How Kenyan Universities are Catering for 21st Century Needs

Imagine, dealing with a task for school or work that made you anxious or stressed. Usually two things would make someone feel that way; 1, being so anxious that we believe the outcome will be negative, like failing that test or having a bad business presentation. Or 2, not having the capacity or experience to perform the task. How would you feel if you were asked to code a website with no previous experience or training and your performance on this complex task had repercussions on your job or grade at school? Sounds like something no one would never ask of you, right?

However, for thousands of University students in Kenya and other African countries this is part of normal life. Students are asked to submit essays on word or make a presentation in Power Point, without ever being trained on how to use these tools. How would you research your subject without knowing how to browse the internet? How are you to be expected to have these skills when your access to computers before university has been limited or almost non-existent?

In June this year, I visited a few partner universities that work with Computer Aid in Kenya. From carrying out a small sample research and talking to students, I found that this situation is more common than expected. Even though students are very likely to have used a computer before university, in cybercafés or schools, the majority, 7 out of 10, have never received any formal IT training.  Their real skills in terms of using technology for education are limited. Further to lack of training, access is also a challenge faced by students. Only 3 out of 10 will have access to a computer at home.

Alejandro, Project Co-ordinator speaking with students at Kisii University

At university students will receive computer training and will have some access to computers. However the students per PC ratio is often very high, limiting the student’s access to computers and preventing them from taking on more advance tasks like coding or designing. Some of the students will only gain access to computers once a week or less and it can even take a year to receive the needed training to develop confidently in their education.

This is a stark contrast to UK universities. Over there, libraries loan laptops to students, help students purchase their own, and in some cases even provide new students with a free computer tablet. Some universities go one step further making apps that display real-time computer availability, helping to distribute students across IT labs at peak times. These provisions, coupled with high ownership rates independent of the university, means that although universities do not have 1:1 ratios, access to a PC is almost always guaranteed.

Without access to technology the new generation of Kenyans will have a difficult time competing in an extremely globalised and connected world. Universities have been the first to tackle this problem and they are now moving fast to address it. Our partner universities in Kenya, Kisii University, Masaai Mara University and The Catholic University of Eastern Africa are collaborating with Computer Aid to reduce student to PC ratios. New programs are going to be rolled out to support access to personal computers, and improve training capabilities and access to international certificates. The partnership, now in its 4th year, is proving to be highly successful. At Kisii University the student for PC ratio decreased from 100 to 10.  Across the universities, we are seeing that students and administrators are excited to receive PCs, and students committed to applying IT to their education.

‘Who had ICT training before university?’

Solutions are not only in the top down approach from the University management and ourselves. Students are also tackling the problem on their own accord. The few privileged students who own a laptop often train their peers in their spare, providing the first experience of training for young students.

Now try to imagine again that stressful moment of preparing for an exam or a presentation, and think for a second how would you manage it if you couldn’t access your computer?

Written by Alejandro Espinosa Llano, Project Co-ordinator at Computer Aid.

 Alejandro is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya, where he supports our projects and partners, ensuring that they receive the necessary tools to make full advantage of ICTs.