Getting Computers into Kenyan Schools

The idea of getting computers into schools is not new. Since the era of personal computing arrived in the 1970’s there have been efforts to integrate computers into school education. Traditionally this has been in the form of computer labs but more recently, with initiatives like One Laptop Per Child (laptop.org/), emphasis has shifted to getting computers to students. Giving students direct access to computers is a good idea which is logistically feasible, and can be made cost effective. Over the last year we have been visiting schools in western Kenya gathering ideas on how to make such a project work. In Kenya we believe that for secondary schools the time is right.

The cheapest computer in the Kenyan market at the moment is just over Ksh 20000. Meanwhile, students spend 4 years in secondary school and tend to stay at a single school. Interviews with parents from a wide range of backgrounds indicate that families would happily participate in a program to pay for student laptops through increased school fees. School fees are always difficult for families to raise but discussions with a wide range of parents about an increase in fees so that their child gets a laptop has uniformly met with enthusiastic response, since Kenyan parents understand that computer skills are essential for the success of their children. The bigger schools would only need a 10% increase to cover the full cost of a laptop over a 4 year period, while smaller schools would only be covering about half the cost of the laptop with 20%. Most schools sit somewhere in the middle, where 20% of school fees is close to Ksh 4000 a year. A number of schools ranging from some of the best in the region to the smallest have said that if such an initiative were to be arranged they would like to be included.

In the past few months, we have had major technological advancements which could have far reaching implications for our initiatives. Tablets and Raspberry pi’s are the new developments, and we feel that we can get tablets into Kenya for just Ksh 6000. Tablets are much cheaper than laptops, are easy to maintain by students and can run some but not all of the mathematical software that we hope to introduce to students. We are however confident that most of the benefits students get from computers can be gotten from tablets. We feel that there is a higher chance of students even from poorer backgrounds to access and benefit from these new technologies.