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UhuRuto-First things first, laptops can wait!!

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President Elect, Uhuru (L) and his deputy, Ruto.
President Elect, Uhuru (R) and his deputy, Ruto (L)

Hurray for Kenya. We have a new government in place under the leadership of President Elect Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyans as well as the International community is keenly watching to see and to gauge the performance of this new government.

Top on their manifesto was the implementation of some of what they referred to as key promises that need to be implemented at least within the first 100 days after their inauguration. 9th April, 2013, the President is inaugurated and Kenyans are already making a countdown. August  marks the first 100 days and journalists will be on the run again, trying to weigh the first score card for the Jubilee government. Will it be a case for empty promises, campaign gimmicks or a chance to prove pessimistic Kenyans wrong? Your guess is as good as mine… one knows for sure, we can only tell when we finally get there.

Laptop Promises

Class one pupils at a school in Kibera slums
Class two pupils at a school in Kibera slums

“Work with international partners to provide solar-powered laptop computers equipped with relevant content for every school aged child in Kenya”. Reads the Jubilee Manifesto on its ambitious plans on the education sector.

The manifesto acknowledges the fact that primary school enrollment increased from 5 million to 9 million pupils between 2002 and 2010, thereby transforming the long-term life chances for millions of Kenyan children, and that there still exists unacceptable regional imbalances in enrollment.

For instance, while 93% of primary school age children are currently enrolled nationally, in Turkana and Garissa Counties the enrollment figures stand at a mere 25% and 34% respectively. Besides, our classrooms remain overcrowded, schools under-equipped and the entire education system underfunded. Disadvantaged regions lack enough schools, while some host unacceptable classroom numbers as high as 60 and above. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of primary school children drop out of school before they complete primary school.

A good education is the cornerstone of success at the individual level and the foundation for resurgence, and ultimately, national prosperity. Kenya needs an educated and professionally well-adjusted workforce to harness most of its human capital that can yield and fully exploit the country’s economic potential.” Reads an extract from the Jubilee Manifesto.

Class one pupils with one of the volunteer teachers.
Class one pupils with one of the volunteer teachers.

Falling in place as issue number 3 on their education agenda, the laptop promise is such a superb idea especially as our country continues to become tech survey. I am not a pessimist and I do not want to be among the pessimists who see all these promises as just any other election campaign tricks. But hey, lets take a pause and critically critique this promise. Is it really worth the hustle? Is it a top priority for this country? Is it a noble idea whose implementation could wait a little longer as we tackle other pressing issues?

Kenyan Schools.

Excited as we might be, for me this is one of those promises I will brush off as *crap*. Moving this discussion beyond facebook, let’s take a look at  this scenario beautifully  scripted by Patience Komba, a Kenyan married in Tanzania.

“This idea of giving class one pupils a laptop each is mere campaign blah- blah and one of those danganya toto (Lie to the children) stuff.  Picture this, a 6 yrs old girl, probably jigger manifested, coming from a grass thatched house, somewhere in Samburu County. She slept hungry last night, because her mom did not manage to bring back home anything and her dad was killed by the cattle raiders who also stole their only two cattle which they depended on for their daily bread.(This scenario might be a real case study). The girl goes to school, (hungry) and sits on the dusty floor of a class that is desk less and roof less…She doesn’t even own a single text-book and those provided by the school are hardly there or they are not enough.

Class one to four share one class at a school in Kibera slums.
Class one to four share one class at a school in Kibera slums.

However, she still has her laptop probably stacked into some dirty nylon paper (obviously she cannot afford a laptop bag) and even if she was required to Google out some Geography topic in her new laptop, she cannot because the network is hardly available in Samburu….and the available modems are constantly on “no signal” mode. Therefore, let’s say, no use of modems here.  This young girl probably has his elder brother who is in class 8 and most likely in more need of the laptop than herself. However, even if she was to give it to the brothers the modus operandi is still in place, there is still no internet!”

She concludes her illustration scenario by elaborating her point further. “Anyway, my point is, laptops are good, everyone needs them, we need them even more in this digital era. However as a country we have some grave priorities ahead of us. The world is become more technologically sophisticated by the day, while agreeing to that we have to agree that our speed has not in a very long time been at par with the sophistication speed. So one thing at a time, we will get there.

I agree with Patience Komba. She speaks for many Kenyans as shallow as we might appear to be, the truth is, as Kenyans, there are many other pressing needs for the Kenyan school going child and a laptop might not be of any priority as of now. Year in, year out, Kenyan school teachers down their tools because they their arrears are not paid and the government says there are no funds. Striking nation we are, so the teacher’s strike, after a few weeks, consultations are done and they go back to school on empty promises and the cycle goes on. Settling the teachers arrears is of great importance if we desire to have top quality education in this country.

Class one pupils without proper school uniforms.
Class one pupils without proper school uniforms.

Lets pay the teachers well, let’s put measures to empower them first with the technology, lets help them come-up with some life-skills so that they can uplift their own living standards and of the communities in which they live in. Let’s improve the schools infrastructures, let’s buy more text books, let’s ensure that all school going children are in a position to access water, food and sheltered classroom. Let’s provide school uniforms for these kids.

Is it possible to re-direct these funds meant for the laptops towards ensuring that we have adequate facilities for our school-going children by improving the schools? Can we do our best to make the learning environment conducive for better education.

Class one pupils heading home after school in Kibera
Class one pupils heading home after school in Kibera

If you ask me, the ideal way to go about this is to ensure that primary schools have it within their curriculum that computer classes is mandatory and therefore, help the schools setting up computer labs so that these can be shared with the rest of the other pupils within the school, at the same time putting emphasis on the general education welfare of the Kenyan child.

“ In places like Baragoi where I work, first things first. We need classrooms for these kids…These laptops can come much later after kids have moved from reading under the trees to classrooms like the rest of other Kenyan kids,” Remarked Jullie Tinesy.

Dear Kenyans, while this is laptop deal may look as one of those promises that look so lucrative, it’s time we got focused!!!

A few days after writing this blog post, Kenyan teachers are in support of my sentiments. Here is a story on the Daily Nation.

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Patience Nyange

I believe in a just society and I am a strong believer in Ralph Waldo Emerson words: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

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