When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced in 2013 that all the 1.2 million Class One pupils would get laptops, educationists proposed instead that the government consider building computer laboratories.
Being an election year, however, the politics of expediency held sway.
The one-laptop-per-child idea in Jubilee’s Digital Learning Programme was meant, ostensibly, to entrench information and communication technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning process in primary schools.
During roll-out in May 2016, however, the policy shifted from laptops to tablets due to the cost implications.
Five years and billions of shillings later, rather than transforming into a reality, this grand idea has become rather moot.
Not all the pupils in primary schools have received the tablets and those that have got some are no longer using them. Others have also been stolen.
The initial target was to equip all Standard One learners in all the 23,951 public primary schools with laptops by December 2016, but as of July this year, only about 19,000 public primary schools countrywide had received the tablets.
Apart from allocating funds to the project, little seems to be going on in training of teachers as only about 70,000 had been trained by 2016.
And this financial year, National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich allocated Sh11.9 billion to the programme despite a recent government report pouring cold water on the project.
A report by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) revealed that, despite the fact that public schools had ICT facilities supplied through the digital literacy programme, only a few use the tools in enhancing teaching and learning.
“This was interpreted as either unwillingness by teachers to integrate ICT in the learning process or a lack of capacity to do it,” the report dated May 2018 reads.
Teachers were expected to use ICT as a tool to enhance teaching and learning across all learning areas to enhance learning outcomes:
“This is one of the core competences in the reformed curriculum and one that gives learners an edge in the dynamic global labour market. It is also a skill that helps them become life-long learners.”
The report indicates that less than half of teachers, at 39 per cent, were using ICT to enhance learning despite having the facilities and reliable power.
According to acting ICT Authority chief executive officer John Sergon, over a million devices have been distributed to over 19,000 public primary schools countrywide.
He disclosed that the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (Jkuat) manufacturing plant rolls out 600 devices daily, while the Moi University factory makes 1,250 also daily:
“So far, over 100,000 learning devices have been assembled locally.”
“Kenya has taken off as far as digital schooling is concerned. ICT has now been integrated in the new curriculum, the training of teachers from colleges on ICT courses is ongoing.
"In addition, ICT has been infused into the ongoing piloting of new content in Kenya. Lastly, there are plans to build resource learning centres in each school to sort out other classes,” he explained.
Auditor-General Edward Ouko said his office was yet to start an audit of the tablet project, which started to receive funding as early as 2013, with Sh17 billion being the initial funding for the project.
The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) also indicates, in its latest report, that more than 80 per cent of teachers have knowledge gaps on ICT.
The country is changing the education system from 8.4.4 to 22.214.171.124.3 with the segments of ECDE — two years, Primary — six years, Junior Secondary — three years, University — three years, requiring teachers’ new orientation.
“The new curriculum completely changes the approaches to teaching and learning,” TSC Chief Executive Nancy Macharia explained while addressing head teachers in Mombasa recently.
Despite the ICT authority putting on a brave face over the project, the schools have had different experiences.
According to teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Education ministry rolled out a programme that only trained them for a few weeks.
“We received the tablets but we are not using them yet in class because we are not very conversant with the technology,” a teacher in a Machakos County school said.
Kenya Primary School Head Teachers Association (Kepsha) boss Shem Ndolo however said he had not received any complaints.
In Kisii County, a number of primary school head teachers said they didn’t know where to take the tablets for repairs and maintenance.
A spot check by the Nation in select schools showed that there had been little effort by the government to make technical corrections on the hundreds of gadgets that have developed problems across the country.
At Kisii Primary School for instance, there are seven tablets that are not working and have been dumped in a store.
Head teacher Grace Nyamweya said no technical officer from the ministry or the supplier had been sent to mend them.
And owing to shortage of the tablets, teachers handling the pupils are also forced to conduct up to three learning sessions so that all the learners can be accommodated.
The school has more than 200 pupils in Standard One alone, Ms Nyamweya said.
There was a similar situation at Getembe Primary School in Kitutu Chache South.
The head teacher, Mr Evans Onsembe, said the tablets programme caused a rise in transfer of pupils from private schools that could not afford ICT learning.
“Enrolments have always been on the increase since the tablets programme came into effect and, being a public school, it obviously becomes difficult to turn away children seeking vacancies here,” he said.
In Nyandarua County, teachers have reverted to old methods of teaching due to shortage of the laptops.
Though they were meant for Class One studies, the schools have developed a programme to ensure all pupils benefit by acquiring basic computer lessons.
At St Joseph Primary School in Ol Kalou Township, the teacher-in-charge of the project, Ms Rachael Njenga, said the introduction of the tablets was a motivation to the children but complained that they are too few to adequately serve them.
“We received 48 laptops which are now shared by all pupils. Most them can easily work and operate the machine. We have no maintenance challenges because the county education office has the capacity to handle them,” Ms Njenga said.
In the North Rift, lack of electricity and poor internet connectivity has been a major drawback.
School managers faulted the government for rushing to introduce the project without putting in place proper infrastructure.
"It seems this tablet project will not succeed. We’ve resorted to normal teaching as the tablets are not effective. We only make use of them during computer lessons,” Eldoret Premier School principal Geoffrey Mbugua said.
He decried the lesson content on the tablets as shallow as it does not cover most of the aspects in the syllabus.
“Teachers waste a lot of time managing these tablets at the expense of teaching coupled with poor network. We feel this project was rushed; it could have been introduced gradually as computer lessons first,” Mr Mbugua said.
It also emerged that poor internet connectivity and electricity were a major challenge.
At Hill School Eldoret, learners are using the tablets but low connectivity is a major problem.
"We are having a few problems here and there including internet connectivity and content but we are coping with it well,” Principal Nelson Sitienei said.
The situation is not any different at the neighbouring Uasin Gishu and Central primary schools.
In West Pokot County, pupils and parents termed the project as misplaced priority.
They argued that the county was grappling with other burning issues hence no need for the project.
Many schools in the region lacks more important facilities than the tablets for pupils.
Pupils of Lopelekwa Primary School in Chepareria ward, Pokot South Sub-County, for instance are forced to learn under very squalid conditions because of dilapidated classrooms.
The head teacher, Mr Mathew Chumil Karuya, said that the school received 36 tablets but they have not used them.
“We have been forced to lock the gadgets in a cupboard since we cannot work with them in the dust,” Mr Karuya said.
He said that the school, which is up to Standard Seven level, has only three classrooms that are incomplete and they are too dusty.
“I have been trained together with my deputy but we cannot use the laptops since we lack a conducive environment for teaching,” he said.
In Baringo County, many schools which had been chosen to pilot the project are stuck due to rampant cases of insecurity coupled with poor internet connectivity.
A Nation survey in the area revealed that many schools lack proper infrastructure with pupils forced to sit on stones in the open.
At Chewara Primary School for instance, the laptops are not being used after power supply to the generated by the solar panels was disconnected following strong winds.
It also emerged that the laptop project had boosted enrolment at the school with the enrolment hitting 100 but most of the pupils have since dropped out.
In Trans Nzoia County, teachers are finding it hard to use the devices.
They say they find them overburdening and a source of confusion as a teaching method.
A spot check at various schools in the region revealed that teachers are now facing challenges of engaging learners and that the devices are dragging syllabus coverage.
Some of the schools have already given up using them and only use them on rare occasions.
Those that do use them are still struggling to master the new gadgets.
Kitale School in Trans Nzoia West is among the schools which have managed to put the devices into use. The school received 119 devices.
The head teacher, Mr Hesborn Ngaira, said that when the devices were received, curiosity among the pupils was high, and as a result it attracted more learners leading to increased enrolment.
“We anticipated that with the devices effectively used, learning would become easier; but with time challenges in using the devices are becoming more apparent than is their usefulness to learners,” he says.
Mr Ngaira noted that both learners and teachers were confused as to whether to continue with lessons using the devices or to leave them and proceed with the usual method of teaching.
He cited the challenges of high consumption of power, sharing of tablets among Class One and Class Two pupils, shortage of ICT teachers, time consumption and breakages as some of the difficulties that the programme faces making it difficult for it to be effective.
Kitale School's DLP programme coordinator Alice Masinde said a lesson could take more than an hour since the pupils don’t understand the use of the devices.
“It takes time to arrange a class and to ensure a child understands and when you come back the next day you have to repeat several times,” she observed.
She added that instead of becoming a learning tool, the devices seem to be a source of entertainment for the pupils.
The programme's coordinator in Ngonyek Primary School, Ms Alice Chebyego, said that the time allocated for lessons should be increased.
She said much of their time is consumed in arranging the devices and powering them on before a lesson starts.
“We take about 20 minutes in arranging the class and some of the devices fail to power on giving us a hard time in putting a class to order before we continue with the lesson,” she noted.
She said they sometimes share the tablets with Class One pupils, which is also becoming challenging to strike a balance of how to use them effectively.
National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo called on the government to speed up electricity connection to all schools.
"All schools should have electricity. The high cost of electricity should also be addressed as it is overburdening to the schools,” Mr Maiyo said.
Some parents also complained that some schools are yet to receive the laptops.
“My child, who is in Class One, has been pestering me that he has not received the laptop promised by the government,” Mr Joseph Limo, a parent from Tot in Elgeyo Marakwet County, said.