The movement of technology for development in Africa is not new. In the wake of impactful technology solutions for local issues (such as M-Pesa - the mobile money transfer system), giants like Microsoft, Google and IBM have joined Africa’s range of tech startups in what is now deemed Africa’s Silicon Savannah. As the presence of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) grows in Kenya, tech enterprises have branched into different sectors. One of the biggest areas of growth in ICT for development (ICT4D) is in education, where technology promises to increase the quality and accessibility of teaching.

The Government of Kenya (GoK) has demonstrated its commitment to ICT integration through policy frameworks such as the National ICT Policy whose strategy for education and training has resulted in the implementation of several initiatives – most notably the digitisation of curriculum, and skill development for underprivileged and marginalized youth. And though the impacts have been positive (increased access to education, heightened teacher and learner enthusiasm, more opportunities for professional development), the limits to how much ICTs can improve education including poor infrastructure, poor design, fiscal resources and human resources prevail. The successes and failures to develop and use ICT as a tool to improve education provide some important takeaways for groups, like TIMBY, that work across many sectors.

GoK launched the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) to provide one laptop to every child (rural and urban) in standard one. But similar to the promise of Free Primary Education (FPE) inability to transform policy into practice meant that OLPC did not meet its expected outcomes. Failure to account for the ‘hardware’ gaps – infrastructure (only 2,037 of the 20,368 selected schools had access to electricity), finance (domestic debt; implementation costs of $600 million), and the social environment (lack of teachers; high student-to-teacher ratio) – resulted in the government halting support of the project in 2015. And even after GoK redirected funding from OLPC to the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP), delay in the program’s Ksh. 17 billion bid to supply 983,271 laptops and 23,951 teacher digital devices for standard one students by July 2017 demonstrate the limits of national ICT reform.

Elimu Elimu supports Kenyan students wtih ICT educational resources.

The threat of ‘software’ gaps is also concerning. For instance, dismal implementation of FPE can largely be attributed to the lack of consistency in curriculum, inexperienced faculty and poor education quality. Further, in areas where tech is being used as a tool to address some of these software gaps e.g. the Kio Kit, threats like changing manufacturing laws still pose serious constraints for ed-tech integration and growth.

So, what does this all mean for tech-based interventions like TIMBY? While alternative tech solutions can address complex development issues, technology by itself is NOT an end-all solution. And like many educational approaches, interventions must be systematic and integrated – first addressing the hardware gaps (e.g. infrastructure, connectivity, equipment, network and telecommunication), then the software gaps (i.e. needs and demands of the user e.g. personnel, curriculum content, language, digital literacy). But none of this means anything without involving the key players - teachers, students, educators, administrators, tech companies, education orgs. To leverage the support to plan, legislate, and implement a bottom-up approach means building capacity across the board. And for developing environments like Kenya where traditional pedagogies still exist, a mixed mode of tech and conventional learning is ideal.

ICT opens the door to accelerate learning and enrich students’ experiences. As TIMBY expands, engaging stakeholders like KNBS, Eneza, and the Ministry of ICT to monitor and collect data on the gaps in education (e.g. mapping on connectivity or digital literacy) could better inform investors, ed-tech manufacturers, and decision-makers of the considerations needed prior to implementation – saving time and money. And beyond education, these same principles are still relevant. To provide an end-to-end service like TIMBY which engages a variety of actors – citizen journalists at the base level, CSOs and NGOs at the management and administrative level, legislators and human rights defenders on the policy level – understanding the landscape (physical environment as well as geographic and political setting) and the players involved (social environment) is critical for impact. It is with this understanding and structure that TIMBY and other tech-based interventions can leverage the partnerships needed to explore and design solutions that are more relevant and meaningful to support communities and user groups address complex development challenges.