Laptop for class one project has been praised as the flagship project for Uhuruto duo. In the same breath, it is the one project that has been characterized as out of priority in total disregard of the needs of children in the public schools.
Those who champion for the project have reasoned that:
- The project will enable our kids be computer literate at a very tender age.
- The project will likely generate employment to the youth by establishing laptop assembly factories.
- Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerbergs of Kenya are likely to spring up en-mass thanks to the laptop project.
- The project will ensure electrification of every public primary school in the country thereby boosting rural electrification programme.
Although the opponents generally agree to those listed benefits, they too have pointed out weakness, challenges and negative impact of the project as follows:
- The project is costly for the economy. The billions of shillings for buying the laptops and maintaining them is prohibitive. Those billions of shillings ought to be channeled to construct classes and provide books to the pupils and pay teachers meaningful salaries.
- A good number of pupils targeted with the project are poor – mostly malnourished children who walk barefoot to roofless classrooms or to learn under trees. As they come from families that can hardly afford a meal a day, they’ll sell the laptops to buy food.
- Their is no security in place to safeguard the laptops; whether the six year olds will be carrying them to and from school or whether the schools will provide a safe room for keeping them, thieves (mostly insiders) will for sure get hold of many of the laptops across the country. Remember the incidences of the free text books by the government getting lost all over?
- Appropriate, tested, and approved content is not yet available. Those required to teach the said content aren’t ready either.
- Most schools lack basic infrastructures like desks or even electricity needed for successful implementation of the project. It has been said that half of public schools will miss-out from the project given poor infrastructure or lack thereof.
- If the laptop project must proceed, then the government is better off setting up computer labs in each primary school instead of giving each pupil a laptop. Second best alternative would be to provide kids with an e-reader or low cost tablets.
- The funds to support the project will come from loans. Do we want to borrow money for projects we hardly need?
Analyzed by hierarchy of needs, socially or otherwise, those against the laptop project seem to be having an upper hand. My favorite is the analogy of a man who walks into the house of this poor family. Since the man comes from a society where everyone has a smartphone, a flat screen TV and at least an Internet connected computer, the man offers to buy these for the family without second thoughts. If the man however took a few minutes/days to understand the needs of the family, he could have realized that their roof is leaking, that they only eat ugali and strong tea each morning and when lucky, they can afford to place boiled vegetables (without oil, nyanya or kitungu) on the table. He could have noticed that the six kids in the family all have cracked soles, tattered shorts, dry skin, and bulgy stomachs. The man could have noticed that a laptop for each of the six kids was a misplaced priority.
Since the arguments for the abandonment of the laptop project have been rather strong, the digital duo must have found themselves at crossroads given their desire to keep to the letter the promise of providing every class one pupil in public schools with a laptop. To find a way out, they could have decided to search for delay tactics and the procurement procedure offered them the perfect opportunity.
The first procurement for the laptops was announced in August 2013, got underway in September and by October, the government re-advertised for the tender afresh citing lack of a competitive bid in the first tender. Although the government had promised that by January 2014 each public primary school will have the laptops, the re-advertised tender pushed the deadline to March 2014.
The second tender process dragged into January to early February and the winner was announced on February 7th 2014, again pushing the deadline for delivering on the promise to May 2014. But before the ball could be set rolling, issues have been raised questioning the bid winner and the tender process.
Hewlett Packard (HP) that also participated in the tender has raised allegations against the tender process and Olive Telecommunications of India that won the tender. Part of the allegations include accusations the Olive Telecoms is not an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), that Olive has never supplied laptops to anyone, and that bidders knew of prices quoted by competitors thereby allowing Olive to alter its prices.
Given the information available to the public, it seems true that Olive is not an OEM despite the strict requirement that only OEMs were to participate in the tender. If this is true, it is proper to assume that the government knew of this but went ahead to award the tender to Olive. There are only two scenarios that could have led the government to award the tender to Olive in disregard to the tender rules.
The first possibility is that Olive offered better commission to emerge the winner. Enough said. The second scenario would be that the government is in a conspiracy to fail the laptop project. The government knows very well that someone would raise issues with the award, the issues will be pursued by Parliament, Public Procurement Oversight Authority, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, and also become a subject of litigation. These processes, the government could have reasoned, will give credence to the abandonment of the project without the government appearing as someone who broke his biggest promise; a tag that can really cost the digital duo in the next general elections.