The 2013 elections are long behind us, but not its lessons. In the run up to those elections, the debate of technology and the education sector was a key campaign issue. The Jubilee coalition then campaigned on a digital platform, with the opposition being referred to as ‘‘analogue.’’ The debate was largely about the capacity and willingness to adopt technology in governance.
The Jubilee manifesto captured the digital focus of the collation, indicating that it would leverage on the country’s Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) advantage.
Kenya had expanded its internet penetration, connectivity and speed and was even at the early stages of developing Konza city into a technology and innovation hub.
The administration sought to roll out a Sh24.6 billion s digital literacy programme that sought to issue standard one primary school children with laptops. This eventually morphed to tablets and then computer labs before eventually collapsing. To be fair, the project collapsed due to many reasons, including opposition from teachers and politicians. In addition, the state of infrastructure across the country was a hindrance.
The greatest challenges, however, were tender wars, training, and attitude of those expected to oversee the use of the technology as a teaching tool. Consequently, a project that held a lot of promise quietly died.
The focus shifted instead to the roll out of the Competence Based Curriculum (CBC).
The above may have passed as just another failed political promise. In a country where politicking is the order of the day, different sides of the political divide would spend a lot of energy seeking to apportion blame or score political points based on partisan perceptions of what the true situation is. But this is not the time.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life as we all know it across the globe. Almost al sectors of the economy have been affected. Schools have been closed as children retreated to their homes, waiting for the situation to normalise. Conversations about digital learning has gained currency.
The Education ministry announced, at the start of the crisis, that the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, would provide education content both on radio and television to learners across the country. In addition, several schools took to technology, from WhatsApp, to Zoom, Google Hangout and other platforms to engage with and educate their learners.
As this went on, questions arose around whether this approach was sufficient and in accord with the constitutional standards of access. While the country has commendable internet coverage, concerns related to access and costs arose.
For many children across the country, especially in rural areas and the urban informal settlements, radio, television, and smartphones are a luxury they can hardly afford. Those that are lucky must still grapple with where to get money to purchase bundles to enable them gain access to the internet for education purposes.
For many of these families affording three meals a day under normal circumstances is mainly a challenge. With the state of the economy slowing down, parents not able to go to work or to run a business due to the pandemic with its stay at home rules, closure of businesses and social distancing implications, the meals are even fewer and far between.
Against this backdrop, the collapse of the digital literacy project takes an even more profound implication.
The reality is that the future of education will involve a higher application of technology.
Private schools, for example have rolled out digital learning and will most likely invest in this over the next few years to ensure that they can adequately and continuously use it as an education platform.
However, for the majority of the children unless government invests in technology and in addressing the barriers that led to the collapse of the laptop project the experience during this period will remain something to reflect upon in the future and nothing more.
In the meantime, there is the question about how to balance between children who have been taught during this period through online technologies against those that do not have such access. Do you allow one group to go on and leave others behind or do you require them to wait for the others.