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Local universities to supply Uhuru’s Sh17bn school laptops

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Children use laptops. All the 22,000 public primary schools must be equipped with the devices in 18 months according to the new plan.

Children use laptops. All the 22,000 public primary schools must be equipped with the devices in 18 months according to the new plan.

Local universities have been tipped to supply the Sh17 billion primary school computers, as the Jubilee government changed execution of its digital plans from supplying laptops to every Class One pupil to building laboratories.

Information minister Fred Matiang’i on Monday announced that the Ministry of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development had been tasked with ensuring local assembly of the devices.

The Ministry of Education Science and Technology remains the project owner.

Content developers are also set to reap big as the government opens the content development to private sector in liaison with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).

“We have broadened the ecosystem and will partner with higher learning institutions such as JKUAT, University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University and Strathmore to ensure sustainability of the project,” Dr Matiang’i said.

The partnership with higher learning institutions will also ensure adequate device support maintenance and warranty frameworks that ensure adequate local participation and value for money.

“To sustain the programme four key issues have been identified namely; financial sustainability, partnering with key manufacturers to set up local IT assembly plant, capacity building and change strategy,” he added.

Institutions of higher learning can bid for such government projects through their enterprise consultancy firms.

The University of Nairobi has the Nairobi Enterprises and Services Limited while JKUAT has Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park- a subsidiary that recently launched a locally-assembled laptop.

The cost of the first phase of the project is estimated at Sh17 billion and will deliver 1.2 million devices in the next two years to cover all public primary schools. The pilot phase of 150 schools is planned for September, 2015.

President Uhuru Kenyatta in May changed the strategy for the laptop project complete with a name change to “digital literacy”, aiming to revamp its mode of delivery.

Victor Kyalo, the chief executive of the ICT Authority and the technical chair of the Secretariat that is charged with delivery of the new project, said universities with no assembly infrastructure will be given some grace period to build them and produce proto-types.

Two weeks ago, JKUAT unveiled its locally-assembled laptop branded Taifa. The university said it intends to assemble 1,500 units per day, giving it a head start over its peers.

The laptops are, however, of higher specification than those intended for distribution to primary schools.  The shift in strategy comes on the back of a court case challenging the procurement of laptops to schools, which has stalled the Jubilee government’s flagship project for more than a year.

On Monday, Mr Kyalo said that the project would continue and that the Attorney- General will deal with the past court cases and any other future legal matters.

“This is a different project – the Digital Literacy Programme – that does not allow me to comment on whatever questions arose on the previous one. The A-G is best suited to answer such questions,” Mr Kyalo said.

He said the model of delivering the devices to schools has also shifted from national level to the counties, meaning delivery will be done through a cluster of counties spread over 18 months.

All the 22,000 public primary schools must be equipped with the devices in 18 months according to the new plan.

The first cluster of counties, which he did not name are set to get the devices in the next three months.

The free laptops for every Class One pupil stalled after the Ministerial Tender Committee last year awarded the contract to Olive Telecommunications Pvt Limited of India causing losing bidders Haier Electricals Appliances Corporation Limited and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Europe, to appeal the decision at the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board.

The board nullified the contract, citing a flawed tendering process that included leakage of tender specifications and pricing to a select group of bidders. The matter is still in court.

Although the government has adopted a new strategy to see the project through, it stands exposed depending on the outcome of the court case.

The project will now be governed through a three tier framework. This consists of an Oversight, inter-ministerial and a technical implementation committee.

The oversight committee is made of the Attorney General and Cabinet Secretaries in charge of ICT, the National Treasury, Industrialization and Enterprise Development, Education, Energy and Petroleum as well as Devolution and planning.

The inter-ministerial committee comprises of Principal Secretaries in the above ministries.

The ICT authority has been appointed to chair the technical committee which is made up of technical heads of the implementing agencies and key stakeholders such as TSC, KNUT and KEPSHA (Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association).

KICD, has developed interactive digital content for Standard 1 to 3, while 61,000 primary school teachers have been trained in readiness for the project.

The government, through Rural Electrification Authority (REA) plans to connect all the 22,175 public primary schools by December 2015.

Involvement of the higher institutions of learning after the Treasury announced a tax exemption on imported computer parts.

Treasury secretary Henry Rotich exempted imported and locally-produced computer parts from value added tax (VAT).

High taxation previously impeded local computer or laptop assembly with firms such as Samsung that intended to put up local lines preferring to set up in countries such as Ethiopia that did not attract such tax.

Business Daily

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