The next decade 2016-2025 promises to be the decade of Africa’s development through an ICT-propelled transformation.
The launch of the Smart Africa Initiative at the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali in October 2013, set a renewed pace for the realisation of the continent’s development aspirations.
It is envisaged that through Smart Africa, a single digital and knowledge-driven economy will emerge and push the continent’s global competitiveness to higher levels.
However, for this to happen, African countries must take deliberate measures to create enabling platforms for large-scale implementation of ICT in all areas of the society and economy.
In Kenya, the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP) is one of steps the government has taken in line with the Smart Africa objectives and indeed the continent’s aspirations.
Through this programme, the government is fulfilling the promise of developing innovative skills for a globally competitive knowledge economy, boosting research and development, promoting locally assembled or manufactured goods and services, and enhancing job creation.
Its immediate aim is to integrate ICT into teaching and learning for Class One pupils in primary schools to create a critical mass of future ICT grounded citizens capable of turning around Kenya’s development fortunes.
To date, several hundred schools have received digital tablets and beginning Friday, October 30, Cabinet secretaries and their PSs will be out in the field overseeing and inspecting the distribution of tablets, laptops, projectors and communications hubs to public primary schools countrywide.
Three thousand schools will be installed by end of October and by December, the entire country will have been covered, setting Kenya on course towards a tech-savvy future generation.
Although the programme was initiated with the main purpose of enhancing learning in public primary schools through the use of digital technologies, it has transferred secondary benefits ranging from lighting up far flung areas that had no electricity to triggering subsidiary economies that complement the project.
Indeed DLP manifests how a multi-sectoral approach to project implementation can help confer spin-off benefits to the country and spur economic growth.
What started off as a project to provide laptops to class one pupils and was heavily criticised in some quarters has spiralled to become a landmark project that has created opportunities for thousands of Kenyans, way beyond the target population of Class One pupils.
Citizens in remote areas can now get electricity by virtue of their proximity to the targeted primary schools.
There is increased Internet access to citizens, increased access to online government services, increased global awareness and collaboration, and greater community participation in education matters through school websites, emails and blogs, among others.
Employment opportunities have been created in development of software, hardware and content.
The plans being put in place to ensure the maintenance and sustainability of the programme will result in the development of local assembly and manufacturing capabilities. In the next few years, Kenyans will be able to use digital products designed and made by Kenyans for Kenyans.
Through this collaborative approach, several government agencies under the coordination of the ICT Authority in the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology have worked together tirelessly thereby demonstrating the power of synergy and partnership among public entities to deliver a shared goal.
For example, the Ministry of Education has provided leadership in the development of curriculum content for use on the digital platform, capacity building and training for teachers and other relevant education stakeholders.
To date, 66,000 primary school teachers have been trained on digital literacy in order to manage the programme.
The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives has been instrumental in developing and implementing plans to ensure local assembly of digital devices and related accessories.
Construction is underway of two local assembly plants at Moi University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
In addition to the production of devices for schools, it is expected that these plants will start manufacturing devices for the commercial market at competitive prices in line with the Buy Kenya, Build Kenya initiative.
The Ministry of Energy and Petroleum has fast-tracked completion of electricity to targeted primary schools and to date, all public schools have been connected to the national grid.
Eventually, all schools will be provided with Internet connectivity to enable the devices to get updated with the latest software, curriculum materials and other approved content.
In order to protect the children from inappropriate content or harmful software, various levels of security will be applied as well as having an approved list of sites they can access.
Other key stakeholders that have participated and driven the success of the programme include the National Treasury, the Office of the Attorney General, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, Rural Electrification Authority, Kenya Power, Teachers Service Commission, Kenya Institute of Special Education, Kenya National Union of Teachers and Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association. This collaborative strategy is designed to ensure sustainability in the long-term.
It is noteworthy that the gadgets are being produced by a consortium of Moi University and JP Couto, JKUAT and Positivo BGH.
This partnership has helped to transfer much needed technology and skills to the youth involved in the programme through on-job training and apprenticeship.
Parents and the community have also taken up to learning how to use the devices during weekends, further enhancing the digital literacy of the country.
Finally, to help accelerate the roll out of the programme, young ICT graduates, most of whom are alumni or current participants in the Presidential Digital Talent Programme (PDTP), have been deployed to every sub-county.
The PDTP is a programme that recruits the best ICT graduates and takes them through a rigorous training and work experience in private sector companies as well as the government to create a pool of top talent.
Expect to see them moving from school to school in their clearly branded reflector jackets as they carry out on site training, quality inspection and other tasks in support of the programme.
What started out as a simple idea has now grown into a truly transformative programme, not only in the education sector, but also for the entire country.
This will cement Kenya’s position as a regional ICT hub and set our country on the journey to a globally competitive knowledge based economy.
Mr Mucheru is the Cabinet secretary for Information, Communication and Technology.