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Of failed school laptop project and sobering lessons it offers

By The Standard | February 26th 2019

Five years after the projected launch of the primary schools laptop project, the government has finally admitted it is not viable. Instead, the Ministry of Education plans to set up one computer laboratory for each of the 25,000 primary schools across Kenya.

It all got off to a bad start when bidders in the project that would have led to the procurement of 1.3 million laptops went to court in 2014. This followed the mystery around Olive Telecommunications which, despite having initially quoted Sh32 billion against the government’s set budget of Sh12 billion, won the tender.

Having determined the tender had been irregularly awarded to Olive Telecommunications, Justice Weldon Korir of the High Court stopped fresh bidding following the cancellation of the previous one by the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board. The ruling was a blessing in disguise for the Jubilee administration that was experiencing financial constraints.

In a bid to save face, the Jubilee administration opted to supply select primary schools with the tablets in a pilot programme, but even that hit a dead end leaving most Standard One pupils across the country a disappointed lot. In all, more than Sh20 billion has been spent in the aborted project with little to show for it. There were concerns about prioritisation. For example, what mattered more to a pupil in West Pokot or Mandera studying under a tree and most probably with an empty stomach. A laptop or a classroom or food?

Though the latest undertaking to build computer laboratories inspires little confidence, to many, it is a better option. The intention of the whole project was noble considering that we live in a digital era. It is the execution that has been appalling. In fact, it seems the project was conceptualised without much thought and little planning going into it.

The inability by the Jubilee administration to execute the project arises not just from the court cases or the ensuing corruption through tendering, it is also because its proponents did not benefit from the results of feasibility studies. Indeed, the failed project is a demonstration of the folly of using populist pronouncements during political campaigns to rally supporters.

The project scope and mode of execution changed severally over time; from one laptop per child to a laboratory in each of the 25,000 public primary schools; from private suppliers to universities as suppliers.

Nonetheless, computer laboratories will serve the purpose, perhaps even better.

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