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Digitruck driving Kenya's digital revolution

SCI & TECH
By Peter Theuri | February 16th 2021

Consider this: a classroom lumbering down the road to your doorstep. You are in some marginalized village somewhere in the semi-arid expanses in Kenya. Here, pupils learn under trees, or in classrooms which often resemble cow sheds, especially when the rains come.

But now, a classy classroom, packed with computers, virtual reality headsets and built in Wi-Fi is driving down to the heart of the village. This is where students will be introduced into the digital world.

It sounds utopian. Unrealistic, even. School coming to students, not the vice versa. Rooms equipped with facilities not seen before in these areas.

But that is precisely what Huawei rolled out in Kenya in January 2020. They introduced DigiTruck, and the future has never looked brighter.

A converted shipping container on wheels, DigiTruck has been moving around the country to places where it is needed most, reaching communities that conventional classrooms can’t.

Equipped with 20 laptops, 20 VR headsets, and built in Wi-Fi, each DigiTruck serves as a temporary digital school that provides free classes, resources, and materials. With courses running for up to a month, DigiTruck can help close the digital gap by expanding digital literacy.

The impact was so huge that students who were interacting with computers, some of them, for the first time in their lives could dream.

“This was the first time I was taught how to use a computer and it’s had a real impact on me. Now things are much easier and I’m planning to set up my own business using technology,” said Carolyn Mbeneka Onesmua, a DigiTruck student.

It is a huge impact of the Huawei programme that has helped breach Kenya’s digital divide.

“Digital poverty is a real challenge in Kenya. This program unites a range of organizations willing to get together and support those who need help most,” said Olivier Vanden, Managing Director, Close the Gap, Kenya.

And the government voiced its support for the programme.

“The Government of Kenya is committed to expanding young people’s opportunities through digital skills and training opportunities to fully integrate into the country’s technological transformation. We focus on facilitating Internet connectivity in schools and digital training skills which are some of the key ways to improve equitable and quality education. As the Ministry charged with the national youth mandate, education is one of our priority policy areas for youth development. We seek to empower youth and harness their potential in sustainable development by building a qualified and competent youth workforce, developing talent, creativity and innovation,” said Nadia Ahmed Abdalla, Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs at the TECH4ALL Summit at Huawei Connect 2020.

The DigiTruck is a solar-powered mobile classroom equipped with internet and smart devices. The initiative, supported by various partners including the Ministry of Information, Communication, Technology and Youth Affairs, UNESCO, GSMA, and Safaricom, contributes to the government’s Ajira initiative by enabling youth in rural areas to get the digital skills they need to thrive in society and the world of work.

It is a conducive room that affords students serenity and ample space to learn.

“The class was very interesting and has given me an essential life skill. The truck was well-maintained and I found it a really conducive environment to learn in,” said Faith Chepkirui, a student.

Training on the truck is provided by Computers for Schools Kenya (CFSK) in a 20 to 40 hour course. The course covers using computers; common document, spreadsheets and presentation software; smartphones and the internet, so that they can find jobs, buy and sell products, study online and take advantage of the Ajira platform. They also learn about e-waste and online safety.

“I’ve learned a lot about computers and I would like to learn more, so that in the future I can be an example for others with disabilities,” says Sharon Chepng’eno a DigiTruck student.

Chepng’eno is living with a hearing disability and says that she would like to see other people living with disability enroll for the training in the second round.

The project was directed into remote areas of Kenya to provide digital skills training for local youth in pursuit of digital equality. It has penetrated 10 counties, and more than 1,500 students have directly benefited, accumulating a training time of more than 20,000 hours.

On December 23, at Digitruck's graduation ceremony and one-year anniversary ceremony in Nyeri County, Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications, expressed his gratitude to Huawei for bringing digital connectivity to young people across the country, helping them get crucial digital skills training and thus improve their employability.

Julius Korir, Principle Secretary for Youth Affairs, said that the government joined hands with Huawei to work together on their CSR program, the DigiTruck.

“Now we have trained over 1,500 youth across different counties through the DigiTruck.”

The DigiTruck program is one aspect of Huawei's digital skills trainings that include other programs for training youth at 42 Kenyan universities through their ICT Acadamies and technical and vocational education and training institutions nationwide. The graduates also learn about e-waste and online safety.

The program is part of Huawei's wider Tech4all, a digital inclusion initiative focusing on three main areas of technology, application and skills to empower people and organizations across the globe. The DigiTruck has been moving around Kenya providing digital skills. After a three-month pause when the pandemic first broke, the DigiTruck resumed operations again in line with the Kenyan government health protocols.

And amid the pandemic, students needed digital qualities more than ever. The digital divide in the country meant that a lot of students were unable to access classes, as noted CAS Abdalla.

“Those without a secure and reliable digital connection are at an unacceptably widening disadvantage. We need connection which provides continuity and virtual access both of which are vital. When the digital difference between ‘have’ vs. ‘have not’ becomes ‘know’ vs. ‘know not’, our future is at risk.”

And as some of Kenya’s most vulnerable people continue to wallow in poverty, Huawei bridges the gap by taking computer classes to those that might never have gotten that education.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made the rift even more pronounced. But Huawei has committed to continue supporting the DigiTruck in 2021 to reach more youth in more counties.

In its first year of operations the DigiTruck provided over 22,000 hours of training for youth in the counties of Bomet, Embu, Kericho, Laikipia, Machakos, Meru, Nandi and Nyeri.

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