“An estimated 10 million learners in primary and secondary schools in Kenya now have an opportunity to access tutorials through the mobile phone.” This was the first sentence I came across while reading on the Safaricom educational mobile service dubbed Shupavu 291, that provides assistance to students embarking on the 8-4-4 curriculum. Myself as a child immediately came to mind. I admit I was far from being the smartest kid in class. Throughout my primary days, I needed constant supervision and reassurance from my teachers, not because I was naughty, but for lack of better word, I was slow. I would be separated from my classmates, and taken for private lessons where I would interact one on one with the tutor. If it’s any consolation, thanks to the private classes I learnt particular reading habits that helped me achieve honors throughout my entire high school life. Either way, knowing myself as a child, I doubt this kind of technology would’ve helped at all. I would be excited at first, but eventually prefer the attention of a real life individual who would be patient enough to guide me slowly. I’m certain that I wasn’t the only child who needed that kind of support. So the underlying question is, can this technology really help increase academic success in Kenya?
Around 469,000 primary school pupils and 86,000 secondary school students have already been able to use the mobile service. The education platform is accessible on a basic mobile phone and allows learners to access Kenya National Curriculum aligned lessons through Short Message Service, for just Kshs 10 a week. Through Shupavu 291, learners are able to access 8-4-4 aligned lessons, assessments, ask a teacher and Wikipedia services.
8-4-4 was implemented in January 1985, with hopes that it would empower learners with practical skills which would be useful to them either in wage or self-employment. Several decades later, and results have been quite the opposite. The 8-4-4 system has been seen as merely a process of imparting information. Learners’ actual knowledge of what they are taught is scanty and can’t help them think outside the box. The system does not equip learners to be self-reliant, but promotes dependence.
The Shupavu 291 mobile service helps students do better in classes by providing them with better access to academic information. As commendable as it is, this further promotes the 8-4-4 motive, which is of simply passing, a purpose that prevents students from understanding concepts fully, and enabling them with a mindset that goes above and beyond standards met.
Other aspects such as behaviors and characteristics of different children should also be considered. For children who tend to get easily distracted, giving them a phone to complete homework or even study may not exactly help them achieve this goal, especially if Temple Run is just a click away.
Despite this, with the high number of Kenyans with access to phones (one in every three Kenyans), the same mobile service may vastly impact the educational realm in the country. “To date 3,000 students in Kakuma and over 20,000 students and 378 teachers in Daadab refugee camps have benefited”, says Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.
My concern is that the same would only be able to cater for one particular kind of student, those who are book smart, disciplined, and focused. While we would all want our children to be the nonchalant kid who always receives the high scores, the reality is everyone works at their own pace. A real academic breakthrough would be one that supports and nurtures the talents and strengths of every child.