For many years the catchphrase ‘one laptop per child’ in primary schools appeared to be just an empty promise. On a recurrent basis, there have been initiatives to improve digital literacy among Kenyan children, but the poor infrastructure in many schools and the lack of relevant high-quality content has always been a huge obstacle.
Developing 21st century skills nationwide – an impossible dream?
In the past year, a very specific plan has been unveiled in Kenya to make laptops available for all primary schools: the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP). This programme aims not only to deliver computer devices but also to provide basic infrastructure for all public primary schools in Kenya.
We have to admit, we were skeptical at first. The government faced a huge challenge and from our own experience, we know too well what that is like. On a daily basis we see the harsh conditions that many public schools have to deal with. If possible at all, it would take a lot of time, money and effort to make all public primary schools ready for the 21st century with the needed access to electricity, devices and relevant content to achieve digital literacy.
A Programme that takes shape in front of our eyes
As months went by, the government’s plan started to look much more realistic and feasible than any previous initiative to foster digital education. It involved providing laptops and tablet devices to all children starting their primary school education and it addressed the infrastructure issues that we were so concerned about. More and more schools were being connected to mains electricity and supplied with solar panels and other power solutions to make sure they have a reliable source of electricity. Training sessions were being kicked off to prepare teachers to use digital devices and materials in class.
By May 2016 over 22,200 schools finally had power and the authorities were almost finishing their work providing electricity to the remaining schools. We also heard that the government started the pilot phase of the programme in 150 schools, delivering 12,000 devices to primary school students.1 It started to feel like digital literacy was getting closer to the children of Kenya. The DLP was approaching the infrastructure challenges head on.
Another promising factor of this Programme was that the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) was also involved and they play the key role in bridging the digital content gap. KICD is the sole official government body in charge of vetting all print and digital content to be used in public primary schools across Kenya. They make sure the content meets all the necessary quality criteria and adheres to the national curriculum but they were facing a challenge as there really was not that much digital content available, vetted and ready to go.
a-ACADEMY, the right product for the right time
If KICD was on the lookout for great digital content aligned with the curriculum, we had it. Our digital learning platform, a-ACADEMY, had content for science standard 6 that was already vetted and approved.
Before we could plan our way forward we received a phone call we did not expect. In that call KICD invited us to take part in the DLP. They wanted our a-ACADEMY to contribute to this ambitious, huge-scale project by installing it in all the devices to be delivered to all public schools in Kenya! That call meant a lot to us, we could see a-ACADEMY met the needs of KICD and of the DLP and it meant that in spite of the hurdles, we had worked in the right direction developing high-quality locally-relevant content. For us, it has always been essential to adhere to all regulations of the Ministry of Education and we worked hard to maintain international quality standards.
Our answer was clear. We would, of course, be ready to participate and we would be happy to donate our content to the Digital Literacy Programme.
KICD was very grateful for our donation but there was some more work to be done and it had to be done in record time. Text format changes were needed, further quality tests were run, there were fights with stubborn content management systems that refused to work at precisely the wrong moment, there was uploading of files, downloading of files and battles with an internet connection seemed to have never been so slow! Luckily our Avallain Author, an online authoring tool that Avallain AG generously shares with us, was a key time saver that made our lives easy. None of us are software experts and with this tool we could easily make quick changes and include all the technical requests from KICD to make our donation on time.
Finally, a-ACADEMY was zipped and uploaded, all the requested changes made exactly on time to meet the deadline. And one day, there it was, an appreciation letter from KICD saying that the content had been successfully received and handed over to the device manufacturer to be preinstalled in all devices for the deployment to all public primary schools in Kenya. We were looking at that message and yet we were not quite believing it.
A real scale up – from 200 to 20,000 schools
According to the plan, a-ACADEMY content is now being preinstalled on all the devices to be donated to primary schools by the government. This means that by the end of 2017 as many as 1.2 million devices with a-ACADEMY’s digital material should reach over 22,000 public primary schools, with some sources mentioning as many as 23,951 schools.2 Most Kenyan schools have an average of 1,000 students each. We had to take a second before we could put those figures together.
Of course, doing the math, once we had a moment, was easy, much easier than reaching every single public school in Kenya will be, but this was exactly the kind of scale up we knew a-ACADEMY needed and could live up to. The work ahead as part of the Digital Literacy Programme will without a doubt, face many hurdles. At the same time it will give an amazing push to digital education in schools where currently up to 17 children have to share a book and where teacher absenteeism is a very big problem.
At Avallain Foundation we are proud to be part of providing those who need it most with a new way of learning that will provide them with essential skills to unlock their potential. We cannot wait to see how the Digital Literacy Programme unravels and the impact it has.
1 Figures from http://www.icta.go.ke/digital-literacy-programme-progress-may-2016/
2 Figures from http://www.iafrikan.com/2016/10/04/kenya-laptop-project/
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
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