Is the laptop project dead? The answer depends on whom you ask.
For the Ministry of Education, the Permanent Secretary, Dr Belio Kipsang reported to the Parliamentary committee that the project is not dead – it has simply evolved, as per the original plan, from One Laptop per Child (OLPC) to one Computer Lab per school.
But critics believe the Laptop project was ill conceived, poorly implemented and was bound to grind to a halt sooner, rather than later.
This view is widely shared by those who remember that the Laptop Project was envisioned during the heat of the 2013 campaign period; when politicians were competing for Wanjiku’s attention in terms of who could offer more goodies.
Campaigns are usually similar to the honeymoon period. Like all honeymoons, the realities of marriage or running government in this case, often kicks in sooner than preferred.
The Laptop project faced serious challenges in the first term of the Jubilee administration. However, many of these were overcome to see the laptops become tablets and belatedly delivered to schools towards the end of the first term. A lot of work and redesign by technocrats and consultants had to go into trying to make sense of what the politicians had promised Kenyan.
Big political promises are not always a bad idea. Indeed, within strategic management circles, they are known as BHAG ideas - which stands for having Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.
BHAG ideas are often used to rally organisations, countries or regions into very intense, focused and synchronised actions.
By the time the devices were delivered to the schools, the one laptop-per-child political project had been fine-tuned into a comprehensive socio-economic strategy branded as the Digital Literacy Program (DLP).
For Wanjiku, or the common Kenyan, they would only see the end product - the tablet or the laptop.
However, behind the scenes, multiple players from manufacturers, assembly line providers, power producers, teachers, curriculum developers, content developers, ICT support technicians and others were actively aligned towards delivering a transformational socio-economic agenda.
The technocrats and consultants had translated the BHAG idea of OLPC into a bigger idea of jumpstarting a light manufacturing ecosystem that was supposed to serve the Kenyan market and beyond.
JKUAT and Moi University had successfully set up assembly lines with capacities to delivering hundreds of thousands of the devices per month. These capacities were expected to upgrade from assembling to light manufacturing whereby some of the electronic components would be manufactured locally.
The logistics value chain, from China, through local assembly lines, to distribution points across the country was also a capacity building venture as well as an employment opportunity.
Teachers were supposed to be trained in teaching and delivering different digital lessons using the devices. A Kiswahili or Mathematics lesson would therefore have its content digitised and curated for children to have access beyond the teacher.
If well executed, the child in Nairobi would have had access to the same excellent mathematics lessons as the one on Turkana. Digitised content was one way to standardise and equalise educational opportunities.
It was also expected that the cost of educational content would be lower, since educational content distribution would be done via the Internet rather than hardcopies as it is done at the moment.
The other hidden but very key player in the ecosystem was Kenya Power.
There is no better way to raise the capacity of Kenya Power, than to challenge them to deploy, supply and sustain electricity in more than twenty thousand primary schools across the country.
The Laptop project was definitely conceived in the heat of political campaigns. However, if well executed, it remains one of the best bets of transforming the educational, economic and social fabric of this country.
'Well-executed' means insulating it from the usual hunger of tenderpreneurs who are experts in hijacking big projects for personal gain.
'Tenderpreneurs' may strike at any level within the project value chain. From China, through the assembly line, at the Kenya power, at the curriculum development agency, the content development level, the distribution and or the installation points.
Since the project is interlinked, any failure within the value chain will blow up the whole project. We can only pray that this has not already happened.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu