Former SA president Nelson Mandela said that the internet and education are the two great equalizers in life, leveling the playing field for people, companies and countries worldwide. Those words from the iconic leader must have inspired our president elect Uhuru Kenyatta when he promised Kenyans one solar powered laptop per kid entering primary school. It may sound simple to execute but this is a huge project that requires massive budgetary allocations from treasury and thus could be a channel for corrupt government officials to siphon out money through the scheme.
Laptops of course mean greater access to technology, information, and content nationwide, increased student interest in their education & development of 21st century skills and integration of teaching technology that supports improved learning. Sounds like a good plan however the government has to emphasize that it’s the student, the teacher, the parent, the community—not just the technology and the laptops that will work hard collaboratively to improve the learning outcomes. Secondly for effective learning to take place we must inspire kids to not only consume information but generate it, to produce ideas and share knowledge.
Teachers represent a critical element in the success of this initiative; in an e-Learning environment the teacher must be the guide, mentor, facilitator, and coach to improve education outcomes and help students develop 21st century skills. School administrators too are primarily responsible for adherence to policy, applying governance on usage of the e-Learning environment, and ensuring that the environment is operational.
Professional development of primary school teachers thus needs to be put in place now for the e-learning program to be successful. Teachers and administrators must keep up with the changing environment of technology to provide the best resources for the program. The resources used for ongoing professional development may also be used for ongoing curriculum and content integration. Once the program is launched KIE can also allow teachers to share newly developed content, and collaborate on content creation.
Secondly the government must work with professional organizations, such as teachers unions and other societies to support the initiative and lobby their members to embrace ICT.
Some of the limiting factors of the program include; the availability of content, teachers trained specifically in the use of ICT with younger children, theft and proper handling of ICT equipment by the young ones. Finally should the students keep their laptops at school until they develop the necessary carefulness this could be a security challenge to schools as break-ins may become the order of the day!
That said let us examine what the free laptops program requires to become a successful e-learning program;
COMPONENTS OF AN E-LEARNING PROGRAM
1. Technology-Affordable, rugged, energy-efficient, state-of-the-art computer technology designed for educational environments. This also includes all hardware involved in the program and all other aspects of the technical infrastructure.
2. Connectivity-Affordable, high-speed Internet connectivity to rural and remote areas, and intranet connectivity within schools and communities. This includes all connectivity modes—wired and wireless, WiFi, WiMAX, and others.
3. Localized digital content-Collaborative rich-media applications, content, and curriculum material, localized for language and culture, and mapped to local curriculum standards.
4. Improved teaching methods and professional development-Interactive and collaborative teaching methods that help current teachers deliver engaging lessons with the support of ICT. This must be coupled with readily available professional development to help teachers acquire the necessary ICT skills to assist students and to integrate technology into the education process.
In order to put an effective program together, there are additional considerations that help facilitate implementation:
1. Making any policy changes that may be needed; often administrative policies need to be created or revised to make e-Learning changes possible, infrastructure development policy, educational policy too needs to be examined to allow e-Learning appropriate measures of school success and funding policy to be reviewed and revised as needed
2. Sources of funding. The government of Kenya and other government agencies will typically be the primary sources of funding for the free laptops initiative. This funding can take many forms—from direct subsidies and low-interest loans, to VATs and duties whose proceeds are applied to an e-Learning program, to reduction in VATs and duties on goods and services purchased by the e-Learning program.
Other sources of funding
Telcos could partner with the Ministry of Education to advertise and increase awareness, Non-Government Agencies such as USAID, World Bank and Public Private Sector Partnerships where a private sector company e.g. Samsung or Toshiba may provide some form of capital investment, while the government provides something like matching funds, supportive government services, an in-kind contribution, or perhaps a contract.Donations (in kind) by laptop manufacturers and organizations too will help the program. Used laptops from the west could also be used locally for the program however this shouldn't encourage electronic dumping of obsolete gadgets no longer needed in the west.
3. Working with the commercial ecosystem (vendors) some of these companies are local, such as regional internet service providers and value-added resellers (VARs) of computer equipment and services. Others are Microsoft and Intel.
Finally please note that the free laptops isn’t the silver-bullet solution to all that ails primary education in Kenya; the Africa Learning barometer shows that there is a deeper learning crisis that needs to be addressed to raise standards and improve learning outcomes. Teaching is at the heart of the learning crisis and epidemic levels of teacher absenteeism.
That said Hon Uhuru Kenyatta Kenyans will be waiting for the laptops after you are inaugurated as the 4th president of the republic of Kenya!