In the second of a series of blogs written by journalist Jamie Ball on a recent trip to Africa on behalf of Camara Education read on for a synopsis of his time in Kenya.
After almost a week in Kenya with Camara Education, which is the more memorable image to emerge from some of the largest slums in Africa?
Was it the sight and sound of animated school kids outside each computer lab, almost expiring with excitement while waiting to access the Camara computers? Or was it the still, serene image of a sea of shoes – handed-down, worn out and patched together – resting peacefully outside the lab once said students disappeared within?
However abstract, both go some way in reflecting the results Camara is achieving in Africa.
The students egging to get in the door, much like the dozens of students within the lab who do not want to leave, are not looking to play Pokémon or surf YouTube. They simply want to begin their ICT-based maths, science, English or composition, among other subjects: to be allowed on to a level playing field in which hard work, application and concentration will pay off.
Self-improvement, self-empowerment, Camara style.
And not even power cuts to the school will stop the students, when they will still line-up in the hope the electricity happens to be restored during the their one, 30-minute chance of the week to access ICT.
But what of the shoes outside the door, when there are none outside any other classrooms in any of the multiple schools I visited? Such is the respect for the Camara computers, and the gift of advancement they present, no kid wants to be the one who might bring in clay or dust into the lab, and therefore potentially hamstring the computers’ functionality or longevity.
The tranquillity is a far cry from the mad matatu (privately owned minibuses) beyond the school gates, jostling about the suburban streets of Nairobi and Mombasa, bejewelled in the most dazzling of paintwork and emblazoned with names like “Smash,” “Damage” and “Psycho.”
Although the country of 46 million has been the traditional powerhouse of East Africa, and with an appreciable middle-class in the major cities, the lack of educational and professional opportunities for millions have kept them locked in the poverty cycle.
Access to ICT – backed-up by extensive teacher training, offline digital learning programmes and IT support – is one long-term measure to help lift those millions out of poverty and Camara is to the forefront in the country’s educational advancement.
Since 2011, it has dispatched over 9,800 computers to 768 schools across Kenya, while training more than 11,000 teachers.
And Camara Education Kenya’s 2017-2020 plan is similarly ambitious, aiming to dispatch 10,000 computers to 560 schools, while training 5,600 teachers in ICT.
“We are working all over Kenya to ensure that schools, be they public, private, primary or high schools, or different tertiary institutions, including universities, improve their learning outcomes through the use of ICT,” says Camara Education Kenya CEO Masoud Ali, who joined the Irish-based social enterprise in 2014.
“Camara goes out to partner with the different learning institutions to provide hardware, train their different teachers and staff, provide technical support and collect e-waste once the computer, or any electronics, have reached their end of life.
“We also have a youth programme where we work with volunteers who come to Camara. These are out of school youth who have no career path, who come to Camara to volunteer,” says Ali.
“We train them how to repair computers and networks, so they get a basic maintenance skill. They work with us from a period of three to six months, depending on their availability. Later on, some of them open-up their own businesses, while some of them get employed.”
Crucially, Camara supplies and installs ICT equipment to facilitate the e-learning programme, iMlango, which delivers digital access, smartcard-based attendance monitoring and online learning tools to primary schools across Kenya.
This project aims to improve the learning outcomes for 150,000 children, including 68,000 marginalised girls, across 195 computer labs installed to date, capturing the attention of children, teachers, government and aid agencies as it pioneers the creating of a digital education profile for children.