CC image courtesy of Stephen Wanjau
A few days after the Kenyan government allocated KSh53.2 billion (US$621 million) for the supply of laptops to primary schools, teachers are up in arms seeking the employment of more staff and have threatened to down their tools unless the government gives in.
Reading between the lines, it is clear to see the devices are a threat to teachers in Kenya.
Flashback back to the 1990s when there were workers up in arms protesting a decision by the government to introduce computers in offices, saying such a move would lead to loss of employment for thousands of civil servants who would be made redundant.
Almost two decades later there is the same fight, only in different sector.
The recent strike threat by teachers over the lack of allocated funds to hire teachers is less than genuine, as the facts will show with time that among the benefits of the laptop programme will be the need for fewer teachers.
Unarguably a laptop is a machine designed to make work easier and thus reduce the need for human intervention.
In the case of a classroom where a set number of students require a teacher to supervise and teach them adequately, the laptop will increase the number of students that a teacher can teach at any one time with ease in supervision.
Secondly, the laptops will make it easier for teachers to spread information to a large number of students, unlike the case in Kenya where public schools underperform largely because of the sharing of scarce resources such as textbooks amongst the large number of students.
In fact the amount allocated to textbooks, exercise books, chalks and rulers should come down considerably with the introduction of digital education.
The government should do away with teachers who have with time not familiarised themselves with technology, in favour of new computer savvy staff.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) is however well aware of this fact and sensing the ultimate dismissal of computer illiterate members is covering the cracks by demanding the hiring of computer savvy staff straight out of college.
It has taken too long for technology to reach the education sector and thus the reduced quality of education to students graduating from the Kenyan education system.
Many will argue on the grounds of lost livelihoods and dependants, but let it be remembered that education is only as good as it is relevant, so let’s even do away with certain subjects and topics that would need the retention of this redundant staff.
The overall job creation potential from the introduction of laptops in schools is unimaginable as compared to the hiring of 40,000 extra teachers.
For example 1.3 million laptops will require handymen to repair numbering into the thousands.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has also made it clear his government intends to acquire only locally assembled laptops, which means all those bidding for the tender to supply the devices will be required to set up plants in Kenya, again providing more employment.
The end result will be increased human resource in the ICT sector, needed to sustain smart cities such as Konza and create startups such as Seven Seas that can add value to exports from Kenya.
Teachers in short are an example of a sector that has failed to learn from its own lessons, and time has come for the modernisation of education in Kenya whether this leads to strikes or not. Technology will help the students catch up.
As B.F Skinner of Citadel said: “Technology was developed to prevent exhausting labour. It is now dedicated to trivial conveniences.”