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Could Better Broadband Save the Education System?

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It’s here, it’s here! The undersea fibreoptic cable has made landfall. The movers and shakers in Kenya’s ICT sector have been busy making deals, while spotty teenaged boys in Runda are sweaty-palmed with anticipation at all the extra porn they will soon be consuming.

But could faster broadband actually help the Kenyan school system? If we are going to be regional ICT leaders, we’d better have a technically literate population to fill the jobs. Only the school system at the moment is a mess: classes are overcrowded, teachers are relying on texts that might be out of date, there aren’t enough secondary school places, there aren’t enough qualified teachers, and there is chronic underfunding, thanks to our benevolent kleptocratic representatives in government. Some schools don’t even have electricity, so what madness am I talking about when I imagine how they could benefit from improved ICT infrastructure?

Knowledge management and dissemination. All it needs is one computer with web access, a couple of hours browsing, a printer and a photocopier. There you go. The wealth of information available on the internet means that it is no longer necessary to rely on expensive textbooks to learn a subject; you can build your own through referencing works already available, and keep it current through the use of news and RSS feeds. I taught myself how to program without needing to read a book, so surely it can’t be beyond the abilities of the Education Ministry to devise some sort of  electronic ancillary to the curriculum?

I’m only talking baby steps here, this is not a vision for a new dawn in Kenyan education. If we can’t guarantee a school place for every child in the country, it’s unrealistic to start talking about having a netbook at every desk. Still, what is there to stop copies of teaching materials being available for download for those schools who have internet access, and being printed and sent to those schools who don’t? They could easily be updated with each school year or tweak in the curriculum, and the cost would surely be lower than the books that many schools can’t actually afford. The only losers I can sense from this would be the publishing industry.

Yet what have we heard from our esteemed leaders with regards to education? Barely a peep. No ideas, no innovation, no clue. Where do they imagine that all these newly-minted techno-pioneers are going to come from? If we don’t import them, how are they going to grow them at home? Maybe they imagine that people build up technical expertise through radio waves.

The education system needs reform, and there is also a need for a comprehensive national ICT training strategy if Kenya is to properly take advantage of the opportunity better internet access presents. While the focus has naturally been on commercial developments, we would do well to remember the generation coming up who could benefit from similar attention too.

[Image by Teach and Learn]

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