Ever since the new government announced in their manifesto that they will be deploying laptops to standard 1 children in schools across Kenya, the big question on everyone’s mind is how will this program work? Can the country afford it? What would it take to make the idea work?
Last Friday I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion which focused on how ICTs can be used to promote learning in Kenya, challenges expected and lessons learned from those who have already deployed those ICTs in schools in Kenya. The meeting took place at KARIBU CENTRE which is dedicated to providing basic needs, education and empowerment to the most vulnerable women children in and around Thika, Kenya. Also present at the meeting were representatives from the British Council, Intel, VMWARE and Team4Tech.
Team4Tech in collaboration with Intel are using theIntel Classmate PCs and adaptive learning software to teach preschool children literacy, numeracy and science skills on the PCs at the Karibu Centre. The PCs use solar chargers. The children are aged between 3-6 years and they spend an average of about half an hour a day on the computers using them. Some skills taught by the software to the pre scholars include coloring, pronunciation skills, shapes, word games e.tc. The PCs contain programs that monitor each student’s performance to keep track of their improvement. At present, the centre has about 140 students.
When deploying ICTs in schools, it is important to consider some key things: the teachers; getting local content used on these machines as well as how to ensure sustainability of the initiative. Towards this end, the Team4 Tech team has a program that trains the teachers in the schools in Thika basic computer skills (how to operate computers, typing skills, use of Microsoft tools like MS Word, PowerPoint e.t.c) as well as how to operate the programs installed in the laptops that the pre scholars are using. So far, 60 teachers have been trained through this program.Volunteers from across the world from corporations like Intel, VMware, from Orphans Overseas and from Kenya take two weeks to train the teachers in these courses. Getting digitized local content based in the approved curriculum still remains a huge challenge. Currently the program uses the Waterford early learning software on their machines.
Assumptions and opportunities that arise from deploying ICTs in schools are:
- There is a huge demand for local content: Developers should consider designing software applications that can extract content from the textbooks and be used on either pc's or mobile devices. Publishers in Kenya should readily avail their content digitally as opposed to just on textbooks.
- Policies need to be adjusted to reflect the structure that should be followed on deploying the ICTs in schools, the do’s and don’ts as well as focus on how to protect the children when they access online content.
*PC's- Personal Computers