Kenyan parents oppose laptop offer for children

TOM ODULA
Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — An ambitious plan by Kenya's government to give laptops to schoolchildren has been opposed by parents who say the money for the computers should instead go toward raising teachers' salaries and feeding children.

The program is bound to fail in a country that lacks enough teachers and where others strike regularly for better pay, Musau Ndunda of the Kenya National Association of Parents said Thursday.

Kenya currently has a shortfall of 40,000 teachers, and more than 200,000 teachers in public schools across the country are currently striking over unpaid housing, transport and medical allowances promised 16 years ago.

Currently teachers do not have the capacity to implement the laptop project because they have not been trained and the government has not developed a curriculum for the project, said Ndunda. He said loopholes that led to the recent loss of 70 million textbooks under a free primary-school education program had not been plugged. Under the circumstances, he said, laptops would be lost or stolen.

"If they are able to lose such an amount of textbooks then with the laptops it might be worse," he said.

He wondered how the laptops will be safe in households among the country's poor, saying "you cannot keep such a gadget in your house if you don't have something to eat."

President Uhuru Kenyatta proposed while campaigning that his government would give laptops to 1.2 million children who start school every year, part of a wider plan to make the East African country an Internet hub. Details of the program, which will cost the government $615 million in three years, have not been made public. It is set to start later this year.

Microsoft, through the Partners in Learning Schools program, has already trained 32,600 teachers who will then teach 1.8 million children, Louis Otieno of Microsoft Africa Initiatives said in a statement Thursday. He said the government has not reached a final agreement with Microsoft, which will implement the project.

Muthui Kariuki, a government spokesman, defended the laptop project, saying it was crucial to Kenya's goal of training a digital-savvy workforce.

"Anybody criticizing the idea is somebody who does not care about the future," he said. "We are in a digital age and from the young people we will train we will get the next managers of the 'silicon valley' spurring growth and creating jobs. Technology is the only remaining frontier."