In Summary

  • With Kenya pulling out all the stops to introduce children to computers right from lower primary, it is worth taking note of the consequences of such an initiative and to learn from history too.
  • According to a Unicef report, for every minute a child is on the Internet, there are about 750,000 paedophiles; someone trying to chat your daughter, someone trying to chat your son”.
  • Another danger lying ahead, he warns, is that the more people understand how computers work, the easier it will be for the ill-minded to hack into electronic systems, which may cause chaos in the IT industry.

Put on your imagination cap for a moment and visualise the news headlines about Kenyan youngsters a decade from now, given the current initiatives to have children learn with computers as they start primary school ...

“15-Year-Old Hacks Government Website, Causes Two-Week Shutdown”...

“Boy Secretly Sells Kidney after Online ‘Friend’ Convinces Him It’s the Only Way to Buy Latest Gadget”...

“Kenyan Students Beat Odds to Create Worldwide-Acclaimed Software”...

“Teenage Girl Commits Suicide Following Encounter with Cyberbully”...

“Survey Blames Technology for Increase in Obese Kenyan Kids”.

You think your imagination has been stretched to the limits? Well, real incidents suggested by some of those headlines have been witnessed in the developed world.

A 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles committed suicide in 2007 after her online interaction with a cyberbully ended abruptly with an insult from the “man” she had been chatting with.

A great future beckons. They, however, warned parents to keep a watchful eye over their children to check against raising a generation of tech-savvy monsters. PHOTO | FILE

A great future beckons. They, however, warned parents to keep a watchful eye over their children to check against raising a generation of tech-savvy monsters. PHOTO | FILE

The Telegraph reported that her parents would later discover that she had actually been chatting with a fictional man created by a woman neighbour whose daughter had been friends with the 13-year-old until they fell out.

And in 2012, a 17-year-old Chinese boy secretly sold a kidney to buy an iPad. Chinese news agency Xhinua reported that by the time his mother discovered it, he had already bought the gadget and he was suffering from renal deficiency.

In Miami, United States, a 15-year-old boy was arrested in 2000 for hacking into the systems of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and causing a 21-day shutdown.

Back in Kenya, the Twitter accounts of Deputy President William Ruto and that of the Kenya Defence Forces were hacked in 2014, with investigators saying the culprit was a teenager.

Such occurrences may be commonplace in the years to come, if the passion with which Standard One pupils and many parents have embraced government-issued gadgets in the schools is anything to go by.

For instance, in Ndurarua Primary School in Nairobi’s Kawangware, one of the schools that received tablets for Standard One pupils in May to pilot the government’s digital literacy programme, the enrolment has been on the rise since.

“Initially, we had 155 children in Class One but, as we’re speaking now, we’re heading to 180. That’s a good show,” Ms Catherine Waithera, a teacher at the institution, told Lifestyle on Thursday.

A non-governmental organisation joined efforts with the government at Ndurarua to teach children how to code software.

One of its beneficiaries is 11-year-old Kevin Mukirai, a Standard Five pupil who — with just a few months of training by the NGO — has created an application for children to test their addition skills.

This writer could only pick out random words like “variables”, “scores” and “sets” as Mukirai explained the jargon of how he instructs a computer to check if a child has typed the right answer and how the computer provides the correct sum if a wrong answer has been put in.

So far, Kenyan schoolgirls have created breakthrough technologies like an app to phase out queues while purchasing bus tickets, an app to ease organ donation among others.

If more children grow up with Mukirai’s knowledge, one can only imagine the kinds of software innovations that will come out of Kenya.

Moreover, Kenyan parents are getting increasingly wowed by their children’s ability to master with ease the working of the latest electronic gadgets, and it is nowadays hard for youngsters to imagine that their parents touched a computer very late in their lives — a handful of them in secondary school, others in tertiary institutions, others in their workplaces.

The latest government economic survey says it is getting easier for Kenyans to access the internet, pointing to tricky times ahead for youngsters who often take their naivety online.

“Internet subscriptions increased significantly from 16.4 million in 2014 to 23.9 million in 2015,” the report says.

That number is bound to increase alongside the number of minors who can comfortably use a computer, given the many initiatives introducing children to electronics.

Besides the government, other institutions have been introducing computers to schools and libraries, albeit on a smaller scale.

Among them is the Open Space Literacy programme being championed by a global organisation. SOS Children’s Villages, an NGO that houses vulnerable children, and Plan International are involved in the initiative.

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Another danger lying ahead, he warns, is that the more people understand how computers work, the easier it will be for the ill-minded to hack into electronic systems, which may cause chaos in the IT industry. PHOTO | FILE

Another danger lying ahead, he warns, is that the more people understand how computers work, the easier it will be for the ill-minded to hack into electronic systems, which may cause chaos in the IT industry. PHOTO | FILE

The programme is now in 30 schools in Nairobi and mainly targets learners in lower primary. It involves providing learners with laptops pre-installed with government-approved curricula to aid their learning.

“For now, we have 26,000 children who are benefiting through this project directly,” says Mr Daniel Oloo, the National ICT for Development Co-ordinator at SOS Children’s Villages Kenya.

Equally, the eLimu initiative has previously partnered with the Kenya National Library Services to teach children how to use computers when they visit libraries during weekends.

Another initiative is spearheaded by BRCK Education, which involves giving learners tablet computers dubbed Kio Kit that have internet access.

By November last year, five primary schools and libraries were using the Kio Kit, according to the AFP news agency.  

On the government side, the ICT Authority says the digital literacy programme will see 1.2 million tablet computers delivered to all the 23,951 schools by December.

With the sharp reduction in the average age of Kenyans during their first contact with computers, and because the technology spread is expected to be fairly uniform, how will children be a few years from now?

Technology experts, Kenyans and educators told Lifestyle that a great future beckons. They, however, warned parents to keep a watchful eye over their children to check against raising a generation of tech-savvy monsters.

Mr Desmond Rao, a trained programmer from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, has been teaching basic software making skills to upper primary children at Ndurarua Primary School for the last four months, and he is the one who trained Mukirai.

Mr Rao, who works with Kids on the Globe, foresees more productivity at the workplace.

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