Dr Bitange Ndemo, former permanent secretary in the Kenyan Ministry of Information & Communication, has penned an opinion article in the Daily Nation whose main thrust is that Kenyan children would fare well in online learning if the people changed their attitudes.
As the government tries to get teachers to teach online, voices of resistance continue to rise. Parents are arguing that not every child has access to broadband or devices.
The parents are right. It is not an empty argument. Forget broadband, there are houses without any means to access the Information Superhighway. The good prof just needs to walk to slums that surround Nairobi. Even in the “well-to-do” families, some kids in the city have to wait for Mum and Dad to come home in the evening so that they can use the company-assigned laptop. What happens in a family that has 2 or 3 kids?
In my view, these parents are abdicating their fiduciary duty on their children. When in a crisis, the immediate reaction is how do we effectively deal with it? If we ask the right questions, we might solve a big problem
Very good. These questions have been asked many times. The answers, from the government are still not here. Ndemo then gives examples of the questions that we should be asking and it is good to see that he is at least addressing them to the right quarters.
Can government zero-rate broadband? Can we crowdfund laptops for the poor? Can those with extra devices donate to the poor? Can the syllabus be put online for parents to assist their children? Can we have a hotline for consultations?
However, he must have forgotten that there are places where even charging the laptops battery will be a problem because such places are yet to be connected to the national power grid. I was born in such a village and the situation is still the same. Perhaps the laptops he is talking about will be solar powered? Even then, some families who do not have food for tomorrow will swiftly sell those devices. When the people are steeped in poverty, showing up with a connected laptop will not fix their problems. E-learning does not exist in a vaccuum.
Ndemo also writes about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and why we need to get on with the flow.
Our attitudes towards anything that is not within the norm is wanting in this era of rapid technological changes. We are in serious transition into a new era called the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will change the world like we have never seen before.
Spoken like a person living in the affluent part of the city. The rich and the middle class can afford to think about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and “changing the world”. The downtrodden in the villages worry about their next meal. A child not going to school is not their urgent priority. Sad as that may sound, it is the reality within which they operate.
Ndemo talks about 3G and 4G, forgetting that coverage of the country is one thing. Including the population in having that access is yet another thing.
As it is, 70 per cent of the population, is covered by either 3G or 4G. At least 95 per cent of Kenyans have access to radio and 100 per cent can access television. The question is how do we get our children to access in any of these platforms but more specifically through broadband in the shortest period.
There have been countless opportunities for the government to help the people access these technologies. There just was never enough will to do so because of the shortsightedness of the leaders. We forgot to lift our people out of poverty because we were too busy deploying 3G and 4G.
In times of crisis, we need to project a positive attitude to solving the emergent problems like learning of our children. With determination, we can resolve the challenges. We undermine the future of our children when use excuses to resist change that could likely be our new normal in the days to come.
I agree on the need to be positive and optimistic. However, the reality is that for a long time, the government has done little to enable the people. To harangue the same victims of the ineptitude of this and previous regimes is callous and will achieve nothing.
We can bring Google balloons to Kenya but we still have not found a way to make those balloons help the 10-year old girl in the deepest recesses of Kenya. When she is not going to school, she is fetching water and firewood or foraging for food. This has nothing to do with the attitude of her parents. It is all about the thieving and bad governance which is the government, in which Ndemo once served, is well known for. And, that is not an excuse.