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Columnists

Liberalise development of digital content

When my son was in Form Two, he started to dislike math. I quickly put him on Khan Academy, a non-profit online educational organisation created in 2006 by educator Salman Khan to provide “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere”.

His teachers helped, too, and by Form Four he was excelling in math. Now in his second year in college, he is a double major in math and computer science. Self-paced digital learning is here with us and how we leverage on it is what will make the difference.

Numerous parents have similar testimonies on how this borderless learning is changing their lives. Several universities post their lecture content online in what they refer to as massive open on-line courses to educate the world.

We, too, should emulate open learning systems but this is not happening. Instead we have legislated closed learning systems even as our student use foreign content to enhance their learning.

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) is acting as a gatekeeper in the provision of local digital content and competing unfairly with private developers.

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The institute’s core function as stated on its web site is to conduct research and develop curricular for all levels of education below university.

The institute also develops print and electronic curriculum support materials, initiates and conducts curriculum-based research as well as organising and conducting in-service and orientation programmes for curriculum implementers.

It also evaluates, vets and approves the curricular and curriculum support materials for basic and tertiary education, as well as offering curriculum-based consultancy services in basic and tertiary education and training.

There is clearly a conflict of interest in KICD’s mandate that Parliament must deal with. Its mandate should be confined to research, curricular development and regulating content development that is used in classrooms.

It should not develop content for schools and use the law to shut out privately developed content as is the current practice. This amounts to suicide for local learning. At the very least, this will be an unfair competition and one way of hindering innovation in content development.

The process of approving digital content should not be any different from the analogue past where the Kenya Institute of Education engaged with publishers and recommended books for primary and secondary education.

The relevance of KICD will be greatly enhanced if they engaged with private content developers to either co-create or simply ensure that the content covers the curriculum adequately.

In this age of open global learning, gate-keeping will only disenfranchise our children. Our strategy should be to encourage increased local content production for the world.

Unlike the analogue material in use in schools, digital content is dynamic and any mistakes can be easily corrected.

But as matters stand, analogue publishers continue to hold sway at KICD. In the face of escalating costs in education, digital content makes it easier for students to share learning material at minimal cost.

It is time publishers looked to new business models where they can reap greater benefits. With these changes, we shall have made our education system more dynamic and responsive to tech savvy children growing up in an information-rich environment.

KICD should be at the forefront of encouraging innovation in the education sector. It must harness the opportunity of the growing number of youths involved in not just content development, but new applications that will make it easier for Kenyans to access digital content.

Indeed, KICD should be incubating some of the more promising content developers or encouraging competitions to come up with the best content possible.

We must begin to look beyond Kenya and see Africa as our primary market with the government supporting the scaling up of new innovations.

The procurement law should be revised to accommodate local innovations to give the developers a springboard to move on to other markets.

The success of many new applications should give us the confidence to start supporting new innovations that could potentially be scaled up globally.

Internet has liberalised knowledge so much that it makes us look bad when we try to create monopolies in the use of digital content through legislation. KICD must focus its energies on areas that enhance development of digital content in the open market.

As Thomas Sowell said, “A moral monopoly is the antithesis of a marketplace of ideas.”

The writer is an associate professor, University of Nairobi and a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.

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