Uhuru Kenyatta made a promise that sounded great to his supporters while on the campaign trail. That he would give free laptops to primary school children if he became president. Then he became president and that promise to students is opening a can or two of worms everywhere.
Personally I don’t support his pledge. One because I don’t think that we have enough teachers and infrastructure in public schools. That is why classes are overcrowded and kids are not doing well. Leave alone the fact that many of the children especially in disadvantaged areas do not have food to eat and so they are on school feeding programmes which are usually underfunded.
I do believe that a child learning to use computers is important. I would be hypocritical if I said it is not important and I am so proud of my nephew who is able to use my laptop without any problem. The thing is that he is a private school. He changed schools this year when he was going to standard one but even in his previous school from the time they were in baby class they were exposed to computers. But the thing is that they have a computer lab where they would go use the computers then go back to class. And with this knowledge he has become computer literate well as much as a standard one student can be.
The problem I have with the computer program that Uhuru is proposing is
1. It will only benefit standard one pupils. What about the standard 2 to high school students. If you were to calculate the time that it would take for those students to finish school it will be 11 years from now. So the computer literary program will only economically benefit the country 11 years from now. Whereas if they started with high school students it would benefit the country faster. But then this is not the main argument for those laptops.
2. Why can’t they put in computer labs in all public primary schools? Why should computers be given to specific students locking out other students. That is discrimination. Also why only public schools. There are community schools or missionary run schools as well where the funds to buy computers are also lacking. Also just because a child is in private school doesn’t mean their parents are well off enough to afford a computer. Most people have taken their children to private schools not because they are well off but to give the child the competitive edge that they cannot get in overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded public schools. So in a way this policy is discriminative for many, many students. It assumes that only public school children are the only ones who need access to computers.
3. How much training is needed for the teachers who are going to be training the children using these computers? That is also another cost implication. Many teachers in some of these schools especially in rural areas without electricity have never used a computer. So these teachers have to be trained from scratch. The time and cost of training these teachers is high and then for them to only use the computers with standard one pupils is a waste of manpower.
4. Software. These computers will need educational software. This software is not cheap. Who is going to pay for this software? It doesn’t come with the laptops. It will have to be sourced for and installed. Who is paying for that?
5. Security. Having laptops in schools means that added security is needed so as to protect these computers from being stolen. Who is going to cater for that cost? It also means that there needs to be a secure building where the laptops can be put and this also comes with its issues. Computers are sensitive equipment and they cannot be left in places where there is damp or too much heat among other things. Who is going to pay the bill for creating special rooms to host these laptops when they are not in use? Some rural school classes especially for younger classes are sometimes under trees because of the overcrowding and some schools are made of mabati. Who will look after the security of these laptops?
6. Laptops like all machinery are prone to breakages or issues. If a child or two while handling a laptop drops it or gets something spilled on it and it doesn’t work who is going to fix it. Will it have to be sent back to the nearest town or how will it get fixed. And who will fix it? In the beginning of such a project there are bound to be many such problems as the children get used to using the computers.
There are other issues as well.
I do think that it is important for children to learn computers in order for us to create a technologically savvy country. That is what has helped technologically advanced countries like Japan, China and US. When we were children we used to be told that the toys we played with from China were made by school children. I don’t know how true that was but we were very impressed at how those children were advanced as compared to us.
We do need to teach children how to use computers and how to use them to learn new things. But in a country where we do not have enough teachers or infrastructure that is not a priority. We need to get more teachers so that more children can get access to a quality education as opposed to some selected children getting access to a computer so that we can boast that we have technologically savvy students.
The teacher’s strike
In 1997 I was in fourth form and was send home for three weeks because of a teacher’s strike. We went back on Sunday and we were starting KCSE on Monday. I believe that it affected how many of us performed in KCSE that year.
I agree that the government should pay teachers what it promised them. Why is it that it agrees to pay other professionals and MPs when they demand to be paid but not teachers? I am who I am because of my primary school teachers especially some like Mrs. Mbogo who even in Standard 8 used to make us come in early to work on our handwriting. She wanted to make sure that when we did our composition for KCPE that our writing was legible so that the markers would not deny us marks based on bad hand writing. By the way she was my pre-primary teacher but she was very respected by everybody. She was a teacher/dentist/counsellor and everybody who went to St. George’s Primary will bear me witness.
I have gone to public schools from primary school to secondary school. They have shaped my thinking and the person I have become. Surely it is their right as well to earn a good salary so that they too can plan for their future. And also so that they don’t force children to go for tuition so that they can get extra money. Or have headmistress send children home for not paying for a school bus or school building that is never built just so that they can “eat” the money. It happened in our school and it has happened in other schools all around the country. If this issue is not sorted how sure are we that those laptops will not disappear and be sold for teachers or headmasters/mistresses to get money?