Pupils' hopes of using laptops fade away as project stalls
18 September 2014, 10:45
Nairobi - As he started Class One last year, the name laptop could not leave the lips of little Fred Amuche, a pupil in Nairobi.
Then, the laptops were the most discussed items in Kenya as presidential candidates Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto had promised they would introduce them to all Class One pupils if they won elections held in March 2013.
The two came into power, giving many pupils and parents hope that the gadgets would be introduced in schools soon after.
Amuche is now in Class Two, and is readying to go to the next class, but laptops have not yet been introduced in schools. As many of his peers, he no longer sings about laptops, with the gadgets remaining a distant dream.
The boy frowns when he is told that even if the gadgets are introduced today, he will not use them because he is not in Class One.
"You mean I will not be given a laptop if they come to our schools?" he asks curiously.
Kenyan children's dreams of using the gadgets have been stifled by controversy (now in court) surrounding the project.
The government awarded the 280 million U.S. dollars tender to Indian firm Olive Technologies. The other companies that had lost the bid to supply the gadgets sought redress at the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board.
Also read: Laptop project under scrutiny
The board cancelled the tender in March, noting that Olive received preferential treatment and had no capacity to supply the 1.2 million gadgets. The tender was supposed to be re-advertised and fresh bids received from different foreign companies. However, Olive moved to court to challenge the board's decision.
The High Court barred the restarting of the tendering process until Olive case is heard and determined.
The matter has not been concluded, putting in limbo dreams of millions of pupils in the East African nation of ever using laptops.
By the time the matter is settled, say, the tender is re- advertised if Olive losses the case, and a new company selected to supply the laptops, Amuche would perhaps be in Class Four.
"I really wanted to know how to use a laptop. Does it work like a mobile phone? If it does, then I can use it because I know how to use my mother's mobile phone," said Amuche, who goes to school in Umoja.
The laptops were mainly to be supplied to pupils in public primary schools. A good number of private schools in anticipation of the move introduced the gadgets to their pupils to keep pace. Many pupils in the schools, therefore, are now learning how to use the gadgets as their counterparts in public institutions await those from the government.
"We use laptops at school. We have a teacher who shows us how to use the gadgets every Friday," said young Emily Njeri, who goes to a church-run primary school.
Analysts noted that the laptop project was a game-changer for Kenya.
"These gadgets would have turned Kenyan pupils into techies, helped rural areas get electricity and offer jobs to many people. But the fact that the project has stalled defeats its intended purpose,"said Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solutions, a computer firm in Nairobi.
"Some pupils,who would have benefited, would now complete schools without knowing how to use a laptop because of the delay," he said.
However, Mwaso noted that all is not lost, as the government had shown commitment to deliver the gadgets, which were at the heart of President Kenyatta's election pledge.
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