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Kenya promises one laptop per child

The new Kenyan government has promised to provide a solar-powered laptop to every class one pupil next year.

Under the new initiative, the Kenyan government says it will deliver 1.3 million laptops to schoolchildren and expects the project to cost more than 600 million dollars. Plans to implement the promise are already being drawn up, though as yet it’s unclear which low-cost machines will be procured.

Kenya already has an IT-savvy population; over four-fifths of adults have a mobile and the country has pioneered mobile banking services. Kenya also has the highest number of internet users in sub-Saharan Africa. Recognising the importance of technology to growth and development, the country has embedded digital services in its national development plan and is creating a new technology park, which has been dubbed ‘silicon Savannah’.

However, some have criticised the government’s new initiative, believing there are other areas where the money is more urgently needed. Around half the population of Kenya live below the national poverty line and in a recent hidden hunger study, Kenya rather shockingly ranked as the second worst country (out of 149) for micronutrient deficiencies in preschool-age children. The study estimates 36% of Kenyan youngsters are stunted and lacking in zinc, 35% are anaemic through iron deficiency and a staggering 85% are lacking in vitamin A. Such deficiencies in nutrition make it hard for children to develop normally and learn well at school.

Critics, including a commentator in the Guardian, also point to the many areas of education which need improvement before technological advances such as laptops can be of maximum benefit. For example, many schools lack electricity or a reliable power supply. And with a chronic lack of teachers, class sizes are large – on average, there are 47 primary school pupils for each teacher (according to UNESCO estimates for 2010).

Teacher training is another issue. In nearby Rwanda, a similar scheme provides all nine to twelve year-old pupils with low-cost laptops. But as one teacher explains in a video about schooling in Rwanda at http://www.our-africa.org/rwanda/school, when teachers have no training in Information Communications Technology, it’s extremely hard for schools to get the benefit of the laptops. In Kenya, educationalists have the same worry that digital technology by itself is not the answer and that the resources on this project would be much better spent in improving the system in other ways.

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