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Jubilee laptops project that failed Kenyan child

By Augustine Oduor | April 28th 2020
Class One pupils from Getembe Primary School in Kisii follow instruction from their teacher in a pilot programme with the tablets in 2016. Had the project succeeded, it would have filled the current education void caused by the coronavirus pandemic. [Denish Ochieng', Standard]

When Jubilee Government committed to provide all Standard One pupils with a laptop in 2013, the Education sector was excited.

Kenya was fast joining the clamour to integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education by empowering learners and teachers in schools, a call that had taken a centre stage in many countries.

The initial phase targeted about 1.1 million pupils in Standard One in all the 23,000 primary schools.

Two years after President Uhuru Kenyatta made the promise, the children who expected to receive the learning devices had already moved to Standard Four.

The project, with an initial budget of Sh24.6 billion, had weathered many storms, changed names from laptops project to the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP), and undergone numerous budgetary reviews as the government fumbled with its implementation. Tender cancellations and a protracted court battle also marred the project’s inception.

After a long and winding tendering process in 2013, pupils’ hope for the learning devices was delayed after the Ministerial Tender Committee at Jogoo House awarded the contract to Olive Telecommunications Pvt Limited.

The award was, however, cancelled after other bidders – Haier Electrical Appliances Corporation Limited and Hewlett-Packard Limited (HP) from Europe –appealed the decision at the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board.

Corrupt process

The board, citing a flawed tendering process that included leaking of tender specifications and pricing to a select company by government officials, nullified the award, dealing a major blow to the pet project.

After several months of wait, a second tendering process was initiated for the supply of learning devices. This time, the tender documents termed them Learner Digital Device (LDD), Teacher Digital Device (TDD), Special Needs Education Learner Digital Device, Server and Router and projectors.

The initiative had officially changed tact under DLP from supply of laptops to provision of tablets after it emerged that the cost of buying laptops and portability challenges were immense.

This was after the President moved the project to the Ministry of ICT under Fred Matiang’i and directed that the implementation be done across four ministries in consultation with the Attorney General’s (AG’s) office. The move was to ensure a transparent, speedy and cost effective execution of his pledge.

The Ministry of Education, previously in charge of the project, was asked to focus on curriculum and content development. The National Treasury was instructed to be responsible for the allocation of budgetary resources, while the Energy ministry was to provide electricity connectivity to schools.

The AG was asked to undertake the necessary processes and procedures to ensure the proper revocation of all previous public procurement activities related to the purchase of ICT devices.

The Ministry of ICT was instructed to coordinate the digital literacy programme while the Ministry of Industrialisation was directed to establish capacity to undertake first line assembly.

With the changes, the government picked itself up and constituted a multi-stakeholder team led by Dr Matiang’i and the ICT Authority (ICTA) to give the initiative a fresh stab. The DLP secretariat, now under the Ministry of ICT, released the bid document for the supply, installation and commissioning of the DLP.

Two public universities were finally picked to roll out the much awaited DLP project, whose budget had now dropped to Sh19 billion. The consortium of Moi University and JP SA Couto was picked to implement the digital learning programme in 26 counties.

The consortium of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Positivo BGH picked to implement the project covering 21 counties.

Overall, the DLP was premised on several pillars, among them provision of electricity to schools through the rural electrification programme and establishment of a secure storage room for devices in the institutions.

Key was purchase and distribution of learner devices (tablets) for all Standard One pupils, provision of teacher devices (basic laptops) for Standard One teachers and a local server to connect all devices into one network.

Most importantly, however, was making available a suitable learning and teaching content through the Kenya Education Cloud (www.kec.ac.ke).

Eight years after the grand promise, with pupils who were promised laptops in 2013 now candidates waiting to sit KCPE, and Kenyans are raising questions on the value of the ambitious initiative.

The global coronavirus pandemic has exposed the flaws of the noble project that was supposed to integrate ICT in schools and provide solutions in times of lockdown like this. So far, little information has come from ICT ministry that was tasked with the coordination of the digital literacy programme.

The Ministry of Education that was tasked to take charge of curriculum and content development is shooting in the dark in its attempt to implement the out of school online learning through Radio, TV, Kenya Education Cloud and You-Tube.

Ill prepared

Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), which is coordinating home learning, also seems ill prepared for the huge task. Kenya has clearly made huge investments in improving quality and learning outcomes at all levels of basic education, including the DLP.

It is, however, during times of need, like now, that the soundness of these solutions should be judged.

The education cloud, a website developed by KICD, is the only element of the DLP that has been mentioned in the present efforts to implement out-of-school learning. Even as we appreciate the Ministry of Education’s efforts on delivery of home leaning, many questions remain unanswered.

Did we get it right with the DLP project or we wasted an opportunity? The leading private schools in the country, such as Brookhouse, Braeburn, Turi, and many others, have leveraged on their well-developed online platforms to continue offering education and other services to their pupils.

Granted, most of the students come from well-endowed families and live mostly in the urban areas. Close to 98 per cent of the pupils in these private schools have the resources to participate effectively in this exercise.

On the other hand, there is confusing signals for continuity of learning in our public schools. The big question thus is what happened to the more than one million learning devices that were distributed countrywide with pomp and vigour? 

Parliament, in 2018, heard that teachers were slow to embrace use of technology because there was no practice or support on their usage. Effort to get accurate data on the DLP were futile, as ICTA Chief Executive Officer Katherine Getao did to respond to the request on status report of the project.

But in 2018, a report tabled in Parliament indicated that about 1.1 million learning devices had been distributed to schools.

The total number of schools with devices installed by March 2018 was 19,565 of the 21,731, representing a national average of 90.4 per cent of the total contract. Of these, a total 983,271 tablets had been distributed in 19,565 public schools. At that time, only 2,164 schools were yet to get the learning devices.

Also distributed were 47,902 teachers’ digital devises, with a similar number of digital content server and wireless routers also being sent to the schools.

The Education ministry is now working on a plan to equip schools with computer laboratories to serve Grade Four to Grade Six at a cost of Sh1.5 billion.

The first 8,000 public primary schools will have their infrastructure refurbished for the initiative at a cost of Sh800 million.

Could the grand DLP objective have ended with the death of the multi-stakeholders team? For starters, many of the DLP devices are “safely” locked in the strong rooms built in schools.

What if the tablets locked in school cabinets were treated as library items to be loaned to students for home use?

What if the Kenya Education Cloud was to be well structured as an online content delivery platform?

What if teachers were appropriately trained and coached on digital delivery? Would the clamor for online delivery make some headway?

The Ministry of Education report tabled in Parliament in 2018 revealed that teachers were still ill prepared to implement the multi-billion shilling DLP programme for primary schools.

A report tabled in Parliament in 2018 exposed that the rate at which teachers were embracing use of technology was low due to lack of practice and support.

It also revealed that theft cases and level of mishandling of the tablets meant for primary school children was on the rise.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented a perfect opportunity where the DLP project would have been up-scaled to support home learning.

The big question is: have relevant education sector players in Kenya bungled an opportunity to support children in mitigating the harsh effects of pandemics such as the coronavirus?

Covid 19 Time Series


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