In its latest report, “Technology in Education: A Tool on Whose Terms”, the Global Education Monitoring Report examines the risks and opportunities from using technology in education systems globally. This testimony highlights the need for policy makers to ensure teachers develop the right skills to use digital technologies effectively in classrooms and beyond.
In late 2017, the [Kenya] Ministry of Education announced a big change to a new competency-based curriculum (“CBC”) to include technology and digital skills that will help prepare our students for the future. I am one of 19 teachers at Nyakio Primary, a public school in rural South Kinangop. Our school has 601 students from pre-primary to grade 8.
When we heard of the Ministry’s expectations for the new curriculum, we wondered how we would transition and if and when our schools would receive the needed resources to do so. Having had no technology in the school before, soon, the government started to deliver tablet computers for students at primary schools across Kenya. At Nyakio, we accepted 64 of these gadgets for the entire school, but we were a bit scared because we had no knowledge or instructions on how to use them. As with many teachers around the world, we were hesitant, or lacked confidence in using technology. Myself, I was computer illiterate, and so were my colleagues. So the tablets remained in a closet gathering dust and, as teachers, we somehow felt left in the dust as well. I felt it could have been useful for teachers to be consulted when the new curriculum was being designed to make sure we were able to use the technologies well when teaching as they expected us to.
We realized that we weren’t the only teachers in this situation when schools closed for nine months in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we started working with teachers from other schools in our region to help our students keep learning. We would gather with our masks and safe distancing in the basement of the Flying Kites Hub to prepare and print learning packets for pupils. This is when we realised that other teachers in our region were no better prepared than us. We all had these same gadgets in closets at our schools, but we had no digital skills or training to use them. When I told my story to the Global Education Monitoring Report, they told me this is common for many teachers around the world: only a quarter of countries have laws to support teacher training in technology.
When schools reopened in 2021, Flying Kites began a program to help local teachers build very basic digital skills and confidence to use the government-issued tablets and other technology (such as computers, smartphones, and the internet) for teaching. I remember when I was first invited to the Tech Training program because we were asked to find the tablets, wipe off the dust, and bring them to the workshop. I was a bit afraid and feeling like a preschool student, but also I had so much hope.
By now, the CBC has been implemented and we need a lot of knowledge about computers and technology to do our jobs on a daily basis. Most of the activities in our books require us to go to the website of the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) to find the right content, student-centered activities, and resources. I admit there are times I have to skip some areas because I can’t do the research without access to the internet. I have now started to bring my research to Flying Kites because they allow me to use their internet and their equipment. Being able to access the KICD website with independence is one of the first and most important learning targets for the Flying Kites Tech Training program. I know how to do it now, but, as is the case for multiple schools on our continent, I don’t always have the internet.
Just this year Flying Kites started opening their Computer Hub after school for teachers who have gotten training. Even though I must travel about 45 minutes to get there, I find myself visiting for access to the internet, to improve my digital skills, and even to get support from our trainer, Mr. Okal. Sometimes we even go there as a group of teachers and we are helped to navigate through skills to reach what is needed by the CBC. It becomes so easy. Mr. Okal is never shy to help us and I like how he builds our skills using practical exercises that are very relevant to our jobs. For example, I am now able to use simple spreadsheets to mark my exams. I used to do it on pencil and paper.
Now, we are teachers who are confident and skilled. I feel that I’m finally using #EdTechOnOurTerms. It’s not the way we started. Now with digital skills, it makes learning much easier for the pupils. It feels good.The pupils and teachers are having a learning experience and enjoying using technology together. My students participate and they are very lively and eager to learn. We use the tablets very frequently for learning games and to watch educational videos. While before they sat in a closet, I now find myself in competition with other teachers to use these gadgets. Technology is changing our profession; we are growing step by step and our pupils are growing also. They want to learn more and more.
We are feeling ready to move forward. We have the basic digital skills and can even self-direct our learning using very good resources on the internet. Myself, I learn new skills every day and when I go back to my school I am able to equip my learners with confidence using the gadgets and technology that is available to us. Yes, we still have a journey ahead because our school has limited electricity, the tablets are getting worn out, and still no internet, but we are on a good path and our students are benefiting. I know they will graduate with the skills needed to compete in the world. And because I am now digitally literate myself, I am able to help them reach their goals.
This testimony was given to UNESCO by Flying Kites, a charitable organization operating in rural Kenya since 2007. It is supporting the call in the GEM Report for the education sector to make sure that tech in education is used on their own terms, and that policy makers work with multiple education practitioners when designing technology in education policies to reflect their experiences. Like Monica, Flying Kites believes that education is a path out of poverty. From their Teacher Training & Technology Hub, located in the heart of the region served by their work, Flying Kites designs, pilots, and introduces integrative, locally-led programs that build the capacity of teachers, invest in girls, and support healthy schools. For more information, visit www.flyingkites.org.