Challenges Facing Uhuru Kenyatta’s Laptop Promise for Kenya’s Standard 1 Pupils: Part 2
A number of people have aired their opinion on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election pledge for laptops to all Kenyan public school pupils joining Class One next year. The discussions have centered on its funding and whether it is a priority at the moment, given other more pressing needs in the education system. However, there is no serious discourse on its pedagogical merits or demerits.
The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) formerly the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE), which is mandated to develop curriculum under the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development Act 2013, has already developed digital content in anticipation of the laptop rollout. According to KICD director Dr. Lydia Nzomo (cited in softkenya.com), “digital content in schools would improve children problem solving skills, pronunciations and creative thinking. This concept will make delivery of lessons useful. It will help teachers decode issues to learners. Abstract information needs to be decoded to learners. This is where technology helps. It is going to lay a foundation in science and maths, which have remained a mystery to learners and therefore, help in Vision 2030.”
Reuben Nthamburi, head of e-learning at KICD, notes that they have been training teachers on how to integrate information and communications technology (ICT) in learning, since 2007. Kenya is the only African country which has aligned digital curriculum content to syllabus, with full security features to prevent copying or dubbing. But the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) alleges that the new KICD Act will block them from participating in the delivery of digital content for the laptop program. KPA says the role of KICD is to vet and approve submitted education materials and not to compete with publishers. “We have received information that KICD is working in cahoots with Kenya Literature Bureau (KLB) to sell the digital content to the Ministry of Education. Microsoft has been roped in to give the whole thing a global appeal”, said Simon Sossion, vice chairman of KPA, in the Nairobian magazine June 28-July 4, 2013. Further, he charged that KICD intends to single-source the provision of digital content against the law, yet its officials had assured a KPA delegation on June 11th, that the State would not provide digital content. But KLB, a state publisher, has denied the allegations and said it will work with KICD just like any other commercial publisher.
KPA has asked the government to conduct a pilot study to identify the most appropriate laptops. Its chairman, Lawrence Njagi, was recently cited in the media saying that: “The government should withhold the laptop project and take time to first address problems facing the education system such as poor learning conditions, lack of books and teachers. Instead they should consider building computer labs that can serve a lot more students and this will be cheaper and as effective.” The Cabinet has approved Ksh53 billion to be spent on the laptop project, which will be implemented in three phases starting with Ksh15 billion for 6000 primary schools, in 2014. It is still not clear what criteria will be used to select the schools. Book publishers have already alleged that there is corruption in the laptop procurement process and the development of digital content by some Education ministry’s officials. They also claim that the syllabus template is being tested secretly in selected schools without involving other stakeholders. But Education secretary Professor Kaimenyi denied the allegations and said that no laptops have been bought. He also emphasized that KICD is the only legally mandated body to develop the syllabus.
In mid-February 2013, the National ICT Master Plan (2012-2017) was launched by the Kenyan Government. It is a strategic document aimed to fast-track ICT investment and innovation. The former Ministry of Information and Communication had projected that by 2017, “the ICT Industry should be contributing an estimated USD 2 billion (25% of GDP), created 500 ICT companies, and brought in 50,000 jobs. The impact is also expected to be felt by SMEs with their automation projected at 60%, the number of commercialized business is placed at a 100 while 20 new innovations are expected to be propagated globally.” According to the Kenya ICT Board, four goals set by the Master Plan to be met by 2017 are:
Goal 1: Every citizen, resident, home and institution will be connected through a countrywide robust, accessible and affordable ICT infrastructure.
Goal 2: Kenya will become the leading ICT HUB in African attracting leading global players and generating globally respected local entrepreneurship and innovation.
Goal 3: Public Services will be available to all citizens through ICT. ICT will enable a truly open and efficient Government delivering meaningful value to citizens.
Goal 4: Kenya will be a Knowledge Based Economy. All Kenyans will be able to use ICT to improve their knowledge, businesses and livelihood. ICT will contribute greatly to Kenya’s economic growth.
On December 7, 2012, Peter Nalika reported at cio.co.ke that, “International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that Kenya’s ICT market size will be worth USD 2 billion in 2015. Multinationals are investing in the country because it is a spring board of connecting ICT and business to other markets.” Kenya is becoming a tech hub and international technology companies prefer it as an investment destination; a position she is gradually taking over from South Africa. In 2012, IBM chose Kenya as the location to set up its first research laboratory in Africa. The research shall create a base for science and technology and to solve problems relevant to the continent. According to Duncan Mcleod on bdlive.co.za, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said during a visit to Kenya last year that: “Nairobi has emerged as a “serious tech hub” and could become the continent’s technology leader.”
Kenya is credited internationally for the development of local technological innovations such as M-Pesa, which is the mobile banking and commerce platform created by mobile operator, Safaricom. Millions of Kenyans use the platform daily to buy goods and receive money. Mcleod adds that: “Kenya’s government is now spearheading efforts to transform the country into Africa’s tech capital. Work has begun on an ambitious technology centre called Konza City that could eventually cost as much as $14.5bn.”
Despite the rosy picture painted above, Kenya lacks trained teachers in ICT especially at the primary school level, which the laptop program targets. Providing the gadgets might be the easier part, but getting Class One children to use them for educational gains must go beyond political rhetoric.