The Road Ahead for EdTech in Kenya: Reflections and Insights from the 2023 Kenya EdTech Summit

Credit: Photo by EdTech Hub, taken in September 2023 — Nairobi, Kenya

Our blog sheds light on the conversations held during the 2023 Annual Kenya EdTech Summit, with a focus on the significance of delving into EdTech solutions for foundational learning and responding to educational access challenges during emergencies. We also delve into the significance of fostering collaboration and taking a holistic approach to crafting EdTech solutions, all while emphasising the role of technology in augmenting, rather than replacing, teachers within the education system.

In the dynamic city of Nairobi, EdTech Hub and stakeholders from the Kenyan EdTech ecosystem convened at the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology in Africa (CEMASTEA) to engage in conversations that promised to drive coordination, build clarity, foster collaboration, and bridge the gap between research, policy, and practice. The result? The Kenya EdTech Summit — a conference filled with eye-opening insights and a vision for the future of EdTech in Kenya.

Exploring EdTech Solutions for Foundational Learning

One of the themes of the conference revolved around EdTech solutions for foundational learning in Kenya. EdTech Hub, at the forefront of building foundational learning in Kenya, has been diligently working alongside Kirinyaga County to leverage technology for enhancing early learning and foundational literacy. This transformation began in Sobral, a municipality in north-east Brazil, with a benchmarking endeavour that marked the inception of Kirinyaga County’s impressive journey to improved literacy rates. In spite of grappling with elevated poverty rates, a five-year drought, and a nationwide economic downturn, the Brazilian municipality of Sobral demonstrated remarkable progress in its education system, achieving the top position among municipalities in Brazil for basic education. This accomplishment serves as an inspiring example for other nations. 

What is truly remarkable about Kirinyaga County’s approach is that it is government-led, emphasising sustainability at its core. In collaboration with a South-to-South programme — a partnership between the Lemann Centre in Sobral and the Lemann Foundation Programme (LFP) at the Blavatnik School looking to foster coalition and build a transnational network to improve learning in Kenya, Pakistan, and Brazil, Kirinyaga County sent a delegation to Brazil to uncover the secrets behind Sobral’s basic learning success. This enlightening journey led to a blueprint for implementation within Kirinyaga.

At the heart of Kirinyaga County’s transformation is collaboration. Kirinyaga County’s commitment to government-led initiatives and their adherence to the government’s vision of leading initiatives that are geared toward improved learning at the foundational level is commendable. External partners are seen as collaborators working in synergy with the government.

Kirinyaga County has already achieved significant milestones. Materials for both teachers and learners have been meticulously developed. Extensive teacher training programmes have covered pedagogy and assessment techniques. A pilot programme involving 40 schools is currently underway, with plans to expand to all 200 public schools and 200 private schools in the county. Collaboration with patrons, the county director of education, and a dedicated steering team underpins the success of these endeavours. 

Recognising the importance of play in children’s education, Kirinyaga County seeks to harness children’s natural activeness as a catalyst for learning. Kirinyaga’s partnership with EdTech Hub aims to provide data-driven insights to make informed decisions. This forward-thinking perspective is designed to ensure that children learn at their own pace and actively participate in their educational journey, emphasising foundational literacy and numeracy in Kirinyaga.

To gauge learner competence levels, the team consisting of EdTech Hub, the Kirinyaga County education task force, and teachers has developed a sophisticated assessment tool in collaboration with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, with technology playing a pivotal role. The county is exploring real-time data collection methods, focusing on formative evaluation to enhance the educational experience for its students continually.

EdTech Solutions for Education Access in Emergencies

Another pressing and timely topic that emerged from the conference was the role of EdTech in addressing education access challenges in emergencies. The participants underscored the significance of EdTech in creating a resilient education system that can guarantee learning continuity in emergencies of the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic. Deliberate efforts to make EdTech accessible to the marginalised, extending to inclusive designing of EdTech solutions for learners with disabilities, were discussed among measures to mitigate inequalities such as those experienced during the pandemic. 

In emergencies leading to displacements of large populations and the establishment of refugee camps, humanitarian organisations have collaborated with EdTech startups to develop and deploy digital learning content to support an already overwhelmed teaching workforce. For example, Save the Children and other organisations have been active in Dadaab refugee camps, implementing programmes like ‘Library for All’ to provide young learners access to educational content at home. The use of EdTech in refugee camps has demonstrated its potential in bridging gaps in access to quality education. 

It is vital to acknowledge the diversity of challenges that emergency-prone zones face, including poor infrastructure, insecurity, unreliable electricity, and language barriers. A conference participant who is also a technology solution provider in Kenya noted the complexities of providing offline digital content. He notes that although offline digital content is fronted as the most feasible option in contexts of poor infrastructure such as Dadaab, operationally it can be resource-constraining in the long term. This is particularly true when you factor in the need to provide continuous physical updates of content. In one of the demo sessions at the summit, participants noted the potential barrier to learning via audiovisual content with English accents unfamiliar to learners. Discussions at the conference emphasised the need for sustainable solutions to address critical challenges of education access, including translation, to accommodate learners from different backgrounds.

The Power of Collaboration and Holistic Consideration

Throughout the conference, the importance of collaboration among EdTech entrepreneurs, government, and development partners in the education space was reiterated. Forming communities of practice with key government stakeholders can lead to sustainable solutions that address the needs of all, including caregivers, teachers, society, and government. This holistic approach is vital to create solutions that can easily scale and be replicated across different regions facing similar challenges.

Entrepreneurs made it clear that developing EdTech solutions for an evolving market is never an easy journey to make alone. These solutions require an enabling environment for co-creation, knowledge sharing, and testing of products before launching.

The Role of Teachers and Technology

Lastly, the perennial question of whether technology will replace teachers was addressed. Dr Samuel Marigat, the Teacher Service Commission’s (TSC) County Director for Kirinyaga, emphasised that technology should be seen as an enhancer of teaching rather than a replacement. 

“Technology will never replace teachers. But teachers who can use technology effectively will replace teachers who cannot.”

– Dr Samuel Marigat, TSC County Director for Kirinyaga

The Kenya EdTech Summit has always been a melting pot of ideas, insights, and commitments to transforming education in Kenya. With collaboration, innovative solutions, and a shared vision, the future of education in Kenya looks promising — A future where technology enhances, rather than replaces, the role of teachers and where every child has access to quality education, regardless of their circumstances.

This blog was reviewed by: Laila Friese and Jennifer Cotter Otieno

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