Kenya’s laptops for schools project shapes up amid protest
By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya
Kenya’s ambitious plan to provide standard one pupils with laptops, starting next year, has started to take shape as a section of stakeholders protest over the implementation strategy.
Unlike earlier projections that all class one pupils would receive laptops, it is now emerging, the project would be rolled out in three phases.
According to a proposal presented to the Parliament Committee on Education Science and Technology by the Education cabinet secretary, Prof Jacob Kaimenyi, Sh75 billion will be required to roll out the project at once.
Prof Kaimenyi said it is not feasible to set aside sh75billion, and the sh28,000 that each laptop is projected to cost would be too high for parents. The first phase will cost Sh22 billion, meaning only about 425,000 pupils will be provided with the laptops starting in January 2014, out of the 1.3 million children expected to join Standard One.
After phase one, over 7,000 schools will be targeted for the second and third phase, which will be done in the second and third year respectively.
The government said parents and the pupils will bear the burden of replacing the gadgets if lost or damaged.
Kaimenyi said a method had been developed to identify how each of the 20, 367 primary schools will get the project fully rolled out.
One school close to the electricity mains grid and another one far away from the grid have been pinpointed meaning 6,275 schools benefit in the first phase. Prof Kaimenyi said the Education ministry will select half of the remaining schools for second year with the remaining schools will benefit in the third phase.
He also said government will require over Sh3 billion to install charging cabinets and secure laptops storage rooms. According to the proposals each school shall receive four new laptops two projectors and a printer for teachers. This would cost Sh13.7 billion.
A section of Kenyans have differing opinion on the project with some saying parents should not be overburdened with the role of replacing lost or damaged laptops.
Others are wondering why the government cannot opt for solar laptops for all schools and instead discriminate against schools far away from electricity grid in the roll out of the project.
According to a political analyst and former journalist David Makali, this project is fraught with too many challenges and the Jubilee administration should not proceed as if its survival and life depends on it.
“There is urgent need for a reality check… reason must prevail over populism and sentimentalism. How many more urgent needs are there to fix our primary education - from teachers to classrooms and basic things before you climb up the technology ladder? Elementary things first… let's equip all secondary schools with computer labs before we escalate that to primary schools in the next phase-5yrs down the road,” argues Makali.
Concurring with Mr. Makali, Grace Githaiga, a technology expert said there is need for a strategy on the entire undertaking and the need to get it right from the outset.
“Never mind that I thought these laptops would "solar-powered". But now it looks like if you are lucky to live near an electricity pole, your luck doubles as you get a bonus benefit of a laptop. If you happen to live very far from one (think of Pokot, Turkana, Tana River, Wajir, etc) your tough luck just got tougher. I can’t think of a better way of "extending" rather than "bridging" the digital divide,” decries John Walubengo on an online forum.