•At a cost of roughly Sh25 billion a year, the project driven by the ICT Authority alongside Digischool would have seen the distribution of up to 1.2 million devices to an estimated 23,951 public primary schools by the end of 2016.
•Seven years on, the project remains all as more of a dream as e-learning in Kenyan schools has great potential and would transform the quality and increase numbers of students benefiting from a new digital era.
Nearly seven years ago, the government embarked on what many would term as an audacious scheme- to equip all primary school entrants with laptops.
This as part of a larger goal to entrench digital learning in the school curriculum over the medium term.
The plan which would later switch from laptops to tablets, if successful would have seen nearly all primary school leaners today handed a digital device with a pre-installed digital syllabus from the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).
The private sector which drives the economy of Kenya supported the digital investments developments, as the schools provided the future leaders both for employment and entrepreneurship who would support Artificial intelligence and internet of things that will drive and grow Kenya business internationally .
The initiative had followed in the example of countries such as Jamaica, Nigeria, Malawi, Senegal, Colombia, Brazil and Liberia, who had too set ambitious targets to integrate e-learning as part of their respective curriculums.
At a cost of roughly Sh25 billion a year, the project driven by the ICT Authority alongside Digischool would have seen the distribution of up to 1.2 million devices to an estimated 23,951 public primary schools by the end of 2016.
Seven years on, the project remains all as more of a dream as e-learning in Kenyan schools has great potential and would transform the quality and increase numbers of students benefiting from a new digital era.
The challenges of the initiative which ended in a questionable way, in spite of a vociferous promised start has since had its fair of critics and how can we get this strategy impacting success to our schools and develop our future leaders.
One of the biggest critique to the plan- Kenya seemed ready to enhance the bold move but the milestones of success need to be opened up for measurement of the project . From inadequate learning materials such as text books and even a shortfall of teachers to the lack of basics such as desks and hygiene facilities. Partnerships with the private sector could have grown the implementation of the positive goals to transform our education facilities.
Moreover, learning especially in remote areas remains shrouded in legacy challenges such as underfunding while school infrastructure has occasionally and sadly, been hit by acts of God such as flooding or droughts etc.
Additionally, the project last straw would be marked by a slash in exchequer funding as government’s constrained revenues warranted expenditure prioritization. The project was not an integral solution to existing sector challenges.
Meanwhile, doubts persist on the impact of e-learning to the performance of students. However, there is a lot of learning from other successful countries who have scaled up the digitisation of their industries including manufacturing, innovation and integration private public projects.
According to a study by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), there has been some noticeable improvement but bigger opportunity still exists, in promoting literacy levels for country’s heavily invested in ICT for education.
The study opinions stipulates some level of the lack of well-designed literacy program among both students and tutors to support a successful full scale e-learning program. We need to strategize and improve the programs given the pandemic New Normal is automating our systems and total lifestyle.
While there exists cracks to a successful countrywide e-learning roll-out the role such a program would play in the current State of affair cannot be matched.
When Kenya reported its first case of Covid-19 in March, it was lights off for schooling.This is as literacy fell into the darkness as schools shut their doors in line with measures to contain the spread of the virus.
In spite of there being options to tap into e-learning tools such as Zoom and Microsoft teams, this option has been limited to a few students with the monetary abilities to meet associated costs which largely compose of data prices.
Nevertheless, a number of public and private universities have strived to keep 2020 semesters going through partnerships with telecoms operators to make available cheap data options.
Even so, the inadequacy of devices to support e-learning ventures has remained the greatest hindrance to learning in the Covid-19 era.
According to an assessment by the Senate, 90 per cent of children have not been learning in spite of the Ministry of Education taunting the existence of e-learning options including a KIDC program running on radio and television.
In a May appearance at Senate’s education committee, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha came under question , for not having a well-established e-learning model to steer the sector through the once in century global health crisis.
Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary General, termed the existence of e-learning in the country as having great potential.
According to an August report by the Human Rights Watch, schools closures on the continent, including Kenya have exacerbated previously existing inequalities where the most at risk of being excluded from a quality education have been the most affected.
For instance, the rate of teenage pregnancies has accelerated during the pandemic as contained in data from the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Meanwhile, a number of school attending youth have taken to businesses such as bodaboda casting doubts to their return to the classroom when the full schooling program returns.
A case for now
While Kenya has previously missed its moments to have a countrywide e-learning program up and running, now is the time to recommit to the investment.
While gains from e-learning in comparison to conventional learning may remain a grey area, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed education doesn’t necessary have to take place in a physical classroom.
The government should be the front runner for the needed change to include greater expenditures around virtual learning and e-curriculums to ensure the continuity of learning under extremes.
Today, the Ministry of Education has pursued new investments as it strives to return the sector to normalcy including the procurement of socially distanced desks.
At the heart of the new changes, the government must have a place for online learning and consider keeping both the virtual and conventional modes of teaching open simultaneously particularly for tertiary institutions.
Just like remote work, schooling in the future will likely be a mix between traditional and distanced learning as has been occasioned by the unprecedented disruptions.
We need to prioritise our digital investments and keep the economy, both short and long term investments, focusing on a healthy nation and transform to a highly successful digital youth population, who will drive our business to the next level , and grow both national and international trade .
Chris Diaz is the Group Director Bidco Africa and Trustee of Brand Africa