In April 2013, the Uhuru Kenyatta government, also referred to as the Jubilee Coalition, announced plans to realize a campaign promise to provide every Kenyan child with a solar laptop. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) promise was initially met with “jubilation.” Yet, by the time the Uhuru government marked 100 days in office, a growing chorus of condemnation directed at the initiative had emerged in the blogosphere, and in online and print newspapers. Kenyans online largely panned the initiative, and one of my favorite retorts had to do with lollipops and laptops. They were justified in their condemnation, especially in light of teacher strikes over pay rises that had been promised in 1997 by the Moi government but that had yet to materialize.
Actually, I view this initiative with healthy and equal doses of caution and optimism. While I think that manufacturing the tablets in China is not ideal, it does seem that after first announcing the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP), the government framework under which the tablets initiative will now be operated, Kenya is taking its work seriously. The roll out is being phased, they are using hardware which is likely to be somewhat easier to use than laptops, the multiple Ministries required to make this success are involved, other ICT in Education stakeholders like UNESCO are supporting the efforts, and the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development has already been hard at work on developing content for use on the laptops. Furthermore, there are few things Kenya gets wrong when it comes to tech, as their illustrious track record has shown (Konza City don't let me down!).
That being said, given my expertise in ICTs in Education, especially with mobile devices, I want to offer some of my "top tips" to help make sure that this project is more of an M-PESA rather than a Microsoft Mwalimu Kenya:
- DON'T KEEP UP WITH THE JONESES. It may come as a no brainer but there have been so many failed one-to-one tech initiatives in schools on pretty much every continent that it does not make sense to try and keep up with them - do things better! I really encourage the project leadership to take note of what is happening in Rwanda. While the country is also taking a phased rollout approach, there is still a long way to go. Parents and teachers are providing invaluable feedback that needs to be actioned, and hopefully the government will listen.
- KEEP TEACHERS ONSIDE. Striking teachers are striking for pay rises they deserve. I just learned this week that the school year in Kenya, at least for Term 2, has been extended by a week. While teachers are being paid for this week, they are still being asked to work more than expected. Given the historical dispute about the pay rises is still raging on, the Kenyatta administration would do well to ensure that a compromise is made as soon as possible. The DLP will not work without teachers to facilitate the instruction. Furthermore, teachers who aren't paid fairly are less likely to be enthusiastic about adding the additional work of learning how to teach and learn with tablets. This should be another no brainer, but I have seen time and again how teachers have been demoralized when national ICT in education projects are rolled out. Support them, as they are a national asset, and also be sure to provide ongoing professional development opportunities - and I don't mean just once a year!
- DIGITAL LITERACY IS NOTHING WITHOUT SOCIAL LITERACY. One striking thing about most every ICT in education project that has been rolled out globally is that the focus is so much on the technology that understanding how people can use that technology for bad and good falls by the wayside. In an era of revenge porn, rapes being filmed on mobile phones, and cyberbullying, it is obvious that while our technology is getting smarter, people's use of the technology seems to be regressing, emboldened by the supposed anonymity of the internet and encouragement of bad behavior from crowd mentality. Part of the DLP curriculum should include social literacy skills development because knowing how to use tech is not only about the hardware interface.
What other tips would you add to this list? Please share in the comments!