, good personal hygiene, encourage physical activities, appropriate diet, and good sleep habits, and integrate such health promotion materials into the school curriculum.

With the right parenting approaches, family bonds can be strengthened, and child psychological needs met.

Effective online learning can help ensure that students meet and keep in touch with their educational requirements. Those who were behind in content coverage have an opportunity to cover lost ground.  Children also need some other news other than covid-19 related. Connection with academic content is an important break from the toxicity of pandemic news on television and on social media. Online classes present an opportunity for children to engage in productive activities. Yet it is also important not to overburden the students. They also help to alleviate concerns about children’s falling back on what they had learnt in school. This is particularly risky for those who will face examinations when this has been put under control.

In Kenya, there are already fears that National examinations, KCSE and KCPE may have to be re-organized. President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered schools closed for 30 days, after which they will only be opened if the virus has been brought under control. Some schools have not cleared the syllabus. The United Kingdom, from where the examinations are printed from, is on lockdown, there is no hope that the situation may be brought under control in a month or so. The examinations need to be revised, proof-read, printed, packaged and be transported into Kenya. Practical examinations which need to go through the same process will definitely be disrupted.

Questions had remained over international exams – but it has now been confirmed that the IB and exams run by Cambridge International, including the IGCSE and Pre-U, will not go ahead. Cambridge International announced on 23 March that all May/June exams are cancelled globally. This includes Cambridge IGCSE, Cambridge O Level, Cambridge International AS & A Level, Cambridge AICE Diploma and Cambridge Pre-U and UK GCSE and A level qualifications. The British Council is currently awaiting further information on how the cancellations will affect international candidates, including alternative methods of assessment, deferral of exams to later sessions and issuing of credit notes or refunds. The UK government has undertaken to work closely with the independent regulator of qualifications, Ofqual, to explore options for awarding grades to private candidates, including home educated students. Questions still linger though about those who were preparing to sit for winter examinations in October/November 2020 and January 2021.

Notably, the UK government has committed to ensuring that every child receives the best education possible and will be working with the BBC and others to provide resources for children to access while at home. Parents will have to source for and pay for online classes to mitigate the effects of their children who are out of school, losing out on any gains made in curriculum coverage while they were at school.

We at Nairobi Home School are set to fill this void. We have the technology. We have the teachers. We have the will. We have the withal.

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