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Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Laptop is the Disruptive Transformation Kenya's Education Needs

Kenya’s education system is in deep crisis. Primary education free but over one million children are out of school and those in school are not learning. A survey of primary school teachers revealed that some teachers scored 17% in a math test based on the syllabus they teach. For the massive outlay of public resources, 6.7% of GNP, our education accomplishes too little for our children and society.

In 2011 Uwezo, a civil society group that monitors educational achievement showed that 2 out 3 pupils in Standard 3 failed a Standard 2 literacy and numeracy test. Among standard 3 pupils only 28% from the poorest households had achieved expected numeracy and literacy, compared to 48% in the richest households. Hence, education could also be exacerbating rather than ameliorating social inequality in Kenya. Moreover, transition rates are depressing. In 2011 the gross enrollment ratio in secondary school was 48%, woefully low compared to 115% in primary school.

Memorization and regurgitation are distinctive features of our exam-centric education. Our education system demands little creativity of our children and teachers. In a majority of schools teachers do not focus on teaching and learning, but on jerking up the school mean grade and national ranking. The foundational failure of our primary education is felt at the secondary school level. There is increasing concern about the state of university education. A majority of graduates our universities cannot write well and are incapable of critical thinking and complex reasoning.

Our education system treats the child as the immature being who must be matured, the superficial being who must be deepened. The focus of our education is the subject matter of the curriculum and not the child’s experience. At the heart of whatever is dysfunctional about our education is the subordination to the curriculum of the creative imagination and playful discovery of the child. The child must be the starting point, the center of the education experience. Teaching and learning in our schools needs radical transformation.

The one laptop per child pledge by this government could provide the radical transformation needed to broaden access and equity, make our education child-centred and improve learning outcomes. The laptop can take the child beyond mindless, unthinking learning. The laptop can enable the child to actively engage in a process of learning through doing. The laptop can encourage self-directed learning and peer-to-peer learning, where children also learn by actively assisting other learners. In Rwanda and Ethiopia, where laptops have been introduced in primary school, attendance surged. Studies have shown that use of laptops in the classroom helped students to write more, faster and better.

Imagine the burst of creativity a laptop or tablet with a built-in functionality for still and video photography, voice recording, and game playing can unlock in a child. What our children lack is not capability, but opportunity and resources. When a child has a laptop, they have in their hands the key to active co-creation. Socio-economic barriers are annihilated because they can access high-quality learning resources, engage their passions and develop their expertise.

But the laptop alone will not improve learning outcomes – even as it is the most critical ingredient in transformation. Three implementation challenges must be addressed. The first challenge is to design and pilot content for electronic delivery – both at a distance and in blended learning models – using CD-ROM, DVD and Internet. Existing instructional materials, especially textbooks, must be revamped to support interactive, problem based and discovery oriented learning. The second challenge is working with teachers to unlearn didactic and curriculum centred methods. The teacher must learn to be the guide on the side, not the all-knowing oracle. The third challenge is assessments, how we measure student progress and learning outcomes. We can no longer rely on existing assessment methods, which require mindless memorization and regurgitation. We must design assessment methods to evaluate teamwork, innovation, creativity, critical thinking and complex reasoning.

Like the electronics we use everyday – TV, PlayStation, the ATM or the smartphone – using school laptops should not require training teachers or pupils on IT. The hardware must be simple, driven by intuitive and interactive user interphase.

I believe eLearning via laptop, tablet or smartphone can deliver the much-needed disruptive transformation in our education. But the devil is in the implementation. Five years into implementation and at a prodigious cost of $200 million, Peru’s One Laptop Per Child Initiative flopped. We could learn from Peru’s experience?

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