The first phase of Kenya's Digital Literacy Programme (DLP) is set to kick off following the successful completion of a pilot project, and the arrival of 160,000 laptops and tablet devices from China.

The project came to the limelight as part of the Jubilee government's pre-election manifesto, with President Uhuru Kenyatta announcing that his government would equip children joining primary school with laptops. Since then, challenges with the procurement of these devices have led to several postponements, but these appear to have been overcome with the completion of a successful pilot project and awarding of tenders for supply and maintenance of the devices.

The Government allocated KES17.58 billion (US$167 million) for deployment of ICT learning devices to schools in the 2015 budget, which will be used to develop digital content, building the capacity of teachers and set up computer laboratories in public schools throughout the country.

The ICT Authority of Kenya is the lead agency in the project, which will oversee the distribution of 600,000 learning devices for learners and teachers to 11,000 schools during the first phase, which will run in October and November 2016.

We are now starting on a journey that will without a doubt transform not just the education sector but the entire economy. When we put these devices in the hands of our children, we are securing not just their future but that of the country and look forward to being a global IT power house in a few years. Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary for ICT

In its entirety, the project will be implemented in all 23,951 public primary schools in the country, with over 1.2 million devices expected by March 2017 at a cost of KES29 billion (US$286 million). To facilitate this, the Government has also connected the schools to mains electricity, with the more remote areas receiving solar power kits and other off-grid power solutions.

Digital Content

The devices will be preloaded with interactive digital content for pupils undertaking the first two years of primary education, and it will cover 5 subjects: Kiswahili, English, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies.

This content has been created by the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD), and is available for schools upon registration. Approximately 20,000 schools have already registered for the program.

The teachers will use laptops and server and wireless router in addition are preloaded with the teacher training curricula on ICT integration, Teachers training manual on ICT and a resource kit for teachers. KICD has also completed preparing interactive content for visually impaired pupils in the five subjects.

The project aims to integrate ICT into the teaching and learning process and management of education in primary schools by equipping public primary schools with appropriate ICT infrastructure to support teaching and learning process.

Political posturing or long-term thinking?

There are those who argue that the project is nothing more than political posturing, given the speed at which it has been implemented compared to other similar projects. Others contend that the funding would be better used to improve existing infrastructure, paying teachers, and sealing the gaps that are keeping more than half of all the pupils that take the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam from transitioning onwards to secondary school.

One shortcoming of the current education system in Kenya is the lack of capacity among education managers, primary school teachers and other stakeholders to ensure that the pupils are fully engaged in the teaching-learning process. This is because Kenya's education system is heavily skewed towards examinations rather than ensuring the pupils are actually learning.

However, given the need for education reform in Kenya, the digital literacy programme could go a long way towards boosting the ICT skills that are seriously lacking among Kenyan pupils. Uwezo Kenya’s β€˜Are Our Children Learning’ report shows that there is a real need to teach basic literacy and numeracy.

The report states that 51% of children aged 6 - 16 years were competent in English literacy in 2011, rising to 54.4% in 2015. This means that almost half of all children in primary school are unable to read at the level prescribed for their age.

The digital learning programme is one way to address this, making the evaluation process much more streamlined, and engaging the pupils in a learning environment that will be standardized throughout the country.

Although the programme was initiated with the main purpose of enhancing learning in public primary schools through the use of digital technologies, CS Joe Mucheru stated in an op-ed in the Daily Nation, it has transferred secondary benefits, ranging from lighting up far-flung areas that had no electricity to facilitating community participation in education matters.

Kenya's digital learning experiment comes with the burden of expectation that these devices will help to bridge the country's persistent education gap. While they may not replace the teacher in the classroom, the devices will go a long way towards making the education system a lot fairer, giving a chance to pupils in marginalized areas to learn at the same pace as their better-resourced compatriots. Additionally, the benefit of interacting with technology at an early age cannot be overstated. Hopefully, this inclusive approach will pay dividends down the line.

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