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Laptops hold great promise

Sunday March 31 2013

PHOTO | FILE Pupils from Thawabu Primary School in Kayole huddle around a laptop during a workshop organised by CCK on Internet security.

PHOTO | FILE Pupils from Thawabu Primary School in Kayole huddle around a laptop during a workshop organised by CCK on Internet security. NATION MEDIA GROUP

By KIRIMI MITAMBO [email protected]

Politics notwithstanding, the promise by President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta that his government would give a solar-powered laptop to every class one pupil could be the push this country needs to make e-learning a reality.

However, education cannot be left to government alone. In fact, the main role of government is to create a learner-friendly environment.

Approximately 1.2 million pupils would access computers annually, but for this to be achieved, the private sector and NGOs must also chip in. The implication is that by 2022, we shall have a young, ICT-savvy populace that can read, research and write online.

However, for the fruits of ICT to be realised, there is need to tackle the challenge of ICT-illiterate teachers by equipping them with the requisite skills.

If they can be made to see the bigger picture, teachers would be more than willing to practice and use their newly acquired skills. Doesn’t this sound like killing two birds with one stone? Any change or transformation must have supporting pillars.

Teachers are the pillars of any change in the education sector — they are the implementers of the policies.

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The journey towards e-learning has been relatively smooth. Having began just over a decade ago, the ministry of Education, through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), has engaged well in both policy and training.

There have been numerous e-learning seminars for education stakeholders that have seen publishers and ICT experts present papers on the way forward. In addition, KICD has led by example by offering e-materials both on its website and libraries.

As a matter of policy, the ministry of Education has an ICT department whose mandate is to formulate and supervise ICT guidelines in schools. It is this department that needs to be empowered to tackle the e-learning challenges that will arise with the adoption of laptops.

According to Mr Peter Mugo, the publisher relations manager at eKitabu, embracing ICT at lower school levels would spur the consumption of e-materials.
“If the material is available and consumers have the skills to access it, eKitabu would guarantee safety in transmission and access through Adobe Digital Rights Management. This is software that protects the digital content in any e-book available on the eKitabu website,” he said.

However, he notes that the government would have to make sure that the appropriate content (however expensive) is available. Could this be a wake-up call to education stakeholders to revisit their policies on e-learning?

In his book, Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape, e-novel author Alexander Nderitu notes that “e-books are the literary world’s version of fast food”.

Once this generation embraces e-learning, e-books will mushroom on the Internet like fast food cafeterias, he says. This means mainstream publishers as well as self-published authors will be forced to produce most of their books in e-formats just like Penguin and Pearson do via Amazon.

If fulfilled, the “laptop promise” would see Kenya join Rwanda, Mongolia and Nepalm, among other countries, where children use laptops to learn, play and access information on different subjects and in a variety of languages.

The writer is the director, Sanaa Yetu Creatives, and a publishing consultant.

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