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Why there are better priorities than the laptop project

By - | May 25th 2013

By Boniface Musembi

Many Kenyans didn’t have an idea about laptops until the Jubilee Coalition launched their manifesto on February 3, 2013, as this was something out of their reach.

When the Jubilee Coalition presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta announced that they will give a laptop to every child joining Standard One once they clinch power, majority of them received it with mixed reactions.

They were amused with the news and thought that this will be their opportunity to go digital just like the Coalition. Others and especially the middle class saw this as an ambitious promise by the politicians and probably a campaign tool.

There are also those who dismissed this as a campaign strategy and never took time to think how achievable it was. It dawned on many Kenyans that this was not a campaign tool on April 9  during the inauguration when Uhuru stated that one of the things he will give priority was the laptop project to be implemented by January,2014.

As a concerned and patriotic Kenyan, I have taken time to think through the laptop project and appreciated that it is a brilliant idea.

However, the government has urgent issues that should be prioritised in the education sector before implementing the laptop project.

First, the government should be concerned about the high debt burden it inherited from the previous government.

Getting the money to fund the project will not be a major problem to the government since they can solicit some funds.

 However, more borrowing will lead to liability increase thus adding more problems to our limping economy.

The government should give priority to finding solutions on how to raise money, pay the debt and attend to other urgent needs in the education sector.

Second, our schools have very insufficient teachers. The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) has been lamenting about understaffing in our schools. Our schools have a deficiency of 80,000 teachers and the KNUT has been pushing the government to give Teachers’ Service Commission Kshs 15 billion to recruit 40,000 teachers. This should be a priority to the government other than using over Kshs 10 billion to buy laptops for Standard One pupils.

Third, many students live in abject poverty and as a result are not able to afford basic needs especially food and clothing. Over 500,000 children remain out of school in Kenya due to hunger, insecurity and parental negligence.

The Jubilee government should prioritise meeting the basic needs of the pupils before issuing them with laptops.

Why would a pupil need a laptop when they are sleeping hungry? If they will be allowed to carry the laptops home, one would even consider selling them to buy food.

Fourth, there are schools in Kenya where pupils learn under trees due to lack of buildings. How will such students shield the laptops during the rainy season? Where will the teachers keep the laptops in such schools?

Some of these realities have left me amazed whether President Kenyatta is aware of the challenges the education sector is facing in Kenya. May be he is not!

If the president is aware of the pathetic situation under which some pupils learn, he can easily change his priorities and give attention to the urgent matters. The laptop project is not a do or die thing hence it can wait for three or more years.

The Jubilee government should halt the laptop project and give priority to meeting the urgent needs of the education sector. This will also allow the ministry of Education time to put in place policies that will govern implementation of the laptop project.

Boniface Musembi is a Consultant at Ray Africa Consultants- [email protected])

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