Like Kenya, many governments around the world have shut down schools and learning institutions as a measure to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 80 percent of the world’s student population has been impacted by these closures, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). In Kenya, Unesco notes that around 14.3 million learners have been impacted by school closures.
Thankfully, learning has not ground to a halt. In many countries, such as China, the US and most of Europe, students are being taught remotely using technology. Digital learning is also gaining momentum in Kenya, one of Africa’s leading technological hubs, where the mobile internet penetration rate stands at 83 percent (and rapidly growing) in comparison to 23 percent for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, according to data from GSMA, the industry lobby for mobile network operators globally.
However, the ironic twist is that, despite Kenya’s regional technological dominance, not all learners in the country have access to digital learning tools. This is due to a wide range of underlying reasons such as income inequalities, limited or no access to electricity for some segments of the population, as well as other social and cultural factors.
Moreover, not all learning institutions are adequately prepared to integrate digital learning tools like cloud-based e-learning platforms, teleconferencing software, tablets and smartphones into their teaching models. This is due to factors such as talent gaps, insufficient financial resources and the lack of a national and comprehensive digital learning policy framework.
These challenges need to be addressed in order for learning to continue uninterrupted throughout the country in these unprecedented times. It is encouraging to see the government playing a leading role in using technology to facilitate learning.
The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development is broadcasting daily lessons to students via the State radio, which is more accessible for families in rural areas and informal urban settlements who cannot access the Internet or Internet enabled devices.
Globally, the e-learning market is growing robustly as more countries digitize their education systems. Organisations are also adopting e-learning to boost the knowledge, capacity and productivity of their teams. The industry is expected to turn over more than $300 billion annually by 2025, compared to $190 billion in 2018, according to industry reports by research firm Global Market Insights.
Kenya needs to stay ahead of the curve by laying the groundwork for e-learning through investments in ICT infrastructure, digital literacy, digital content and upskilling of teachers and trainers. This will spur the growth of e-learning in Kenya and act as a signal for global players to double down on their investments in the space, leading to job creation and knowledge transfer.
E-learning will also help Kenya improve its global competitiveness. It equips learners –whether they are in educational institutions, a corporate setting or small business—with timely knowledge, tools and resources needed to compete in a fast-changing technology-driven global economy.
Organisations such as Microsoft have recently rolled out collaborative platforms to enable e-learning. More organisations are adapating to this reality too and with such efforts from the private sector and continued government support, e-learning could be quite normal.
Kenya stands to gain tremendously by fully digitizing its educational system, now and even post Covid-19 crisis. Decision-making at the policy-making level will improve significantly thanks to data analytics capabilities that global tech partners bring to the table. Kenyan learners will also be better equipped to transition into the modern workforce, where familiarity with digital tools is increasingly becoming a key competency that recruiters assess when choosing who to hire or retain in their organisations.
Kenya’ current switch to e-learning, whose main aim is to keep learners engaged as schools remain closed, thus provides the perfect opportunity to pilot exciting new technological ideas that will transform the country’s education sector and make it more prosperous in the long-term. Adoption of e-learning will also present companies with an opportunity to improve productivity at a time when most people are working from home for extended periods for the first time.
It is encouraging that the cost of Internet is coming down in Kenya, thanks to initiatives by the government and some peers in the ICT sector. Electrification rates have also improved to more than 75 per cent according to the World Bank. This is by far the highest electrification rate in East Africa, where Rwanda is the closest to Kenya with an electrification rate of 34 per cent. As the digital gateway to East Africa, Kenya is also connected to the global digital economy and has access to a global talent pool, hosting some of the world’s leading tech multinationals. There is no reason why digital learning cannot be adopted at scale in Kenya.
The writer is Partner, A.M Communications Limited.