Kenyan pupils find teachers in laptops

afrol News

Gladys Lokilamak is always cheery in the afternoons. This is the time that she and her colleagues at the remote Asilong Primary School in north-western Kenya normally find fun in education – through laptops.

Today, Gladys flips her laptop open, and quickly goes to ‘Wikipedia’ where she searches for the Circulatory System. An animation pops up. She goes to the Write program and describes what she has seen. She then moves to Record and take a picture of a whistling thorn in her school compound. She describes it too.

“Children of the arid are also catching up with their counterparts in cities in terms of technology,” says Joachim Krop, Gladys’ head teacher. “E-learning is exciting to the young ones. It improves the quality of education and prepares them for the ICT world that is ahead of them.”

Though hers is a nomadic community characterised by perennial cattle raids and a world that has seen little technology, Gladys is a tech-whiz-kid that can put many a city kids to shame, thanks to a little green XO laptop that she uses.

“I enjoy the laptop so much because it is interactive. It is easy to remember what I have learnt. Sometimes I go with it at home. It is a very handy gadget,” Gladys enthuses.

The same thrill is obvious at Sunrise Academy, Iten, about 250 kilometres from Asilong. Using a programme called Msingi Pack, Class Six pupils, take a mock test, the computer marks and grade the exercise. The students giggle after the results.

Asilong, located 500 kilometres north-west of Nairobi, is emblematic though of efforts to roll out e-learning in Kenya. But it is the non-governmental actors that are taking the lead role.

One such organisation is Kificom in conjunction with other development partners. It trains teachers on implementing ICT for learning. Kificom also installs and maintains computers for schools and coordinates content acquisition. So far, 400 teachers have been trained according to Mathews Kituu, Kificom’s director.

Mr Kituu estimates that some 70,000 pupils in the north rift region are on the e-learning pilot programme. He happily reports of an improved interest in learning in this remote region of Kenya.

Kericho, Keiyo, Uasin-Gishu, Trans-nzoia and Wareng are other districts in the programme.

“We have 100 laptops,” teacher Krop boasts. “At first they were enough for all the pupils, but the numbers surged threefold when other children learnt about the laptops. Still we are managing.”

However, schools are confined to pre-loaded programs and cannot surf the internet due to poor connectivity and the attendant high costs.

It is at Wareng High School in Eldoret town where we meet Kenneth Makokha, a Form Three student, trying to catch up with Circuits, a topic in physics.

“After classes, I enjoy exploring issues on my own. Computers are great. [Image:edu3.jpg]
Kenneth Makokha, a student at Wareng High School, north-western Kenya
© Erick Wamanji/afrol New
They have animations which demonstrate concepts livelier than a dead diagram on a text book,” he says. However, Wareng and Sunrise students use just the normal desk top computer.

What we are grappling with now is development of e-syllabus, says Mr Kituu. For now, apart from Msingi Pack there are no other known credible content developers. That may slow down the e-learning uptake.

But Sakat Village – where Asilong is – is the least you would expect this technological flair. Electricity connection is still a mirage, classrooms have no windows, no doors and the walls made of mud are peeling off; other pupils’ classes are stashed in the thickets.

The Asilong laptops were a generous donation. The donor also supplied four solar panels, four batteries and an inverter. For many other Kenyan schools, computers are still expensive even though the state zero-rated tax on all ICT gadgets. Most educational stakeholders too are not sensitised on the importance of an ICT platform.

“The challenges are many but we take pride in introducing e-learning among nomads. Pupils now have a wider scope of learning materials from their laptops,” Mr Krop explains. “See, we don’t have a library. We don’t have enough teachers either. It is the laptop that is saving the situation around here.”

By Erick Wamanji

© afrol News