Sh15b Internet programme for schools kicks off

Monday, September 21st, 2020 00:00 |
Sh15b Internet programme for schools kicks off.

Real-time mapping of all schools scheduled to begin this month will help the government identify unconnected schools and increase connectivity. 

The government will implement an ambitious Sh15 billion project as it targets to link public primary schools to the Internet and ensure fairer opportunities for children and young people. 

The initiative to be co-funded by the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (Unicef) will bring to the fold at least 1,000 public primary schools in the pilot phase with the overall aim to cover the over 24,000 public schools in the country.

ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru will oversee the laying of infrastructure, such as fibre optics cable, building ICT laboratories, electricity connections, buying tablets for learners and training of teachers under the Digital Learning Project.

“A school per ward has been selected under phase one Internet connectivity project under this project being implemented by Unicef,” Mucheru told a Parliamentary Education Committee.

The project announced last month comes as previous rollouts of laptops to primary school children in lower classes flopped due to a myriad of challenges.

The State has so far spent Sh32.241 billion to purchase laptops for the children between Grade One and Grade Three in the first phase.

Mucheru added that another Sh61 billion will be required to roll out the second phase that targets learners in Grade Four to Six across 470 public schools.

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Moi University have been contracted to assemble the devices from this month.

Analysts, however, argue that the biggest hurdle to Internet connectivity to schools has remained funding and logistics considering that some intuitions are located in remote hard-to-reach corners of this country.

“Poor access to electricity, teachers with limited computer literacy skills and dilapidated classrooms have also affected the project,” Mucheru observed, noting that the government has been forced in some areas to install solar energy to provide power, especially in rural areas.

Private sector players have also been involved in connecting a selected number of schools in the country to the Internet.

Six years ago, the Kenya Education Network (KENET) signed a partnership with Wananchi Group Limited, an Internet service provider, to connect 240 Nairobi county schools using a home fibre infrastructure.

Through the Universal Service Fund (USF), Communications Authority announced in 2018 that installation of broadband connectivity in 896 public secondary schools spreading across 47 counties were successfully conducted.

The schools are now able to access high-speed Internet connection of 5Mbps downlink and 1Mbps upload.

Service providers such as Safaricom and Airtel Kenya have also been active in Internet connectivity to schools and students in particular.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in March this year, the two mobile service providers gave out easy options that allowed for cheaper Internet among pupils and students in the e-learning modes.

Partnerships with global donor and development partners continue to remain critical in the school Internet access.

Kenya is also bound to benefit from a global partnership between tech giant Ericsson and Unicef that will help map school Internet connectivity in 35 countries by the end of 2023.

Mapping the Internet connectivity landscape for schools and their surrounding communities is a critical first step towards providing every child with access to digital learning opportunities. 

This partnership is part of Giga initiative launched last year.

Giga, is a global initiative launched by Unicef and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to connect every school to the Internet and every young person to information, opportunity and choice.

In Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, Giga is working with governments in mapping school connectivity real-time and developing business models to make connectivity affordable and sustainable.

Kenya is also supporting the development of educational digital public goods to be rolled out with the introduction of a new competency-based curriculum.

A survey carried out by Unicef during the Covid-19 period indicates that over 30 per cent of children have no access to remote learning with the closure of the schools.

School closures, coupled with limited or non-existent opportunities for remote learning, have upended children’s education worldwide.

“This partnership will bring us closer to giving every child and young person access to digital learning opportunities,” said Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Deputy Executive Director, Partnerships, Unicef.

This is, especially in developing nations, such as Kenya where Internet connectivity remains low and in some remote places there is no access to electricity, she said.

According to the ITU, 360 million young people currently do not have access to the Internet.

This results in exclusion, fewer resources to learn, and limited opportunities for the most vulnerable children and youth to fulfil their potential.

Improved connectivity is expected to increase access to information, opportunity and choice, enabling generations of school children to take part in shaping their own futures.

In addition to funding, Ericsson will commit resources for data engineering and data science capacity to accelerate school connectivity mapping.

Specifically, Ericsson will assist with the collection, validation, analysis, monitoring and visual representation of real-time school connectivity data.

The data generated through the mapping will enable governments and the private sector to design and deploy digital solutions that enable learning for children and young people.

Ericsson will also engage its extensive customer base to further advance the goals of the Giga initiative.

“Ericsson is uniquely positioned to be a key partner in helping address this important issue due to our technical expertise,” said Heather Johnson, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Ericsson.

The Unicef-Ericsson partnership also contributes to the Generation Unlimited Global Breakthrough on Digital Connectivity that aims to give young people digital skills so they can meaningfully participate in the digital economy. 

More on Lifestyle