I am a high school teacher. Some four years ago, I got into a deal with a friend in the USA to begin a digital village in my home turf. I teach an urban school, but Iam very much localized. I love my Village of Eshibinga.” Eshi” as we commonly call it is located in Kakamega county, Western Kenya, East Africa. Recently, people of Kenya elected a new president. In his campaign the new president promised Kenyans ONE LAPTOP PER CHILD. Social media is abuzz with the new Kenyan president’s call for OLPC. On social media many say he was misquoted in the election campaigns, since all he meant was lollipops and not laptops for Kenyan children. They say this because they feel it is not possible to achieve this in a remote country like ours. I totally disagree with them.
I will never forget when one evening in Eshibinga village. On that day, I packed four xo laptops to take them to the nearest center where I could get power to charge them. On my way back, I was accosted by village thugs. On inspecting my bag they discovered the four xo laptops. They questioned loudly why a grown man like me was moving around with ‘toys’ in my bag. They were disappointed. Laptops is not an everyday word in Kenya, let alone my village.
Nonetheless, the President is emphatic that solar-driven laptops will be provided from January 2014. If this happens, Kenya will have edged closer to realising its dream of being a regional tech hub, joining the leagues of a few other countries in the world which have made deliberate efforts to reach. But critics disagree.
Critics of the laptop project believe that the government is better off first ensuring that every child has access to food and shelter before committing over Sh14 billion to laptops. Many Kenyan schools are without adequate learning materials and other needs like school uniforms which still remain the burden of parents, why would laptops be a priority? That is the ten million dollar question teachers at Eshibinga primary asked me when I introduced laptops in the school. A parent asked me, “Will the children be allowed to carry them home and back to school or they would remain for safekeeping at school?” The principal came to me one morning and said “What about getting your sponsors to install a computer lab so that children can use them at scheduled periods?” These are the questions being asked today in Kenya to the new government. Can this be prioritized instead? A hungry child will not benefit from a laptop.
The worst comment I have read so far is the one that questions the rationale for the laptop project. I have heard them say “Most children in Class One are still too young to understand some concepts. The best they will do with the machine is play with them and not do anything productive. THEY ARE DEAD WRONG.
At two years, my daughter Laurier operates my iPhone with ease. She knows where the pictures sit, where her items on YouTube sit and all her apps are about learning – ABCs, counting, numbers, songs, animals, instruments, cars, planes etc.
Annoyingly, she also knows how to take the phone off “airplane mode”. I used to think I could save myself some money if she couldn’t access YouTube, but when the phone says “disable or cancel”, she chooses disable. I weep. She can’t read, but she knows what gets her what she wants. If your phone isn’t “touch”, she tends to give it back with the words “not working”. The iPad may be bigger than her little hands, but she doesn’t care; she’s all over it.
Let me say it again – I can see President Uhuru Kenyatta’s dream for the Kenyan child through my daughter’s eyes. Her future is digital, technology is her language, but can you imagine what she will be doing and what her technological needs will be by the time she is six? Look guys, I did not vote for Uhuru Kenyatta, but I love his idea. He is my president.
The laptops must not be a gimmick, they must not end up as waste, they can’t be toys like the Eshibinga village thugs thought. Mr. President, some of us have tried it in our villages. It is working despite the challenges.
BY PETER AMUNGA
KISUMU HIGH SCHOOL