The Coronavirus Challenge: How STARS Children Africa Is Responding

Image of Pastor Joshua delivering masks

On March 18, 2020 the Kenyan Ministry of Education closed schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Kenya. This decision came 3 ½ weeks before the end of the first term of the 2020 school year. At the time this was posted, the government has not announced a projected date to reopen schools.  As a result, 15 million primary and secondary school students are now navigating the challenges of home based learning. 

Kenya’s Ministry of Education has instructed students to access home based learning through radio, TV, YouTube, and the Kenya Education Cloud. However, only 1 in 5 Kenyans has access to the internet according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

This situation is challenging for everyone, but it has a greater impact on our 19 STARS. All are STARS are 4th-year high school students preparing to take the KCSE exam in November.  The KCSE is similar to the American SAT with one significant difference: it is the one thing that determines if a student graduates and what kind of academic opportunities he/she has after high school.  With schools now closed, the STARS are limited in how they can learn since none of them have internet access and only a few can access a TV.

How the STARS are Faring 

First, the good news! Pastor Joshua, our local partner, has confirmed that all 19 STARS are safe with their guardians. He hears that the STARS are in good spirits and are confident that they will pass the KCSE despite this challenge.  Each of the STARS is rigorously studying. They are motivated to score well on the exam so that they can receive government scholarships and be placed in better universities.

Samson, Bonifas, and Dominic are staying with Pastor Joshua at the St. Luke’s Ministry compound. One way Samson, Bonifas, and Dominic are keeping up with their curriculum is by watching televised classes. As their community contribution, they are helping to make protective masks. 

Image of Ken with Mary A. in Kenya

Mary A. is with her guardian. She is observing social distancing as required and shared, I cannot go to my friends to study with them. Though a very good student, she finds studying alone hard. Why? Because study groups are an important part of KCSE preparation. She also finds it impossible to follow the government guidance for students to study online since she doesn’t have access to the internet.  When she’s not studying, Mary A. is helping the family by doing farmwork and teaching community hygiene to avoid COVID-19.

How We Are Helping the STARS Prepare for the November KCSE 

“We are going to help these STARS succeed.”

-Ken Prussner

Our focus is on helping the STARS study by doing what Kenyans call revising. To revise is to review and study materials from four years of high school. For the KCSE, each of the STARS will be tested on at least 7 subjects. Some subjects are mandatory and some are selected. As explained in an earlier blog post, this is a massive undertaking with huge pressure on students and their families/guardians. Only 1 in 7 KCSE candidates pass the exams.

Recognizing that the 19 STARS need printed revision materials to study successfully, STARS Children Africa has encouraged and funded our local partner to do that. Pastor Joshua and Humphrey, a high school teacher and STARS alumnus, have teamed up to get the 19 STARS printed revision materials for their subjects. Here’s what it takes: 

  • Using his knowledge of the education system, Humphrey identifies relevant “revision materials” available on the internet. He has currently downloaded over 150 documents, including past tests, subject matter reviews, and curriculum summaries, ranging from 3 to 20 pages.
  • Humphrey sends these revisions materials to Pastor Joshua via What’s App on his mobile phone.
  • Pastor Joshua curates the revision materials each of the STARs needs for his/her subjects, then prints them.
  • Pastor Joshua distributes customized revision material packets to each of the 19 STARS. To do so, he must travel to 16 different locations, which require him to drive and walk to their homes.   

STARS Children Africa is funding the costs of this initiative. This includes Humphrey’s and Pastor Joshua’s pay-as-you-go internet service to find and download thousands of revision materials pages, printing ink, paper, and gas.

What We Plan to Do Next to Help the STARS and Fulfill Our Mission 

The coronavirus will not stop us from educating and mentoring the STARS. In addition to the initiative described above, STARS Children Africa and Pastor Joshua are discussing what we might do next: 

  • We’ll monitor to see if schools will reopen on May 4th, which marks the start of the second term in Kenya.
  • If schools don’t open for the second term, we will continue to follow up with each of the STARS to assess each one’s well being and progress studying the subjects each is preparing for the KCSE. 
  • Humphrey will also remotely tutor the STARS in studying techniques for the KCSE, e.g. strategies for answering different types of questions, like multiple choice vs. True and False, how to write essays, and how to overcome fear. 
  • We are also exploring the option of temporarily hiring teachers, who cannot work, to tutor in approved socially distant settings.

As we mentioned in a previous post about what it’s like to go to high school in Kenya:

This is the strongest high school class we’ve ever had in our 13 years. They will take Kenya’s national Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in 2020. We anticipate they will score well, many will go on to higher education and all will become strong servant-leaders in their communities.

With the STARS continued hard work, Pastor Joshua’s and Humphrey’s dedication, and your support, we are confident our STARS will overcome the coronavirus challenge and be ready for the KCSE exam in November.

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