When Kenya launched a “laptops for schools” program in 2013, the initiative attracted cheers and jeers in equal measure.
Those who supported the project believed it is what the country needed to develop learners who would be useful in the fast-growing digital economy.
The naysayers, however, noted that the millions of pupils in primary schools did not need the tablets but better classrooms, desks and books.
Some seven years down the line, the benefits of the initiative are slowly emerging as digital literacy soars across the east African nation, especially in rural communities.
Children in remotest parts of Kenya, many who would never have learnt about computers and the internet, now know about the two.
While the government is yet to reach close to 10 million pupils across Kenya and it changed the policy to building computer labs in each of the 25,000 primary schools, the digital project has triggered similar initiatives across the east African nation, boosting computer and internet literacy in the country.
As part of the project, schools and market centers that initially did not have electricity in rural areas were connected to the national grid, enabling some of the learning institutions to start their own digital programs.
This has enabled learners, particularly in the rural areas, to learn about computers, what initially seemed a distant dream.
On the other hand, pupils whose schools received the tablets produced locally are now happy as they slowly learn how to use the gadgets.
“We teach the pupils how to use the tablets twice a week. They are not enough for every child but are sufficient to allow them get some knowledge,” Boniface Okumu, a primary school teacher in Kakamega, western Kenya, said on Wednesday.
Okumu noted the tablets have minimized cases of absenteeism since learners are eager to use the devices.
“When teaching using the tablets, the learners are more attentive. As teachers, we are now also able to use projectors together with the tablets… what makes learning and teaching exciting,” he said.
The growth in digital literacy in Kenya is one of the things that have boosted smartphone and internet usage across Kenya, said Bernard Mwaso, of Edell IT Solution in Nairobi.
The east African nation has over 52 million internet subscribers, according to the Communication Authority, with the numbers growing rapidly due to smartphone usage.
In both rural and urban areas, more children are digitally savvy as they learn about computers in school and use smartphones owned by their parents to play games and do assignments.
All these, according to Mwaso, can be attributed to the interest the launch of the “laptops for schools” program generated.
“In the rural areas, parents are being pushed by their children to buy smartphones that they can use to do school work at home and communicate with their brothers and sisters living in urban areas,” Mwaso said, noting that youngsters are using their soft power to drive a digital revolution.
Teachers have equally not been left behind thanks to the project, as each school in Kenya now has tutors who are digitally literate. The teachers are driving Kenya’s Ministry of Education agenda to digitize its services.
According to Kenya’s Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, which was implementing the Digital Literacy Program alongside the Ministry of Education, some pupils in 1,000 schools have received tablets, and the rest of the schools would get computer labs, in a policy shift. Enditem