How Jubilee’s Digital Dream And Laptop Project Fizzled
Notably, the Jubilee administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, pledged in 2013 to provide laptops/computers to primary school children in order to improve digital literacy.
In their commitment, the duo promised to provide all Grade One students with a laptop to help with the digital transition.’ The dream has yet to be realized, nearly ten years later.
Questions have been raised about the project with less than a month until the end of the Jubilee government’s second term.
The initiative suffered many storms, from being renamed from the Laptops Project to the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP) to going through numerous budgetary reviews as the government struggled with its implementation.
Tender cancellations and lengthy court cases also hampered the project’s start.
Despite the challenges, the government rose to the occasion and formed a multi-stakeholder team led by Dr Fred Matiang’i and the ICT Authority (ICTA) to relaunch the initiative.
Two public universities were finally chosen to carry out the long-awaited DLP project, the budget of which had been reduced to Sh19 billion.
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and Positivo BGH were chosen to implement the project.
The most important aspect, however, was making appropriate learning and teaching content available via the Kenya Education Cloud (www.kec.ac.ke).
Perhaps the most serious criticism leveled at the laptop project is its inability to act as a lever when schools were closed for nine months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The global coronavirus pandemic exposed the flaws in the noble project, which was supposed to integrate ICT in schools and provide solutions during lockdowns.
Even after eight years and billions of dollars invested in the project, teaching and learning in public primary schools came to a halt during COVID 19, with the government resorting to radio programs to exploit the situation.
If everything had gone as planned by Uhuru and Ruto, children who started in Class One when Uhuru took power in 2013 would be in Class Eight when COVID-19 hit in 2020.
As the first group to benefit from the laptop project, learners in all classes would have their own laptops by the end of the year, assuming the government supplied laptops to every student entering Class One in subsequent years.
As a result, when schools closed in March, the devices could have been used in teaching and learning.
Instead, there has been little to no change; schools, teachers, and students are still reliant on traditional learning materials such as textbooks, handwritten notes, and handmade charts hung on classroom walls.
The big question was, what happened to the more than one million learning devices that were lavishly distributed across the country?
The government, on the other hand, has declared the project a success and celebrated its efforts in establishing a digitally propelled learning environment.
However, according to various interviews in this report, the government has repeatedly failed to keep its initial promise.
After 2013, the Uhuru administration took a sluggish approach to complete the much-touted laptop project.
The Ministry of ICT was in charge of procuring and distributing digital devices for use in schools.
The Ministry of Education was tasked with identifying schools, ensuring readiness, training teachers, and coordinating the distribution of devices to schools.
Today, reports from education officials to parliament, as well as accounts from dozens of teachers and other stakeholders, show that the laptop project encountered major gaps in its implementation.
The first gaps identified in the project’s pipe laying were a lack of electricity in schools and teachers who had no or little training in using ICT on a personal and classroom level.
According to the Monitoring and Evaluation for Digital Learning conducted by the Education Ministry in 2015, teachers lacked adequate ICT skills to integrate the digital learning solution into teaching and learning.
It took up to three years to iron out these issues before the project could begin; first, the Jubilee government laid out an ambitious plan to connect schools to electricity.
This was accomplished between 2013 and 2015 as part of the last mile project.
According to a document presented to parliament in 2020 by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, a total of 20,622 schools were also connected to the national electricity grid during the same period.
In preparation, the Education Ministry conducted a digital learning pilot in 150 schools that were given digital devices, and it also trained 60, 000 teachers in the use of ICT in teaching and learning.
After laying the groundwork, the ICT Authority announced in 2016 that a consortium led by Moi University and JP SA Couto had won the tender to supply tablets to schools in 26 counties, while Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Positivo BGH were awarded one lot covering 21 counties.
Learners received the famous luminous green learners’ digital device pre-installed with interactive content for lower primary, grades 1 to 3, while teachers received a blue teachers’ digital device.
In addition, each school would receive a projector, server, and router.
In 2017, ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru testified before the Senate Committee on Education that 21,637 public primary schools received 1,168,798 devices, accounting for 99.6 percent of the contracted 21,729 schools in Phase One of the project.
According to a June 2020 report, devices had been installed in 21,638 public primary schools, accounting for 99.6 percent of the contracted 21,729 schools under DLP Phase I.
A total of 1,169,000 devices for regular and special-needs education have been installed.
By this point, approximately 331,000 teachers had been trained on ICT integration, with 218,253 trained on CBC and another 93,009 trained on ICT and device utilization.
In terms of power connectivity, 22,927 schools have been connected to power, with 19,042 public primary schools connected to the national grid and 3,239 public primary schools powered by solar.
Headteachers weigh in on the project, revealing how the tablets have since remained locked in storage rooms and unused.
There were times when there were no storage rooms or lockers. Devices were occasionally stolen.
Kenya Primary Schools Head Association chairman Johnson Nzioka explained that teachers were only trained once and that only two teachers were trained in each school.
The plan was for them to serve as trainers in their respective schools, resulting in a pool of ICT-savvy teachers.
However, Nzioka admits that many teachers in public schools are still hesitant to use ICT solutions in teaching and learning.
Some of those who benefited from the training has now retired, leaving a significant gap in attempting to incorporate ICT into teaching and learning.
Magoha stated before the Senate Information Technology Committee that the Ministry has continued to collaborate with the various stakeholders in the program through the TSC to increase teachers’ competencies in handling the DLP solution at the school level.
In 2020, the Education Ministry launched an online training program for teachers in ICT to address the critical and unmet need for incorporating digital learning in schools.
By the time this report was published, ICTA had not provided The Standard with updated data on program take-up.
According to interviews with principals, another gap was the inability to continuously supply the gadgets, as the government only supplied the tablets once.
This means that devices purchased for one class are now shared with other classes in subsequent years.
Moreover, despite the government’s strategic decision to first connect schools to electricity before launching the project, head teachers reported that the majority of schools remain dark.
In response to Senators’ questions in 2019, CS Magoha admitted that power connectivity challenges for schools include: power disconnection—with some institutions disconnected from power due to non-payment of power bills, faulty solar systems, and some schools still not connected to power.
In 2018, a report by then-Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed to conduct a curriculum assessment discovered that national implementation of the digital literacy program stood at 5%.
However, various officials in charge of its implementation criticized the report, citing the government’s decision to use laboratories in the second phase of the digital literacy program.
The Education Ministry announced in 2020 that it intends to establish computer laboratories (smart classrooms) in all public primary schools in Kenya as part of the Digital Literacy Programme.
The labs will serve students in Grades 4, 5, and 6, and the construction of computer laboratories in the 23,000 public primary schools is expected to cost Sh1.5 billion.
The theme of Phase II of the Digital Literacy Programme (2019-2022) is “Using to Learn,” as opposed to Phase I’s theme of “Learn to Use.”
This is intended to expose students to technological learning tools that will help them improve their creativity and innovation.
The second phase involved connecting schools to the internet so that teachers and students could benefit from the larger pool of devices.
In a document submitted to the Senate Committee on Information Technology, CS Magoha stated that the government is currently developing a Schoolnet Strategy to provide internet connectivity to schools.
For effective content download, schools should have at least 10MB of bandwidth connectivity.
Over 1000 schools [one per ward] have been identified as part of UNICEF’s phase 1 SchoolNet connectivity project.
Magoha notes in the document that they encountered challenges in terms of cost implications of establishing Internet connectivity to schools and logistics, given that some intuitions are located in remote and difficult-to-reach areas of the country.