New push to bridge digital divide in Kenyan schools

A US-based Kenyan techpreneur unveiled SereneStudy, an e-learning site which he says shields children from online predators while giving parents peace of mind. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • So far, 32,670 students have been connected to the internet, with connectivity speed upgraded from 3G to 4G across 90 schools to allow a faster browsing experience.
  • Nokia’s meshed WiFi Beacon technology is used to boost the internet signal in selected classrooms and computer labs.

Kenya’s widening digital divide has been loudly criticised across technology forums, but new efforts by a number of companies and organisations are gradually changing that.

One of such initiatives is by the global telecom network company Nokia, in partnership with Safaricom, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and Kenya’s ministries of Education and ICT.

The project involves providing 4G internet access to schools in rural as well as disadvantaged urban areas where students can plug in on connectivity just as their counterparts in developed urban areas.

Both rural and disadvantaged peri-urban students have already benefited from the digital literacy initiative, but more remote schools are now the target to ensure no student is left out of the current industrial revolution.

So far, 32,670 students have been connected to the internet, with connectivity speed upgraded from 3G to 4G across 90 schools to allow a faster browsing experience as students amass more knowledge from the internet to complement what they study in class.

The schools are now utilising Nokia’s FastMile 4G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband to enjoy reliable, high-speed connectivity delivered over Safaricom’s 4G/LTE (Long Term Evolution) network.

Nokia’s meshed WiFi Beacon technology is used to boost the internet signal in selected classrooms and computer labs.

Nokia’s senior vice president for the Middle East and Africa market Amr El Leithy, SVP, told Business Daily that the company aims at providing “broadband for all.”

“With remote learning becoming the prevailing issue during the Covid-19 pandemic, the topic of digital equity takes centre stage again, so we are excited that this collaboration will facilitate access to many students currently unconnected,” he said.

The Nokia FastMile solution allows Safaricom to build profitably on its existing Radio Access Network (RAN) installed base and idle spectrum so it can offer fixed wireless broadband to remote schools.

Peter Ndegwa, CEO of Safaricom said that as part of the company’s Transforming Lives initiative, it is critical to partner with companies that allow it to deliver social impact in areas aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Our shared value partnership with Nokia and UNICEF allows us to connect schools in underprivileged areas and increase access to digital literacy. This will ensure that the students there are not left behind when it comes to reaping the benefits of an ever-increasing digital society,” he noted.

The FastMile solution includes customer premise equipment with a built-in modem and antenna, a cloud-based controller for point of sales, monitoring and control, and smartphone applications for installation and support.

“This is an initiative we are very proud to be a part of and hope that it is a significant step to a brighter future for all those reaping its benefits,” added Mr El Leithy.

While underpinning the fact that children have a right to access to quality education, Unicef Kenya Country Representative Maniza Zaman said for too long, the digital divide in Kenya has prevented disadvantaged children from enjoying the same benefits as their connected peers.

“By connecting schools to the Internet – with a focus on the most disadvantaged areas – we can start to level the playing field. This allows students and teachers to gain digital skills and access the latest education materials, providing a brighter future for some of the most vulnerable children in Kenya.”

Nokia WiFi Beacons support the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard and use algorithms to detect and mitigate potential issues at school in real-time.

The Beacons always select the strongest Wi-Fi channel and ensure that student devices are connected in the best possible way to maximise their broadband experience.

The Wi-Fi network can be seamlessly extended by adding Beacons to avoid any dead spots in the school. A mobile app brings ease of installation and management to the student or anyone in the school compound.

Nokia aims to continue to connect more and more schools across Kenya.

Nokia, which has collaborated with Safaricom for 20 years, was an integral player when the telco launched the 5G network in Kenya last March, the first 5G deployment in Eastern Africa and the third in Africa.

In an exclusive interview, Nokia’s Safaricom Customer Team Head Ramy Hashem told Digital Business that the company contributed roughly a third of the entire 5G deployment.

“Nokia continues to develop the Western region of Kenya through the introduction of a 5G network in Kisumu city,” he said.

For undergraduates, Masters and PhD students, he said, Nokia’s 5G technology will enable new applications and research in areas such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence, telemedicine, Internet of Things, gaming, traffic control and driverless cars.

“Our radio network’s ultra-low latency and extreme capacity provide students with ultra-fast mobile broadband and high bandwidth required for data-intensive applications, 4K video streaming and downloading,” he added.

Next-generation network power could alter how teachers and students interact with each other and their materials.

With high bandwidth and low latency network, Nokia says heavy processing and rendering could potentially move off a VR headset and into the cloud, allowing wearers longer battery life, lighter hardware and—eventually—lower cost, which could help increase accessibility of the devices.

When this writer visited Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology’s School of Medicine, students were being instructed by Stanford University how to perform various surgeries via VR headsets through an enhanced 4G network. But with Nokia now focusing on introducing 5G in the region, think of such students experiencing even more immersive technology that takes them step inside various human body organs, immensely boosting accuracy in surgery.

With near-real-time response, 5G in education offers the potential for new paths of instruction and classroom engagement and is expected to enable Kenyan students to not only learn how to use advanced technologies but also how to develop and create with them.

With 5G able to handle up to 1 million connected devices per square kilometer simultaneously, it is poised to become the network of choice during graduation ceremonies where thousands of users gather in a small network zone, with services such as video calls, mobile money and data sessions being in high use.

Nokia believes 5G will be used as a bridge between AR and real-life classrooms for all ages. Lifelong learning in Kenya could reach new levels of productivity with holographic instructors and concepts that emerge from textbooks and videos, and become immediate reality.

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