Students using e-readers at the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy © World Reader

Students using e-readers at the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy ©World Reader

When politicians are on the campaign trail in this country, they make a lot of promises. Lofty and ambitious plans are drawn up and shared but unfortunately, they are not backed by proper implementation plans. In most cases, they are not able to deliver on some of the campaign promises when they get to office because they are not workable given the resources available.

One could blame the electorate here. Why accept politicians’ plans without first asking how exactly they will be brought to fruition? How many even read the manifestos of the politicians they voted for? We really need to start seriously interrogating politicians on their plans when they are campaigning if we are to progress as a country. That way, they’ll put more thought into their manifestos and it will be a win win situation for everyone.

President Uhuru and his deputy, Ruto, ran for office under the Jubilee coalition. Their manifesto was laden with attractive goodies. They promised to get rid of corruption, grow the economy, empower women and the youth, invest in education, expand healthcare among others. Their manifesto however, did not say how they were going to finance all this or what the modalities would be.

Among Uhuru’s campaign promises was that he would provide solar powered laptops for pupils in public primary schools. The first phase is expected to kick off next year. According to one of the local dailies, the Ministry of Education estimates that 700,000 pupils will join standard one next year. This is the batch that will get laptops in the first phase. Solar powered laptops don’t come cheap and they retail at around Kshs. 35,000. The government spend in the first phase on the laptops then will be Kshs. 26 billion.

I don’t think this plan is workable or sustainable at all.

First, this plan doesn’t include teachers. Shouldn’t they also get laptops to make teaching easier? Also, very few of them are computer literate so who then will teach the kids how to use the laptops?

Second, standard one kids are generally clumsy and hence its probably wise to get rugged/damage proof laptops which are usually expensive. Will the government be able to afford them? If standard computers are bought and the kids damage them, who will foot the bill of repairing them?

Third, it takes quite a bit of time to charge a laptop using the sun. This will prove to be quite a problem if they are going to be used in class everyday.

Why not buy e-readers instead of laptops. The cheapest functional e-reader, the Kindle 6″ E ink display, costs 69 dollars (Kshs. 5,800). At that price, 4.4 million e-readers for both teachers and pupils can be bought with the 26 billion budgeted for the first phase. E-readers are convenient because they are small hence portable and they usually keep charge for a month. They can be loaded with books that cover the whole curriculum. To bypass the kids clumsiness, covers can be bought.

It’s commendable that Uhuru’s government want to use technology to make learning easier but their approach to it needs to be pragmatic and realistic. Laptops are great but e-readers are better. Laptops can’t work for now, but e-readers can.

First published in the Nairobian – issue No 8: April 19-25, 2013