One laptop per child not a pipedream

Friday April 5 2013


As we usher in the new regime, every school child eagerly awaits a promise to be fulfilled — a promise to be provided with a solar-powered laptop computer. This ambitious education reform may sound like a pipedream, but with political will, it can be realised.

Countries like Peru, Uruguay, Rwanda, India, Nigeria and Cambodia, among others, are rolling it out.

Benefits of this initiative are: Access to technology and information regardless of social or economic status and geographical location; narrowing down the digital divide; fostering free exchange of ideas; igniting passion for learning and promoting growth and creativity; realising individual interests in subjects such as music, art or science and above all, producing a society that is literate in ICT.

Many people may be concerned that the investment is huge while there are other things that need more attention. To me, lack of knowledge, information and access to the rest of the world equally requires attention.

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the One Laptop per Child non-profit association and author of the 1995 best seller Being Digital is quoted saying: “Like a force of nature, the digital age cannot be denied or stopped”.

To make the promise a reality, we must first accept that the laptops are important and will enrich the education sector.

However, there are major issues that need to be addressed before the programme is rolled out.

First is the issue of safeguarding against breakages, theft and sale of computers. I can imagine a scenario where the value of a computer in a family will be literally compared to the value of other basic things, resulting in its sale or theft, thus civic education will come in handy.

Secondly, not all teachers are computer literate and training must be a requisite for them to incorporate technology into education. Thirdly, technology must be incorporated into the curriculum and adhered to by every institution and last, without access to the Internet, the objectives of the initiative will not be fully met.

A complete package will represent access, literacy, connectivity and learning through technology. All schoolchildren should be part of this to eliminate intellectual and knowledge poverty in Kenya.

Many families cannot afford a computer and this will be an opportunity for creating a connection between school, learning and family. Critics may say that children will spend time playing games, music, chatting etc.

This is not bad as it is all part of learning and discovering. Besides, we ought to inculcate a culture of self-discipline in children.

The good news is that a study by the Inter-American Development Bank found that Peruvian children with laptops were six months ahead of their peers in reasoning and verbal ability. This is what we want to see in our children to eradicate the culture of just cramming for exams without the ability or space for innovation.