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CBC, digital government services throw lifeline to printing, cyber business


Grade Two pupils fly kites during environmental activities at Nyeri Good Shepherd School on January 22, 2020. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

Ms Patricia Rima has been spending a minimum of Sh100 every week on printing assignments for her six-year-old son in grade two.

She is among thousands of parents flocking back to cyber cafés to print assignments sent in softcopy by teachers, after the introduction of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

“You can be told to download images of animals, cut them, do mosaic or collage and paste on the book. This will cost me Sh10 to Sh30 for a coloured print depending on the cyber café and it could be even five pages,” Ms Rima adds.

“It is a total expense.”

Such expenses are pulling many cyber cafés back from the road to closure. For the longest time, the businesses were largely used for browsing services. However, with increased usage of laptops, smartphones, and growth in internet connectivity, this had dropped. Like other businesses caught behind the technological curve, it looked like the door was finally about to close on them.

Well, that was until CBC threw them a lifeline.

“Our services have been facilitating access to Kenya Revenue Authority services as well as the e-citizen portal, lamination of important documents, and taking and printing passport photos,’’ says 21-year-old Dominic Okumu of Vimatech cyber café on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue.

“Today we attend to customers with assignments every day. Sometimes the pages could be 10 to 15. There is more business on that.”

The operator charges Sh5 for normal photocopy, Sh10 for black and white print out and Sh20 for coloured print.

The businesses had in the past decades expanded due to limited technology and electricity.

The internet shops were concentrated in Nairobi city centre and soon cropped up in residential areas as traditional postal mail services were gradually dropped in favour of online mail addresses, and further boosted by online government services which usually require printing of documents like tax compliance certificates.

The growth was also driven by public and private universities with strained facilities like computer labs that necessitated the need for students to use cyber cafés to do assignments, research projects, and photocopy reading materials.

Some of the government services that the cyber and the printing businesses have been facilitating include visa applications, filing tax returns, land searches, driving licence renewal, and business registration. But with the establishment of Huduma Centres in counties to ease access to such services at no extra fee, it looked like their goose was cooked.

New threats

It also did not augur well that the operators were facing threats due to high internet connectivity and increased access to home internet.

Kenya’s internet connections were at 43.7 million in the quarter to March, according to data by the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA).

This was against active mobile subscriptions (SIMs) at 62.0 million bringing mobile (SIM) penetration at 130.3 percent implying that some of the services requested at the cafés could now be done on mobile phones.

To survive, most of the shops incorporate other services including mobile money agencies, movies, and turned their spaces into entertainment hubs for computer games.

But with the introduction of CBC, their printing machines are humming once again and boosting their incomes.

The curriculum was introduced following increased skills gap complaints by employers over the disconnect between school content and the world of work.

The previous system composed of eight years of primary education, four years of secondary school, and another four years of college or university had been criticised for bias in producing a high number of white-collar workers while ignoring sectors that depended on technical skills.

The new curriculum is targeting manufacturing, science, technology and engineering, mining and self-employment, and entrepreneurship.

The reform was meant to make the country’s education system more efficient and prepare learners for modern economy.

However, now parents have raised concerns about the costs involved with the implementation of the CBC system.

Parents complain about the type of assignments they take home, questioning the money spent on purchasing materials in school projects, downloading and printing materials.

For parents with more than one child have been forced to buy their own printers to cut costs with the assignments and traders are already cashing in on the demand.

Altimate Business Machines in Nairobi has been stocking imported second-hand printers. Besides parents, other customers are schools and printing bureaus near learning institutions.

The business hopes to make a kill from the system especially for desktop printers and from businesses that will be launching to take advantage of the CBC system.

Commercial printers range from Sh30,000 to Sh200,000, depending on purpose and models, while the desktop printers for light office work or home use with smaller cartridges cost from Sh7000 to Sh20,000.

The businesses were previously located along River Road but are shifting to the city centre.