How Uhuru's Sh24.6 billion laptops project collapsed

President Uhuru Kenyatta at Catholic Primary School in Wajir on May 20, 2016 when he inspected the implementation of the Digital Literacy Programme. PHOTO | PSCU

What you need to know:

  • President Kenyatta had promised every Class One pupil a laptop but later issued some of them with tablets.
  • Frequent power outages in semi-urban and rural areas also affected successful implementation of the project.
  • Critics had urged the government to abandon the laptops project for computer labs but the government would hear none of it.

The Digital Literacy Programme, popularly known as the schools laptops project, was among President Uhuru Kenyatta’s pet projects when he came to power in 2013 with then The National Alliance party.

The Sh24.6 billion Jubilee government project which later transformed from issuance of laptops to tablets for Class One pupils faced a myriad of obstacles.

With the Ministry of Education’s latest policy shifting focus to construction of computer laboratories in schools, teachers and a section of political leaders mainly from opposition parties who faulted the project's viability right from the start may as well claim that the chickens have come home to roost.

Indeed, a number of critics had floated the idea of constructing Information and Communications Technology labs in schools but the proposal was rejected by the government.

Here are some of the challenges the project faced:

  • Poor infrastructure: Critics raised concerns over the poor state of primary school buildings, especially in semi-urban and rural areas. Questions arose as to how pupils studying under trees or in dilapidated mud-walled classrooms without desks would reap the fruits of such sophisticated educational technologies.

  • Budget cut: The laptop project's budget was reduced by Sh5.5 billion in last year's budget.

  • Electricity supply: Closely tied to infrastructure was the lack of electricity in some targeted schools. Even though the Jubilee government prides itself in connecting 95 percent of schools in the country to the national grid, rampant power outages still haunt rural villages.

  • Tender: The project was hit with tender rows after the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board cancelled a tender that had been awarded to Indian firm Olive Telecommunications PVT Ltd. The board had ruled that the company did not meet the mandatory financial requirement set in the tender document and did not prove that it was an original equipment manufacturer as envisaged. Olive Communications Ltd (OTL) went to court seeking judicial review of the decision but a three-judge bench upheld the board’s decision.

  • Curriculum and teacher training: Although the government launched a new curriculum to integrate ICT into teaching in classrooms in 2015, a report released last year by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development showed that only 39 per cent of teachers used ICT in teaching. Further, a Ministry of Education report in the same year showed that the project’s implementation stands at only five per cent. In earlier interviews, Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary General Wilson Sossion said the project was rushed without adequate training of teachers about its implementation and warned that it was bound to fail. Mr Sossion said about 70,000 teachers, who the government claims had been trained on the curriculum, were only assessed on their ICT capabilities.

  • Theft: Issues were raised about state of security in schools. Several schools across the country, among them Mosobecho Primary School in Nandi County and Mwena Primary School in Kwale, reported theft of their tablets.

  • Misuse: Some members of the public use the tablets for personal benefits. Grownup have been pictured shamelessly using the gadgets in public to capture memorable moments.