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Is Edtech the Solution to Improving Access to Quality Education?

October 17 marks the international day for the eradication of poverty, which was why the hashtag #EndPoverty was trending on twitter that day. It’s known that one way to break the poverty cycle is to increase access to quality education. Now there are two words in that sentence that are easy to spell out but very difficult to implement in the real world; access and quality.

On October 13, 2017, President Kenyatta signed a bill that allocates Sh 25 billion for free secondary education that kicks off in January 2018. While we can sit and romanticize the idea of free education all we want, one can only imagine the logistical nightmare that can result from throwing the doors open for everyone to enter schools without properly preparing for it…

The floor would buckle under the weight of the crowd rushing through the doors.

Free primary education was introduced back in 2003, and using data presented in a 2014 paper by W. Njeru et al. on the Impact of Free Primary Education (FPE) on Quality of Education in Kenya Primary Schools, results showed that FPE did increase student enrollment, but it didn’t help with the textbook:pupil ratio and teacher: pupil ratio. The most disturbing among the results is that 73 % of schools surveyed have a teacher:student ratio above 1:35.
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Okay, so we cannot claim that this study completely unveils the curtains on the realities of government schools in Kenya as data was collected from only 22 schools from Embu East sub-county. However, it does give a (grim) sneak peek.

In fact, at some point the Education CS said the teacher: pupil ratio can reach 1: 85!

Now I just want you to stop here and imagine 85 breathing, fidgeting, talking students inside a single classroom focused on a single teacher.It is the classical example of a teacher ‘yuajikausha koo bure’ (making his throat go dry for no reason), because except for a motivated few, it’s hard to imagine students paying attention in such an environment.

The good news is this…

It’s 2017 and not 2003.

Which means technology has advanced in such a way that there’s room for Edtech companies to come in and support the extra weight of both the primary and secondary free educational systems.

The integration of edtech products to the current educational systems is an interesting discussion to have with key stakeholders. On one hand, some schools/teachers view edtech as a threat that’s going to replace them….
which makes me say, the wave of technology is already here whether they like it or not so there are only two ways to survive, ride the wave or drown under it.

The other comment is that technology is just a tool to help teachers do their jobs. It takes more than a tool to become indispensable, to empathize with students, build rapport and inspire them. To modify NRA’s slogan…

Tools don’t inspire people.

People inspire people.

Parents on the other hand are a totally different story. There are two extremes here; on one hand you have children who are completely banned from using technology during the school year and on the other hand you have kids with full (unregulated/unmonitored) access.

I advocate the introduction of tech to kids at an early age (10 years of age). I understand the fears and concerns that parents have especially when it comes to self-esteem issue, cyberbullying and trolling, but I also believe with proper regulation and monitoring, any potential damage can be reduced and the benefits outweigh the risks.
Think about it this way,
– Kids are going to get access to technology anyway, so might as well teach and train them from the beginning.
– Modern tech tools provide a platform to foster individual creativity & self-expression which are essential for personal development.
– Whatever change we introduce in education will manifest itself in 20 years time and we’re already far behind

Again, I reiterate, tech tools are just tools. They can be time-wasters and they can be empowering. They can be used for good or evil. You can have a smartphone and use it to stalk your friends on facebook for hours every day, or you can start an instagram business and be a budding entrepreneur at the age of 15.

To be honest, I personally feel the main issue when it comes to parents banning their kids from the internet is that man fears that which he doesn’t know. Parents understand that their kids are more tech-savvy than them, and so they use their authoritarian position to control the situation.

Same with teachers.

Now that I’ve made the case (I hope) for edtech to be part of every student’s life, let’s go to the ground and see some options for a Kenyan student (and their parents);

1) Eneza Education

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m biased towards Eneza because of an ongoing business relationship with them. But I am yet to find someone who has heard of the company and didn’t think it was brilliant.

Eneza is leveling the playing field by providing content to students across various platforms – Web, android, but most importantly SMS. It’s doing what M-Pesa did to the banking industry, allowing students access to educational content even on dumb-phones. They mainly focus on rural Africa, and their cost is as low as 10 US cents (or 10 KES) per week for unlimited content.

2) Elimu

Elimu provides rich multimedia content for web and tablet users. In addition to the free content available online, their android app gives access to KCPE revision papers, something that middle-class Kenyan parents already spend so much money on – except that they buy hard copes of these papers bound together under brand names such as the High Flyer series…etc.

Since this post has sprawled for so long, I’m going to end it with a confession that my personal experience in life colors my opinions on this topic. The emotions that dominated my school experience were boredom, loneliness and lots of anger (though in my defense I do believe that passion and anger are opposite sides of the same coin so I can claim that I was just a passionate kid).

But the point is, it was hard to find like-minded people in the classroom. Most of the girls around cared more about fashion, boys and going out to that bowling place in Al Mariah mall during the weekend than books and science. I was made to believe I was weird and struggled with belonging throughout school. That’s why I keep on thinking if social media existed at the time, school would have been easier.

At least, I would have understood that I wasn’t alone.

Published inBooksEngineering