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