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Institutions adopting ICT to break learning barriers

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 25 – It’s 9 am and the lecturer is explaining to a group of attentive electrical engineering course students how all the systems at Kindaruma Dam work.

Instead of just talking through it however, the lecturer has the aid of a simulator to show practically how the dam is able to produce hydro-electric power and help the idea sink in.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, this is the vision that the Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has, to use ICT as an effective instructional-learning tool.

“It is a bit easier to simulate the working of a transformer on a screen using ICT skills than carrying the whole group to Kindaruma to see how hydro-electricity is generated,” explains KIST Principal Nicholas Muriithi of the initiative that should be in place by next year.

The adoption of e-learning is a step in the right direction; the initiative is also a part of the government’s directive to higher education institutions to take advantages and potential of new information and communication technologies.

“The students can see all the mechanical equipment, the water flowing in, the turbines turning and the electricity going to the poles and all the way to people’s houses,” he says in justifying the installation of this system which is part of a bigger project to adopt e-learning.

KIST is one of the hundreds of Technical, Industrial and Vocational Education and Training (TIVET) institutions in the country which offer a wide range of practical skills to millions of school leavers who are unable to join universities.

These include youth polytechnics, national youth service skills development centres demonstration centres.

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However, the college is not just content to continue offering the technical programmes the same way that it has been doing over the years but is now moving a step ahead to adopt new technologies.

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This will require not only the installation of computers, different and latest software for engineering, drawing and architecture but also the training of students and the instructors to ensure they can keep up with the technology.

“The teacher has to re-discover himself to be able to put the course content into an electronic format for presentation or to enable the students access them later,” the principal recently told this reporter.

And they are not stopping there; KIST wants to shift completely from an objectivist approach to teaching, to cognitive and constructivist one which will only be achieved by for instance having an e-curriculum delivery.

Through this method, distance is expected to be collapsed thus making skills training more accessible to all.

The integration of ICT in education is part of a bigger plan to transform Kenya into a knowledge-based economy that is primarily anchored on Science, Technology and Innovations (ST&I).

Driven by the dream of becoming an industrialised, middle-income country by 2030, the government came up with a plan that would harness the talents and skills of its young people who make up about 70 percent of Kenya’s population in order achieve its objectives.

At about 87 percent in literacy levels, Kenya is among the African countries that have the highest rates but this has not necessarily translated in having skilled and competent people in the labour market.

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A myriad of challenges including a teachers’ shortage, rigidity of academic programs inadequate textbooks and teaching equipment continue to dog the education sector despite the fact that every year, is allocated the lion’s share of national budget.

The end result is that there’s mismatch between the skills of the workforce and the needs of the economy.

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This is what informed the setting up of TIVET ICT Integration Programme in the Ministry of Higher Education so as to equip students in these institutions with sufficient skills in the use of ICT that can enable them succeed in today’s social, academic and business environments.

The ministry’s Director for Technical Education Dr Fredrick Mujumba says the program presents a structured way in which innovation can take place.

When developing it however, the director says they were alive to the fact that this program, even though noble, would be greatly hampered by a number of challenges including the limited use of ICTs in the institutions of higher learning by both students and the teachers.

This has been vindicated in a report conducted in conjunction with a United Nations affiliated non-governmental organisation, ‘GeSCI’ that proposes several recommendations to address these gaps.

“We recognise that an inclusive knowledge society cannot be created through the transfer of know-how to developing countries. Instead, countries must be assisted to develop knowledge society strategies that suit their needs and objectives as defined by them,” GeSCI annual report 2010 indicates.

It is this conviction that has seen the organisation strive to build several African countries’ capacity to address the challenges in their education systems and formulate policies that are related to ICT and knowledge societies.

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GeSCI Communications Manager Niamh Brannigan says that through the technical expertise and support that they give Kenya and 15 other African countries, they hope that the authorities can adopt ICT practices that can help them break the barriers to learning and improve their human capacities.

“Our organisation is demand driven. We provide the governments we work with the assistance they need to realise their objectives. That is the mission we are fulfilling,” she says of their support.

For Kenya, the end goal is that TIVET institutions are seen as an important conduit for new skills development that can stimulate economic growth.

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With their help, the government is set to launch ‘Kenya ICT in Education Strategy’ that can boost the initiatives that these colleges are undertaking.

Through this plan, lecturers in schools like KIST can be provided with competencies that they can use to transform their institutions and ensure that they are helping to churn out skilled youth who can contribute in the creation of employment, innovation and wealth.

The transformation of Kenya into a knowledge-based economy has been Information Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo’s biggest dream and has seen him champion the development of infrastructure especially in rural areas to ensure everybody is brought on board.

With the requisite infrastructure having been laid out and initiatives such as the TIVET one been implemented, it looks like Kenya’s dream of becoming a knowledge-based, industrialised society can be achieved within the next two decades.

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