By HENRY OWINO (Senior Correspondent)
The schools are closed for the longest time ever in the history calendar of education in Kenya and elsewhere. This has left stakeholders in the industry without work hence rendering majority jobless, idle and seeking work.
Many teachers have resorted to businesses and other alternative means of livelihood. Parents on the other hand, bear the burden of nurturing and protecting children from Coronavirus. Many students wander in estates risking contracting the virus and may be carried away by peer pressure among other influence.
At least every home, estate or village, there is a school age child staying idle without usual learning lesson processes. This is absurd considering time wastage, energy loss and skills as far as education calendar is concerned.
As the saying goes; ‘idle mind is devil’s workshop,’ most of these children are in adolescent stage, vulnerable to society decay and disorder in terms of teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and criminal activities.
To engage these young minds in resourceful activity that benefits the family, society and country at large, Dr Kenneth Monjero has come up with engaging Agri-Covid Gardens program. The innovative program aims at attracting these children and young people in continuous learning in farming skills and networking to divert their minds from illicit thoughts.
Dr Monjero, a Kenyan Science Educator, works at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KARLO) as a research assistant based in Nairobi, Kenya.
He is passionate and love working with children and young people to bring about change in them. So, the interest is what drives the Scientists Educator to extend his agricultural skills to these groups of learners for the benefit of society.
Dr Monjero has since dubbed this program as ‘Fun and Education Global Network’ (FEGNe). He emphasizes on what he calls a “minds-on and hands-on” approach to learning. He called it so because it uses fundamentals of life that are applicable to education, but packaged with fun to enhance positivity.
The gardens, which occupy a limited space set up on the balconies, estates, home gardens and compounds, enable households to plant and harvest mostly vegetables, not only for family use, but also for sale.
Program involves Covid-19 related activities and targets children between age brackets of 7-14 irrespective of gender. Most training usually happens virtually to include as many children as possible to learn, have fun and network. Children are trained wherever they are via zoom and mentored by FEGNe volunteers across the globe.
“We are trying to bring children and young people together to think about issues and how they relate to Covid-19 and divert their minds to remain focus so that they are happier during this pandemic situation,” Dr Monjero, explains.
According Dr Monjera, the program had started a bit earlier as pilot project within Nairobi County but it was officially launched on July 1, running for the next three months. Due to public demand from parents among other stakeholders, the program has gone online, an innovative approach to learning, reaching the globe on webinars.
“No one had thought of connecting Covid-19 to agriculture,” Dr Monjero says. “With the pandemic, more food is being consumed at home, less produced by industry due to fewer employees and poor access to farms due to travel restrictions hence my idea,” he discloses.
“The call to action involves children, youth and adults to start Agri-Covid gardens. Children undergo training and mentorship across the globe. We are attracting and teaching kids about agriculture and nutrition. We want to encourage children to engage in farming and give back to their communities,” Dr Monjero emphasizes.
“We look forward to the online Fun & Education Global Network International Conference in which children would share their Agri-Covid gardens outcome,” he adds.
Many parents argue their children are resistant to the online lessons that the government is offering in the wake of shutdowns imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In fact, parents express diverging views to the online lessons claiming they are neither up to speed nor engaging in terms of directing the children’s schoolwork.
Mrs Maurine Odhiambo says the Agri-covid gardening came at the right time. It has kept children very busy apart from utilizing idle space in the compound. Kids learn practical agricultural skills and soon the families would be getting fresh vegetables from own land.
“I did not know this programme would turn into source of food because of my skepticism towards it. The children really love it and spend much of their time weeding, watering, admiring and even taking photos and share with their colleagues,” Mrs Odhiambo explained.
” Today, I am optimistic that some children would become agriculturalists later in life because of this programme. It is an eye opening to parents, children and even the government to support and promote it” she added.
Dr Monjero affirmed that parents can get their children off psychological strain on Covid-19 infection numbers, deaths, and burials among others. Focus them on innovation, creativity with live home maker space on balcony, or use sacks, old tires, large containers the list is endless.
“To make the programme attractive among parents and students, I decided to adopt a more informal approach that kids would enjoy. So, fun comes first, as the skills follows. We want it to be learner-oriented and full of fun experiences.” Dr Monjero explains as he demonstrates.
The platform generally helps children to discover their unique potentialities and the process of actualization, which allows them to become the heroes and heroines they are intended to become in future.
The platform also endeavors to impart adequate self-understanding as a tool to guide the young learners to making informed decisions and choices as part of problem-solving skills. Agriculture as a subject or career may not be looked down upon as for retirees or elderly people in the society.
The program mostly target horticultural crops which include vegetables, fruits, mainly of annual and perennial species.
The instructors of Agri-Covid gardens use demonstrations, experiments, science shows, conversation, self-directed learning, networking, coaching, mentoring and performance. The bottom-line here is to help children achieve overall success in theory and practical part of it.
“The best way to engage young people especially concerning farming is to involve all sorts of educational skills one may think of. So, at FEGNe we also guide children in the direct application of skills, theories and models as important approach to peer learning process,”Dr Monjero clarifies.
“We are trying to engage children globally so they learn together and help each other out. We don’t just do lectures but engage them with provocative discussions that are designed to elicit a response.” He emphasizes.
According Dr Monjero, Agri-Covid gardens program expose children to hands-on learning in real-world settings. It is creative projects and independent-directed research, and in turn children apply what they gained from the applied experience to academic learning.
“Our applied learning activities may occur outside or embedded in traditional classroom experience, it becomes important to students in academic settings” he compares.
In an attempt to help children think about what they may want to do for a career, the platform helps them “look into their inner passion and drive it to actualization. Through basic, applied education and mentorship, children explore diverse environments, learn to handle issues, make decisions and adjust to change.
In general, the platform benefits children and parents by fostering innovation and creativity with limited resources, building resilience, developing international networks and encouraging home-based experimentation, online teamwork, knowledge application and the use of modern technology.
Ultimately, young learners are equipped with problem-solving skills. The benefits cut across to learners, parents and industry as whole in terms of food security.
The Agri-Covid gardens program is open to children everywhere, locally, regionally and internationally. This program since then has earned Dr Monjero, a nickname Dr Fun. So, never mind when he introduces himself to you by the name.
Peter Irungu, a parent whose children are involved in the programme, says it is great joy for fun and education in global networking. He admits it brings laughter to children globally through zoom meetings.
“Let me say not only laughter but nutritional skills, interactions and amazing re-known global presenters that children learn. As parents, we are also not left behind in these new technology and farming skills,” Irungu explained.
Josphat Maiko is a grade 6 pupil in Nairobi Kenya and admits to have learnt a lot in agri-covid programme. He now wants to meet Ministries of Education and Agriculture to push for sponsorship to all students in the programme.
“If can meet the two line ministries, I would ask them to support our programme by donating some money to assist us learn more. Learning agricultural skills and implementing it would reduce food shortage in the country,” Master Maiko pleads.
Coincidentally, to boost its campaign for reliable food supply, lifestyle change and adoption of healthy diets in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Agriculture had launched a national kitchen garden campaign, targeting a million households.
Speaking at the launch of the National Covid-19 Nutrition and Healthy Diet Guidelines, Agriculture Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Anne Nyaga said that it was the moment for Kenyans to take “a proactive approach in radically changing lifestyles to adopt healthier diets”.
The 1 Million Kitchen Garden Campaign spearheaded by the Ministry Of Agriculture targeted both rural and urban dwellers.This is to ensure availability of vegetables, fruits and herbs to enhance proper nutrition in over one million households across the country through the use of kitchen gardens during Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Nyaga, CAS, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, over 200,000 households have been supported under phase 1 of the initiative of establishing 1 million kitchen gardens across the country.
“Kitchen gardens have been proven as one of the easiest and fastest ways households can ensure inexpensive, regular and handy supplies of fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, eggs and meat,” Nyaga said.
“Well-planned kitchen gardens also guarantee households access to a healthy diet that contain adequate macro and micronutrients as many different kinds of foods can be produced,” she added.
The programme is being undertaken under the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Project (NARIGP) and the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP), which are both government initiatives funded by the World Bank.
The National Covid-19 Nutrition and Healthy Diet Guidelines were developed by agri-nutrition experts in the Ministry of Agriculture in partnership with the Ministry of Health and county governments, with support from the Food Agriculture Authority (FAO) and development partners
The guidelines include toolkits with affordable technologies for the creation of kitchen gardens. The government chipping in is through realization of the solutions the Agri-Covid gardenig is offering to families through children FEGNe.
According to Dr Monjero, since Covid-19 has given an alarm of global famine catastrophy in future, registration for Agri-Covid garden training for children is open. The teaching method is experiment-based learning through strong global network with sessions taking place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1730-1830hours, East Africa Time (EAT).
Children not only have fun but nutritional skills, interactions and amazing re-known global presenters. FEGNe calls for global registration for everyone to establish Agri-Covid vegetable gardens. Register or visit at www.FEGNe.org or email: email@example.com or Facebook page or simply contact Dr Monjero at firstname.lastname@example.org.