In this era of the fourth industrial revolution, Africa has been racing to catch up with global digital trends. Kenya has not been left behind. In 2014, an e-platform for all government services, eCitizen, was launched. Services initially done on paper required the common mwananchi 1 to be digitally literate to sign up for crucial services such as health.
In the same year, the education sector joined the movement as the government rolled out a project to distribute laptops to some students in primary schools. Further, in 2017, the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) was launched. This is a new education system that offers digital literacy to students in primary school.
Realizing a gap in digital literacy among teachers, the Kenyan government, in 2015, sought to train teachers in every public primary school. With over 200,000 teachers in primary schools, the government still has a long way to go before this gap can narrow further down.
Other organizations such as Young Scientists Kenya(YSK) have brought an aspect of mentorship, encouraging high school students to pursue courses in STEM. In 2019, I interacted with nearly 200 students from Isiolo county from their outreach mentorship. During a breakout session, while introducing Scratch programming, we realized that nearly 70% could not easily type or use a mouse to navigate a computer. An introduction to computing had to be done before proceeding for students to familiarize themselves with typing at the least.
The education ministry asks schools to set aside every Wednesday afternoon for extracurricular activities. With this, schools in town areas have added ICT related clubs with the aim of exposing more students and encouraging innovation. Teachers have however often felt left out as the clubs are run by external organizations or volunteers who visit on Wednesdays. One teacher expressed that she could not help her students with projects during the week while the trainers were away. She wished she was more involved in the training as well to train more students as the clubs limit the number of students.
Furthermore, schools in rural areas may not have the privilege to have such clubs as most trainers are found within the town areas and some of the schools do not have computers to run such STEM clubs. This has highly contributed to the lag in digital skills awareness in rural area schools.
Additionally, Kenyan students are required to research and apply for courses online as well as student loans before joining campus. Students with limited web literacy skills struggle to successfully apply and miss out on the vast opportunities found online for joining campus or applying for scholarships. According to a research done by Digital Skills Observatory in 2016, from 180 youth in rural areas in Kenya, 55% (p.26) could access a computer through a cyber cafe or borrowing a friend/relative, both not very convenient to learn skills to help youth thrive online.
It is these experiences in my community that pushed me, since 2017, to immerse my time in EdTech and help Kenya make its baby steps towards digital literacy. Having trained over 300 primary and high school level students basic programming, I realized the barrier that students in underrepresented communities faced. During a YSK outreach in Marsabit, we noted that students who had prior exposure to computing were more confident to learn and ask questions while the others had low confidence. With a mild introduction however, a glimpse of excitement could be seen as the levels of curiosity rose to learn more on computers and programming.
Through the Mozilla Open LeadersX program, an initiative I named ZeroToCode was born, to further address web literacy in Kenya. ZeroToCode aims to identify students who have zero digital skills, introduce them to basic computing, the internet, and eventually progress to coding. The project will see 40 students trained in the first year, 2021. To measure our impact, we will ensure 70% of these students transition to become mentors annually.
The content will contain both an introduction to computing and programming. Introduction to computing aims to make the students comfortable with typing by writing short essays, learning how to browse the internet and identifying credible sources of information. This will build a good foundation and confidence for the programming sessions.
Tools used are such as Scratch to introduce code, S4A and Arduino to train on robotics and simple hardware projects. Taking advantage of the Science and Physics concepts already taught in school to create project themes will supplement the school curriculum. One project done so far uses the concept of converting electrical energy to mechanical in a motor and using a motion sensor to create an automated car park area. Addition of buzzers illustrated use of a microcontroller to control, using code, when an alarm is triggered.
After a one-day mentorship session at Kwale county, a teacher admitted to me his willingness to continue imparting his students with the programming skills they had learned that day. He however lacked a curriculum to guide him take up such sessions. ZeroToCode aims to work open in documenting all the content taught and make it available to teachers in the most underrepresented areas. They will also be involved as contributors to guide in curriculum development. An article by The Guardian highlighted the importance of bringing teachers onboard as “We don’t want to replace teachers, we want to help them”.
ZeroToCode envisions that working open will open up more STEM clubs in Kenya’s rural areas, increase digital literacy among educators and ensure students looking to join campus hold the power of signing up for courses in their hands.
By 2030, it is estimated that 20 million to 50 million jobs will be created in the technology space globally. Kenya’s current generation has already brought to life the Silicon Savannah, encouraging digital innovations and job creation. Therefore, as the global internet community we are tasked to ensure our future leaders – children and youth- acquire globally competitive digital skills to keep the fire burning in Africa’s technology ecosystem. By working open to involve communities, we can write the future history, that our African youth will comprise more than half of the 50 million jobs to be created.
The link for people to reach out is: bit.ly/2C7ALbY
– 2018 Young Scientists Kenya Marsabit outreach, Robotics Introduction Session
– Introduction to Robotics using Scratch and Arduino, with Action Foundation Girls at AkiraChix campus(2019)