A pre-analysis of Jubilee’s One Solar Laptop per Child Initiative(OSLPCI)

Samsung Solar Laptop

Samsung Solar Laptop

During the recently concluded electoral campaigns President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto captivated the minds of Kenyan parents with a promise of delivering to every Standard One pupil entering school in 2014 a solar powered laptop to enhance and aid their learning environment(see video below).

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As expected many Kenyans were sceptical given the perception that many Government projects begin with pomp and fury but end up as duds; wasting billions of shillings that could otherwise have gone to more basic and immediate needs.

I thought it would be prudent for us to examine through a Strength Weakness Opportunity Threat( SWOT) analysis the feasibility of such a project in present day Kenya.

Strengths

  • Kenya has a reasonably developed ICT Sector with 3G and Fibre internet connectivity across most of the country that can support remote management of the project.
  • Kenya has a good number of Hardware Companies that have a track record in assembly and distribution of hardware that can be relied on to install and deliver the necessary equipment if need be.
  • Kenya is home to major technology players such as Samsung, Huawei, ZTE, Microsoft, IBM and HP who can be entrusted to deliver both the hardware and software platforms needed to create the eco-system needed for such a project.
  • Kenya has a sufficient number of trained personnel at every level of the project delivery chain to sustain the project albeit if well organized.
  • Kenya has the capacity to train personnel should there be a shortfall within the aforementioned value chain.
  • Kenya has many Non Governmental Organizations(NGOs) that have built vast experience in delivering similar projects across other sectors. This experience can therefore be tapped into to help create a robust plan to mitigate against the following weaknesses.

Weaknesses

  • Many Kenyan educational institutions are stuck in what we could call an “Analog” mindset due to many years on poor funding and lack of training in modern educational techniques. Mindsets would need to change through an evolutionary process that all stake holders buy into.
  • Kenyan Governmental institutions have only recently begun improving their professional standards and therefore they would need to continue to up their efficiency levels to sustain such an ambitious project.
  • A lot of the backbone infrastructure needed to support this project is either lacking or outdated in many parts of Kenya. This includes electricity, data connectivity, storage facilities as well as the school infrastructure itself.

Threats

  • This project could have a single point of failure that could easily be overlooked which is the Social/Cultural adoption of this new technology by all the stake holders in society. This is because this project attempts to bridge the old and the new, the Analog and the Digital,  the Traditional and the Modern. How will the Jubilee Government address this cultural issues facing this project? Will parents trust their children to their devices? Will communities appreciate the content their children are being exposed to such an early age? Will experienced Government technocrats in the educational sector work with youthful “geeks” at the same level to deliver this project successfully? Will chalk board teachers adapt to new methods of teaching?
  • How will the project be financed and sustained while mitigating threats such as corruption and wastage of funds?
  • I trust there are experts within the Jubilee team who will address these issues given the efficiency with which they ran their election campaign. In my humble opinion the Opportunity this Initiative presents in terms of addressing a myriad of societal problems is to huge to be ignored or poorly executed.
Opportunities
  • The biggest opportunity of this project lies in the early exposure of young minds to technology and information that could allow for development of individual talents and skills from an early age. If you think about some of the Worlds best technological and scientific brains like Steve Jobs(Apple Inc) and Mark Zuckerburg(Facebook Inc) many had exposure to technology from a very young age (Watch Video Below). It is likely that a sustained OSLPC initiative will in the long run create our own local technological giants and safeguard Kenya’s position as a Technological Hub i.e Silicon Savannah.

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  • While the Technology Sector is likely to be the biggest long term beneficiary. The OSLPC Initiative is likely to have a positive socio-economic impact in the following sectors Education, Health, Energy and Agriculture given the kind of content that is likely to be adopted and curated for these school going children. I would actually advocate for localization of content to County Level to meet the societal needs and aspirations of Kenyans wherever they are.
  • It will also be important to expose the children especially as they grow older and head into their Secondary School years to more Open Internet Based Platforms like the Khan Academy which provide engaging content that can equip young people with access to information more relevant to their passion and needs. In my view Interests Based Education could be much more effective than Formal and Standardized education. They beauty about this approach is that it is something that can be implemented fairly quickly for older students through other initiatives like One Computer Lab per School.
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Indeed the opportunities the One Solar Laptop per Child Initiative offers are endless. The question remains what innovative ways can we come up with to ensure this project kicks off in the new year in a sustainable way.

This entry was posted in News, Society, Technology, Videos by John Karanja. Bookmark the permalink.

About John Karanja

I am the Founder of BitHub Africa a Blockchain Accelerator providing Consultancy and Incubation services for individuals and firms interested in Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology. I am also a Director at Space Kenya Networks Ltd which is a company I co-founded in 2008 that provides work space for businesses and startups operating in Nairobi. I have been awarded the Vision2030 ICT Award 2011 for Innovation in Youth and Gender Sector by the Kenyan Government.
  • http://www.facebook.com/thomas.ki.796 Thomas Ki

    Being a hardworking Kenya am looking to help the Government, where so we pick up tenders to work towards this initiative?

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    I think at lot of thinking will have to go into setting up a framework of delivering this initiative. Its not simply a procurement issue alone, nevertheless local companies should be allowed to deliver services at different levels of this project. It goes without saying that the tendering process should be open and transparent as well.

  • Julius Ojakaa

    This thing is possible, seen Rwanda do it, I think though that we first need to get the basics, as in we can’t have kids on an empty stomach and no clothes under a tree with laptops, let’s get the basics and this will definitely happen.

  • Anonymous

    It is possible. But the objectives have to be clearer than just having laptops in Kids’ hands. The objectives should then define the content that must be pushed with the hardware as well as the software that us used to present the content. After the content and the objectives around that are sorted then there will be the whole issue of training the teachers. Perhaps then phase one should be about one laptop per teacher for them to learn and acclimatize with the tools and content first.

    That said, the biggest challenge that the project would need to handle in my view is security. Ie if adults are having problem walking safely with their laptops, how about a class one kid. If the solution is tethering the laptops to the desks in the class rooms, then that looses the benefits associated with mobility.

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    Thanks for the insightful comments clearly implementation will have to be in stages as for security perhaps locking each device to each child’s biometrics could reduce incentive to steal, however this approach raises ethical issues of tracking identities of people below 18.

    I agree there is little point in giving laptops to people and them locking their use to desks…

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    Yeah a hungry child with a solar laptop will be quite the irony! Free milk perhaps?

  • http://twitter.com/Ramah_Nyang Ramah Nyang

    In theory, the idea has lots of potential. That’s not in dispute.

    My main gripe here, isn’t with the idea itself – it’s with [1] it’s execution in the context of the other problems the sector faces, especially infrastructure and manpower, and [2] how it fits in with Kenya’s public finances.

    Simply put, we just don’t have the money to waste on plans which, while valid, are not needed right now since we have more critical things to work on. To elaborate on the money argument, KRA collected KES 707 B in tax revenues in the last financial year. That, plus borrowing, and whatever we roll over from the prior fiscal year, has to fund a budget of KES 1.2 Trillion shillings.

    Currently, cash is limited. So why spend scarce KES buying laptops instead of hiring more teachers and paying them better? Or say, building proper classrooms and cutting that insane teacher-pupil ratio? Which of these will bring the greatest bang for our buck? I say it’s sorting out the infrastructure and manpower basics first.

    But you could argue – hang on, we can do all of those simultaneously! I’d disagree. Again, it’s a simple question of money. If this program is entirely reliant on GoK finances, what other spending would we cut in order to finance higher spending on laptops, more teachers and more schools? Sure, GoK has consistently talked about cutting spending – but if we look at its spending patterns over the last 5 fiscal years, spending cuts are absent.

    So if GoK’s failed to trim spending in the last 5 years, why would they succeed now? What will they do different? For as long as this plan has no hard numbers to back it, it remains no better than a man in his late 20s taking out a loan to buy a 7-series BMW, while still living in his mother’s SQ.

    RN.

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    hmmm from a fiscal perspective the project does look “crazy” ambitious! I think we agree that to unlock the funds for this project the Government would need to be made as lean as possible perhaps by deploying personnel to County Governments for starters.

    The current Recurrent expenditure is too high to sustain such a project!

    Don’t you think this is the kind of project we need to DISRUPT(re-organize) how government works for the better?

  • http://twitter.com/Ramah_Nyang Ramah Nyang

    Yes. Significant disruption has been required for a while now – but no politician, frankly, has the balls needed for the job. Remember the outcry from the layoffs at Telkom Kenya, and KPLC before that? Multiply that by factor of 100 – now you have an idea of just how far GoK needs to go to trim its workforce, cut its wage bill, and automate its operations.

    To give you a more concrete example: around 2010/11, Uhuru Kenyatta [then Finance Minister] wrote a letter to the IMF with the CBk Governor in which he pledged to freeze further wage increases in the public sector. That never happened. As you can see here [ http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Treasury-puts-civil-servants-on-three-year-wage-freeze/-/539550/1108280/-/11tlcegz/-/index.html ] the idea was met with quite a bit of outcry.

  • http://twitter.com/Ramah_Nyang Ramah Nyang

    More reactions to the idea of a wage freeze at the time: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Row-emerges-over-IMF-civil-servants-wage-freeze-demand/-/539550/1144788/-/u4uvo6/-/index.html there’s an interesting line here where the Public Service Minister, Dalmas Otieno says the move would make GoK less competitive, vis-a-vis the private sector.

    Ironically, in 2012 the average wage in Government [around KEs 35 000 p.m.] was higher than that in the private sector [around KES 33 000 p.m.]. Dalmas’ comments about a lack of competitiveness were overblown.

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    It seems that the Jubilee Government has a huge PR challenge ahead in selling both this project as well as associated Public Service cut-back measures…

  • http://twitter.com/Ramah_Nyang Ramah Nyang

    Quite so.

  • http://twitter.com/matrixster Matrix

    I’ll be forthcoming about it. I think it is not a properly thought out idea.

    Indeed we would like Kenyans who are tech savvy to drive the nation toward a 35% IT-related GDP contribution. But let’s get the logistics figured out. Here’s a student in a school in the middle of Ukambani. The school has no electricity. Meaning you cannot charge the computers. Assuming we get them solar powered ones: most people in public boarding primary schools out of Nairobi will confirm that whenever they washed clothes they would almost keep vigil watching them dry for fear of theft. Now imagine computers being charged out on a tin roof in a school where classes 2-8 do not have the same.

    What happens when a laptop gets stolen or gets broken? How long does it take to replace one? Is the new one free? If the computers are required for an exam and a replacement has not come in what does the pupil do?

    Let’s look at the teachers. We are presupposing that we train Class 1 teachers and bequeath them computer skills. Remember these are the least trained TSC members so far. They earn a paltry 6000 – 8000 pm. Now they have computer skills. Will they stay put earning that little, even less than the class 5-8 teachers who are less ‘trained’ than them? My opinion is most of them will move on to more lucrative jobs that meet their newly acquired skills.

    If left to me I’d have the laptops given to secondary students – they have the mental capacity to not only use computers in their studies, but also to understand how they work and how they can make them work better in the future professions i.e. innovate. Class one pupils will only use them for typing. Period. We don’t want kids learning to use Excel & calculations before they understand the concept of arithmetic or spelling proper English. Let them acquire basic skills first then use computers to simplify advancement of these skills later on.

    Someone mentioned Rwanda. Well, remember the Rwanda OLPC was a project of MIT. They babysat the project from the outset. And no all children are getting the computers. And it was solving a totally different problem from Kenya. What problem are we solving in Kenya? Who will sponsor the project in Kenya? The Government. End of joke.

    Just my 2 cents 🙂

  • http://twitter.com/kryskaka krys Kakoba

    I think the “Harmonization Jubilee Manifesto” Is a new Era for the Kenya Education, Providing a solar laptop to every child will have so many potential in enhancing the education system in Kenya. The implementation, deployment and scalability of the program will become more easy through the support and facilitation from the government,…

    Nonetheless, from my long time experience, In order for the program to be successful, the government will have to face so many challenges; elaborate a clear plan including incorporate “One laptop Per child Initiative” in the Kenyan curriculum and work closely with institutions like the Ministry of Education and the Kenya Institute of Education “KIE” to elaborate the right content that will be relevant to kids in the Kenyan environment.

    The government should also think to work closely with NGO’s and research institutions to support, collect data and measure the impacts of this new technology in Kenya so as to provide feedback to contributors program “OLPC Foundation” which will allow to build the right hardware with components that are useful for our kids,

    The tech community, developers and programmers who create apps for education need to be part of the initiatives in testing, creating and adapting their software “Activities” for this particular hardware.

  • TechMoran.com

    Those kids need a classroom with a roof, good food and awesome teachers! Laptops can begin in form one.

  • Pingback: The Jubilee Laptops()

  • MMK

    No one has asked what happens when the kids go to class 2. Do they leave the laptops behind? Are the laptops government property so that the incoming class 1s inherit, or do they get new laptops?

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    I think the idea is to give each kid a mobile computing device that can allow them to interact with learning content from an early age as possible. They are supposed to carry these devices home…

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    It seems impossible to provide the above in the short and medium term hence the need for adopting technology i.e. mobile computing device to leap frog this problem…

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    I think the availability of distribution technologies such as appstores as well as whitespaces for created wireless networks such a program has been come feasible especially if the right partners are involved. This is should be run under a Public Private Partnership under Vision 2030.

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    On the issue of theft I think it is possible to lock down these computers to one student i.e through use of biometrics. On the issue of damaged or lost device, once it is proven a device cannot be pinged or tracked insurance can compensate the student with a new device. On issue of skills the devices shouldn’t offer high level skills(as the are cheap) as such they will introduce the students and teachers to basic computing skills as well as interactive content.

    Krys in the comments above is an OLPC expert so will ask him to contribute a more detailed analysis of his experience here…

  • George

    The benefits to the students and the country as a whole that would be brought about by the successful implementation of this project are huge.

    In my opinion the biggest emphasis to eventual success should be paid to;

    (1) The teachers – the ordinary teacher has to buy the idea first. Sell it to them and the chances of success are pretty good.

    (2) Government implementation – This should be treated like a business complete with a CEO who reports directly to the president. This might very well be Jubilee’s Thika Road.

    George

  • http://twitter.com/KaranjaJohn KingBee

    Yeah I agree, getting the teachers to sell the idea would probably be the more effective approach.

    The question is how can it be made more relevant to both the teacher and student at the same time.

  • Isaack

    Biggest challenge will be getting the implementers ( teachers) in tandem with technology, my guess is that majority of teachers are not computer literate, however with proper planning most if not all lower primary teachers can be trained by 2004

  • http://twitter.com/matrixster Matrix

    I think Kindle-like devices would be more than sufficient for these kids, as @Roomthinker pointed out. More sustainable, use little power for longer and can carry all the learning material required.

  • David Svarrer

    We are in Digital Age Institute already participating in this programme, in that we are educating Secondary School teachers in use of IT. Its our take, that the teachers are not having many problems adapting. It appears to me to be Nairobi Central City Thinking that teachers up country are not modern. Yes – indeed there are a few who need much more guidance – but they are few – and they are very motivated – playful – absorbing – I’m not in doubt that this will be an initiative working for a long time to come.

    In regards to taking the laptops home? I don’t think so.

    One of the challenges is maintenance and repair. However – the polytechnics have already educated too many hardware competent repair guys – now the good news: Yoo Hooooo – there’s a job for them !

    Embracing this new technology will most probably do what it has done elsewhere – speed up all development, education, society development tremendously.

    Now only missing that we all unite: Teachers / Students / Institutions – so that we can conquer this new world of Information Technology together.

    Kindly
    David Svarrer
    CEO / Principal
    Digital Age Institute Ltd.
    0786 936 145 / 0714 503 333