During his speech at the opening of the 11th Parliament President Uhuru Kenyatta reiterated his promise to provide everyone standard one child with a laptop beginning next year stating.
To quote him, his government, “has committed itself to delivering on the promise of free laptops for our standard one children starting next year. Some have said that this is too ambitious. I say that we cannot afford to leave any of our children without tools to compete in the digital age. Yes, our ambition is great but the scale of that ambition is the only one sufficient to meet the scale of our nation’s challenge. As such, I call upon both Houses to work with me to ensure that in future, the laptops we provide are assembled locally.”
By the President’s own admission the plan, to begin providing every standard one child with a laptop next year, is an ambitious one however it should be noted that the idea is not a novel one. A few years ago the United Nations Development Programme backed a one laptop per child project. In 2012 Rwanda launched a one laptop per child programme. In 2010 a partnership between One Laptop per Child and the East African Community was formed with the aim to deliver 30 million laptops in the region by 2015.
However the question for Kenya is that though that the scale of the ambition may be sufficient to meet the scale of the nation’s challenge, can we afford it and is it sustainable?
On the issue of affordability, as a country we are 1.8 trillion shillings in debt, the Treasury recently ask the International Monetary Fund to waive public debt for the second time in six months. 1.2 million children start standard one every year, according to Google the cheapest laptops cost about USD$100. So giving every standard one child a laptop would cost the government USD $12 million, that’s almost 10 billion shillings next year alone.
Then there is the issue of electricity need to charge the laptops. It’s a fact that even in the country’s Metropolis, is electricity which is necessary to charge the laptops, is sporadic at best, and in some rural areas there is no electricity at all, unless the government is planning to correct this by next year, there is going to be a big problem charging the laptops. Of course the laptops could be solar charged, however enough solar panels, and convertors to charge to laptops for 1.2 million children would increase the price of laptops exponentially.
Apart from affordability and sustainability issues there are issues of priorities nationally, but even just within the education sector given our context and educational needs, is the provision of laptops for every standard one child really a priority. Public education has major quality issues, which the provision of laptops to standard one children will not rectify, take for instance the teacher student ratio.
So while the ambition to provide every standard one child with a laptop is laudable, maybe it needs to be rethought.