Monday, November 30, 2015

Tablets Stir Academic Excitement in Kibera Slums School

The pupils are engulfed in a state of pin-drop silence as each of the twenty pupils focus their eyes and index fingers on the luminous screens of the small, green tablets.

Although the classroom is made of crumbling mud with cracks on the wall letting in rays of sunlight, the internet connected gadgets virtually connects them to some of the best and well equipped libraries and academic centers across the world.

“I really love coming to school these days because I always looking forward to interacting with these beautiful and exciting gadgets,” Boaz Imbui, class seven, told Sagepage. “This is because besides having our lessons done through the tablets I also have an opportunity to play games, record music and our neighbourhood stories which we upload”.

The same sentiments are shared by Mary Ingina who says she used to miss school often but now she usually comes to school even during weekends.

“This is the best thing that ever happened to my days at St. Christine,” the class six pupil explains. “Most of us had never seen a tablet and we are glad now that we are able to use them”.

Since coming to power three years ago the government have been dilly dallying about rolling out the computer-for-schools programme, with the initial attempted entangled by corruption allegations.

The donor-funded community school has overcome all the odds to set the pace and do what the government has been unable to do in the last three years by successfully rolling out the tablets in its school.

“The programme have been at the school for the last one year and during that time it has emerged that if properly implemented, tablets-for-school can revolutionize learning as we know it,” explains, David Ochiel, the school’s ICT teacher. “Even though there are only 25 tablets that can only be used by a single class at a time, learning at St. Christine’s Academic Centre is no longer as it used to be”.

The tablets were introduced a year ago by a former slum boy who saw the idea in the United States during a scholarship has sparked a renewed interest in learning among the children, all of them from Kibera slums.

“Before we brought this concept absenteeism used to be a huge a issue but now, thanks to the excitement created by the tablets, school attendance is almost a hundred percent,” Jacob Ouma, the co-founder of the programme, told Wednesday Life. “In the past kids would rush to the field during break time and drag their feet to class after the bell. Today it’s the opposite as they rush to the library for their tablet-aided lessons”.

Run by a partnership between Open Learning Exchange (OLE) and Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the concept have rejuvenated the vigour, energy and hunger for learning among these slum kids as never seen before.

“Although the school only have 20 tablets, the project is done in such a way that each tablet, that cost Sh3000, is used by as many as children as possible. This means if you apply the same model for public school, you only need the number of tablets equivalent to one class population and each will have a machine of their own during their lesson,” Ouma explains. “St. Christine was chosen because it has a small pupil population of 20 per class which means each one will have his own tablet during their class”.

The founder, who grew up in Kibera and went through the slum community school system, further points that the government can learn from this in the sense that a public school with 2000 does not necessarily have to buy the same number of tablets.

“All the pupils cannot be using the tablets at the same time so what the government needs to do is do an assessment of the average number of pupils per class in a public school and then give each school gadgets equivalent to two or three classes,” Ouma says. “This means that at least two or three classes could be having a computer lesson at any particular time. Using this kind of planning each class will have a minimum of two lessons per week which enough exposure”.

Although the tablets, which use local area network (LAN), are kept in the library, the poorly stocked mud structure is just a location since each week the school uses the OLE system to download the latest editions of textbooks from around the world. 

“One of the biggest benefits that the tablets have brought to St. Christine School is giving the pupils an access to a limitless stockpile of books from all corners of the world,” explains Mr. Ochiel. “All public schools in Kenya suffer from an acute shortage of reading materials and parents are often burdened with lists of books to buy. This project has proved that to schools will solve this perennial problem once and for all”. 

The pupils also do their assignments through the tablets and send it directly to the teacher who marks it and then store it in that particular students account. That way there is a data base that is used to analyse the student’s performance over a period of time.

The online connectivity have also created a platform where the pupils from Kibera can interact with their colleagues from Manchester and any other point around the world, hence giving them global exposure from the comfort of their locality.

“Imagine the kind of revolution this would bring to the rural primary schools where they have a platform to access the standards of international schools within their localities,” Ouma expounds. “This will inculcate an urban mind to the rural learner and with devolution taking root the future generation will no longer see the need to immigrate to the major urban centres”.

The programme has also forced the teachers at St. Christine Academic Centre to re-organize their teaching methods and make it more tech savvy.

 “Using the OLE system the teacher can create a virtual class, identify areas where the student is struggling and generally interact with the students and give them instant assignments and results in real time,” Ochiel, the ICT teacher says. “The system can also be used in high schools where there are no laboratories since they access chemical reactions and body parts online without the need of a laboratory to do it physically”.

Since the introduction of the gadgets, the school administrators say, performance has improved by more than 25 percent compared to previous years.

 “Implementing the project which has been close to a whole year has cost us around Sh500,000, which was catered for by our donors,” Ouma notes. “This includes the cost of the hardware and other monies used to enable the school benefit from the systems internationally since it runs on a platform called Bell”.

But the payment for the Bell platform is one-off and the gadgets have a lifespan of up to seven years which means if damage is avoided the costs are almost zero.

“Since we introduced the gadgets here none of them have been damaged in any way,” Ochiel, whose main duty is to help the students in using the gadgets, says. “The pupils and teachers are so attached to the gadgets that they care and handle them as if they were their own personal property”.

The interaction with the tablets is organized in such a way that each class from 4-7 has a section with the gadgets every day.
Besides learning the tablets encourages other extracurricular activities like playing games and creating a data base of their personal stories.

The St. Christine Academy tablets project, Ouma notes, have proved that the tablets-for-schools projects would revolutionize learning if implemented well across the public institutions.

“But for this project to be a success that it has been for the last one year we had to let the teachers understand it and own it since they are the ones who understand the pupils needs,” he recalls. “We had to train them and let them understand the benefits of the programme to the whole process of learning. Today they design lessons and conduct real time quizzes using the tablets”.

Ouma says that from their experience at St. Christine Education Centre, a nationwide teacher training should already be underway if the tablets-for-schools project was to be rolled out successfully.

“The state should also consider buying the tablets locally since there are Kenyan manufacturers that are producing tablets designed for the school environment,” he explains. “This means the tablets are waterproof and do not scratch or break easily”.

An inter-ministry committee chaired by the ICT CS Fred Matiang’I was formed to spearhead the government tablets-for-schools project, with Sh17.58 billion set aside for the programme.

Although the state through Rural Electrification Authority says more than 95 percent of public schools have been connected to electricity in readiness for the programme, public schools pupils are yet to receive the digital devices.

The new approach was adopted after the initial attempt was hit by corruption allegations at the procurement stage. Being a key pillar of the Jubilee government manifesto there seem to be a concerted effort to put the gadgets in the hands of pupils before 2017.
Countries that have successfully implemented the tablets-for-schools includes Rwanda and Uruguay

Monday, July 6, 2015

Give Us a Break on this Gay Nonsense!!!

Since the High Court ruled that the government cannot block the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from forming an organisation, the contraversial debate of how far Kenya should tolerate gay people have been raging on.

While the three-judge bench acknowledged that the Penal Code criminalises “gay and lesbian liasons”, they added that “popular morality should not be the basis for limiting rights in Kenya”. 

The recent US Supreme Court ruling that gay marriages be legalised in that country and Barack Obama, who openly supports same sex unions, bound to visit Kenya soon the debate is bound to get more heated in days to come.

Granted that every Kenyan’s right is guranteed by the Constitution, the enjoyment of those rights should be in a manner that does not infringe in the rights of others. This, perhaps, explains why although prostitutes have a right to earn a living as Kenyan citizens, whatever they do is construed to be injurious to our moral fabric hence its criminalisation.

But this is the opposite in liberal Europe for instance where prostitution is legal in eight countries.  Therefore it is hypocritical, belittling and neo-colonial for Western countries to pressurise and threaten Africa, including Kenya, to either embrace LGBTs or face the music.

In 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to cut his country’s aid to African nation’s whose governments were sponsoring anti-gay laws like Uganda, which had then passed a tough anti-gay law that called for capital punishment, and Ghana. 

President Barack Obama, who have been a strong opponent of gay marriages until May 2012, provoked a rebuke from African leaders while visiting Senegal when he tried to urge African leaders to leaglise gay marriages.

Some people have quoted questionable “research” to justisfy that gayism is genetic while its an open secret that just like prostitution, drinking and smoking its an acquired social behaviour.

With allegations flying around social media that the US Secretary of State John Kerry refused to shake Deputy President William Ruto’s hand during his visit to Kenya because of the latter’s statement that gays have no place in Kenya, there is all likelihood that Kerry’s boss might make advocating for LGBTs’ rights one of his key agendas when he visits Kenya in next month.
As President Macky Sall of Senegal told Obama, African culture is wired against “strange” sexual orientations like homosexuality. Therefore trying to force this down our throats through intimidation and sponsored activism will only continue enriching lobbyists and wasting energy and resources that would otherwise be used in other more urgent causes like development.

Even among the most liberal Western societies where gayism is decriminalised “coming out” to reveal one’s orientation as a homosexual is always treated with a lot of hullabaloo because most practise it in hiding.

Examples of prominent personalities who stunned the whole world, including their fellow liberal countrymen, when they came out include CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, Apple CEO Tim Cook, actor Wentworth Miller, and pop stars Elton John, Ricky Martin and Lady Gaga. 

The very limited number of LGBTs elected in positions of leadership even in countries where they are legalised is an indicator that, indeed, this is not a “normal” behaviour as its ardent proponents would like us to believe.  In France, the law prohibits gay men from donating blood and a recent European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling seemed to support this stand.

Legalising or giving LGBTs more space in Kenya will, most likely, make this unconventional behaviour look cool among impressionable teenagers and youth, hence tempting them to adopt it to “blend in”.

Therefore to ensure we shield our future generations from pervasive and addictive socialisation like prostitution, drug abuse, consumption of illicit liquor and homosexuality we must  put in place the right legal and moral barriers to curb their proliferation.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Clinton's Book "My Life: The Presidential Years" Fits the Bill

It’s a traditional trend in the Western world that when leaders retire they immortalize their reigns by writing memoirs , biographies or autobiographies where they explain the behind-the-scene machinations of their time in office and why they made certain key decisions.

So with Kenya playing host to former US President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea when he visited to inspect projects under Bill Clinton Foundation we take a look at his captivating book My Life: The Presidential Years.
Although the book is the second volume, one does not need to have read My Life: The Early Years, which deals with his childhood, to understand this book. 

From the 68 year-old’s budget fights with the Republicans, dealing with Haiti’s internal political turmoil, his relation with post-communism Russia, the Bosnian war and efforts to bring together iconic Middle East leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat the book is a walk through the American history of the 1990s.

Besides taking the ordinary reader behind the scenes to explain how major events were shaped and influenced, My Life: Presidential Years is a good read for Kenyan political leaders, particularly President Uhuru Kenyatta, since it explains how one of the most successful politician in modern America made his decisions.

“One of the most important decisions a President has to make is when to take the advice of the people who work for him and when to reject it,” Clinton explains. “Nobody can be right all the time, but its a lot easier to live with bad decisions that you believed in when you made them than with those your advisors says are right but your gut says are wrong”.

There are also many incidences where self-criticizes and regrets ever making certain decisions like failing to intervene before the Rwanda genocide the claimed almost a million lives, getting too cozy with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and lying about it.

 The book is also full of humour, one of Clinton’s unknown gifts, which he sometimes humourized serious issues to unsettle his opponents and, he says, make decision-making easier and fun.
“It was unthinkable that two great countries (Greece and Turkey) with a real dispute over Cyprus would actually go to war over ten acres of rock islets inhabited by a couple of dozen shop,” Clinton writes of the two countries’ dispute over the Imia/Kardak Islands. “I couldn’t help laughing to myself at the thought that whether or not I succeeded in making peace in Middle East, Bosnia, or Northern Ireland, at least I had saved some Aegean sheep”.

The book delves into the details about the two controversies that not only threatened his presidency but also his marriage to Hillary; the Whitewater Scandal and the Monica Lewinsky issue. 

While he believes the Whitewater was a scandal that never was promoted by his chief Republican rivals Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich, Clinton admits that he was as guilty as charged in the issue of Lewinsky.

“What I had done with Monica Lewinsky was immoral and foolish. I was deeply ashamed of it and I didn’t it come out,” the former US President writes. “I was trying to protect my family and myself from my selfish stupidity. I was disgusted with myself for doing it, and in the spring, when I saw her again (daughter Chelsea), I told her that it was wrong for me, wrong for my family, wrong for her, and I couldn’t do it any more”.

Clinton says he was surprised when Hillary, who he admits never spoke to him for a month during the debacle, supported him publicly, failure to which would have ended his presidency prematurely. He also reveals that his emotions were in such a turmoil that he engaged the counseling of three pastors and experienced frequent anger outbursts.

“I was grateful that she was brave enough to participate in the counseling. We were still each other’s best friend and I hoped we could save our marriage,” the former US President explains. “Meanwhile I was still sleeping on the couch, this one in the small living room that adjoined our bedroom. I slept on that couch for two months or more…the couch was pretty comfortable, but I hoped I wouldn’t be on it forever”.

In The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House former White House reporter Kate Anderson not only confirms that Hillary condemned the former president to the couch for months during the Lewinsky saga but hit him with a book on the head.

“The rumour backstairs at the White House was that she clocked him with a book, and there were bunches of books on her bedside table, including the bible,” Anderson says. “They(household staff) heard Hillary Clinton yell, ‘you bastard’ and throw some heavy objects across the room. They all thought it was a lamp”.

Admitting to family friend Diane Blair that she forgave her husband because Lewinsky was a “narcissistic loony toon” Hillary, who recently declared her entry into the race to succeed President Barack Obama, avoided this thorny issue in his latest memoirs Hard Choices.

But despite all these Clinton still finds some nice words about his long time wife, who suffered a lot of flak from the media during the saga.

“Because I was helpless to stop them, all I could was stand by her, telling the press that America would be a better place “if everybody in this country had the character my wife has,” the ex-president said. “My consolation was the sure knowledge, rooted in twenty-five years of close observation, that she was a lot tougher than they would ever be. Some guys don’t like that in a woman, but it was one of the reasons why I loved her”.

One critical lesson that the Kenyan society can learn from My Life: The Presidential Years is the fact in America no one is above the law, including the President. Clinton explains his grilling by private prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the numerous senatorial committees he had to face.
The book should also stir retired Kenyan politicians, or writers, to cultivate the culture of writing memoirs, biographies and autobiographies where they explain why they made certain decisions while in power for posterity. This, if sustained, might just infuse some sense of integrity and responsibility among those in power. 

 He also eulogizes great friends and colleagues who died during his reign like Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated for his support of Palestinian-Isreal peace initiative in 1995, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown whose plane crashed in Croatia in 1996 and Deputy White House Council Vince Forster who committed suicide in 1992.