It is an undisputed fact that ICT holds great promise for developing economies like Kenya. This is the engine that can possibly get Kenya out of its poverty rut. To be able to compete on the global market Kenya needs sustained economic growth and this sector can open up new prospects. Minor correction, I am not espousing ICT as the express ride to economic nirvana or a panacea to all our self-imposed afflictions. No, the potential is enormous but not all encompassing.
However, apart from the presence of a well developed regulatory and institutional framework, the importance of how ICT is taught in our educational institutions is crucial. WYSIWYG = an unsupervised and unregulated curriculum will naturally produce workers with outdated and irrelevant skills.
A four tiered approach is required to ensure successful percolation of the benefits to a wider section of Kenyans.
To its credit the government appreciates that ICT education/training needs to be strengthened and this is aptly illustrated in the ICT Policy paper which commits the government to the following:
1) Promoting ICT in education at primary, secondary, tertiary and community levels by developing ICT curricula and ensuring that teachers/trainers possess the requisite skills.
2) Setting up a framework for evaluating and certifying ICT training programmes
3) Developing a mechanism for attracting and retaining skilled human resources.
4) Establishing networks for sharing training resources.
5) Developing strategies to support research and innovation.
Under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, the ICT Trust Fund, under the chairmanship of Professor Karega Mutahi (P.S.), has developed two educational papers. They are the Kenya ICT Trust Fund Blueprint and the National ICT Strategy for Education and Training (go here - http://www.education.go.ke/ICTFund.htm).
These documents outline, in an articulate and professional way, which direction our ICT education needs to go and how to achieve the outlined targets. The ICT Trust Fund by the way draws its membership from the government, corporates and regulatory bodies. The corporates are represented by Mr. G. Muhoho, the MD of Kenya Airports Auhority. So far so good, ICT education has been given its due priority by the Ministry and we have the theoretical framework.
However, more needs to be done. As we wait for the basic technological infrastructure to infiltrate the country I would encourage the government to adopt a more proactive public campaign so as to sensitize Kenyans on the need to embrace this technology.
I would recommend the following further specific measures:
1) Encourage the establishment of computer clubs in estates, villages and localities by working with the private sector, the church and the community to facilitate the establishment of these clubs. We can start with venues been in churches and schools. Our kids can then be able to develop their computer skills while at home during the school holidays.
2) Encourage women groups to learn computing skills. Why not sponsor a member or two, especially the book-keeper for a basic course in computing. To some extent computing is intuitive and this should be possible irrespective of whether they have a formal education or not.
3) Remember Kenya Science Congress? I don’t know whether this competition is still alive. This forum promoted science throughout the country. Why can’t we have the Kenya ICT Congress that will showcase all the best in programming, database designing, gaming etc from high school students in Kenya. I am sure corporate sponsors are not in short supply and would willingly support this worthwhile project.
4) Train and deploy a critical mass of teachers in ICT who will be assigned the role of championing this technology in their respective schools.
5) Encourage students to develop local content which can be showcased in the Kenya ICT Congress.
6) Request CDF Committees all over the country to prioritise ICT development in the their constituencies. Just as health, roads and schools are prioritised I think it would be possible to use ICT as a poverty alleviation measure that should be urgently funded from the CDF funds.
We need to demystify the computer and its attendant technologies. It is a tool that can be used to bring about radical economic, social and political change. Who thought that telephony technology would be accepted with such alacrity? How much so the information technology! As we educate the younger generation on the importance of ICT let us also not ignore the older generation who might fall through the cracks if not targeted.
We need to get the education aspect right the first time round...the volatile nature of ICT might not give us a second chance.