Report on Kenyan Schools
04-09-2001
When my plane landed in Nairobi airport, I was eager to begin both an adventure and a task of accomplishing a mission I truly believed in—presenting thousands of Kenyan students with the opportunity to learn and communicate with their age mates abroad. At the airport, I was picked up by Mr. Rateng Oginga Ogego and Mr. Kenneth Oula. Mr. Rateng is on the Board of Trustees of the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation (JOOF), and while I was in Kenya he ensured that the project was running smoothly. Ken and I comprised the project team that visited the schools which had received computer donations. Ken handled the technical matters (installing software such as Windows and Office, and installing modems if they were lacking). My duty was to give demonstrations to headmasters, teachers and students about the Swissimpact website (features of the website, benefits of using the site, etc.) and to collect data from each school, along with photos, to upload onto the Swissimpact website. Our travel plan was to start with schools in the Nairobi and Central Province then travel on to the Western Province and finally to the Coast region. We brought with us eight modems that I had carried from Switzerland to give to those schools that didn´t have modems but wished to connect to the internet and use the website.

The first school that we visited was Alliance Boys high school. They had a well-equipped computer lab, but since the telephone line in the lab was out of service, they could not connect to the internet from the lab. The repair was scheduled to take several weeks. In order to introduce the computer teacher to the Swissimpact site, we used the office computer, the secretary´s telephone and one of our modems to connect them to the internet. The teacher was very intrigued by the site and planned to begin instructing the students once the telephone repairs were made.

The next school that we visited, Kenya High School, gave us a very warm reception. They brought together a group of about 15 students and 2 teachers for whom we could give a demonstration using a computer hooked up to a projector screen. The girls were very enthusiastic and asked a number of intelligent questions regarding the website. Since our visit, they have been logging on successfully. So far, they have had one chat with Ms. Susanne Haenni while waiting for their European partner school to return from holidays.

After Kenya High, Ken and I traveled to Kisumu, which is the largest city in the Nyanza Province. The landscape that we viewed along the way was nothing like I had ever seen before...mountains, lakes, and of course, the Great Rift Valley. We encountered villagers living in traditional mud houses with thatched roofs, herders with guarding their livestock, women walking along the road caring impressive loads of food and materials upon their heads. The lifestyle outside of Nairobi was completely different, although inside Kisumu itself, city life went on as usual. The next day after arriving in Kisumu, Ken and I visited Kisumu Girls high school, where unfortunately we encountered quite a few problems. First, we were unable to log onto the site as Kisumu Girls, or as any other school name. We called Niki Flandorfer in the Deloitte Office in Zurich, and he informed us that the site was working well both in Zurich and in India. Ken and I believed that our connection was good because we were able to access other websites. After twenty minutes we were able to log in, but under the name of another school we had attempted to log in with. This finally enabled us to demonstrate the website to the teachers who were present, but we knew that there were still problems that had to be resolved. During this time, a representative from Swift Global (a Kisumu-based ISP) came to check on our connection. However, when he arrived, the modem began to have trouble dialing in, which took a few hours to fix. Meanwhile, Ken and I went with the computer teacher to the Africa Online office and signed up the school with AOL. Before leaving, we inquired about Kisumu Boys and we were told that they were experiencing serious problems, possibly a virus, that affected all their computers. We were advised to contact them later.

After visiting a few schools and discussing their computer programs with teachers and headmasters, I learned that there are two major impediments facing schools that would like to use the internet and eventually instruct their students. The first problem is having working telephone lines. Many lines go down and do not get repaired quickly or efficiently. Also, most schools have only one telephone line that serves the entire school, and administrators are reluctant to use this line for internet purposes. Additionally, most telephone lines aren´t direct lines, which leads to problems dialing in. The second problem is the cost of getting and maintaining an ISP. Schools have very limited budgets, and those schools from more remote regions have to pay additional costs for connecting to Nairobi where the big ISPs are based. Schools are then faced with a decision-- invest in technology and benefit in the long run, or stay with the traditional route and strengthen their math, science and english departments. Ken and I did our best to encourage the schools to get an ISP and remind them of the many benefits that the internet offers, such as accessing websites like Swissimpact.net.

Ken and I continued our trip to Maranda Boys high school. The first day was spent installing a modem and connecting them to Africa Online. This was quite a feat since they were using an old telephone with a ___ box and it took some rewiring to get a modem hooked up. On the second day, Ken and I returned to instruct them on how to use the Swissimpact website. It was the first time that the headmaster and teachers saw the internet and it was exciting to share this experience with them. The first thing that they asked us to do was to access the websites of their favourite newspapers so that they could see the stories on the computer and follow along in the papers. Their excitement was contagious, and Ken and I felt successful in our work. We first taught them the basics of browsing the internet and then showed them how to use the Swissimpact site. Since we left, we are glad to see that Maranda is successfully logging in to Swissimpact on their own.

The next stop for Ken and I was supposed to be Ambira high school, but since they were unable to commit to getting an ISP, we decided to return to Kisumu Girls. We wanted to make sure that they were able to connect without any problems. We found everything running smoothly, so we continued to our next destination, Kakamega Boys high school. We had already informed Swift Global that we would be there, and they planned to meet us at the school to provide them with an internet connection. Kakamega had a very modern, state-of-the-art computer lab, equipped with 20 brand new computers, printers and scanners. However, their new lab did not have a phone line yet, so the computer in the administration office was used to connect to the internet and demonstrate the website. The computer teacher was very grateful for our demonstration and requested that we install software onto the computer that was donated by Swissimpact so that it can be utilized along with the others in the lab.

At Butere Girls high school, we found that the computer lab had only four computers, all with very limited capability. They were unable to run any recent version of Microsoft Windows or Office. The only high-functioning computer was located in the headmistress´ home and was connected to the internet. The house in on school grounds and we were told that the computer teacher has access to it in order to use Swissimpact. We gave a demonstration of the site to the headmistress and the computer teacher, and both were every impressed by the many usages of the site, such as sharing important resources. The computer teacher, who is also a teacher of biology, was particularly happy to see that Maranda high school had posted a biology practical. They have plans under way of establishing a phone line to the computer lab so that the computer could be moved to a more central location to allow students to access the website and communicate with other students abroad. However, our demonstration was limited because the computer was using Internet Explorer 4.0 and several functions, such as chat, were unable to operate. We attempted to install Explorer 5.0 but we encountered some difficulties. The computer teacher told us he would try the installation later on his own.

At this point, Ken and I traveled to Homa Bay. We spent the first evening with Ken´s relatives and the next day we visited Homa Bay high school. At the time they did not have an ISP, but after discussing the issue with the headmaster, he said that he would make plans to get an internet connection that day or the next day. We gave him our contacts to reach us when the installation was complete, however he never contacted us again. The reason could be that the high school was preparing to host an important football match.

Next we went to Ogande Girls high school, which is located far from the main road in a rural location in the hills. It did not have any telephone line, although the headmistress said that she had applied for one and should be expecting the line soon. Once this is complete, she assured us that she would contact JOOF to learn more about getting an ISP and how to use Swissimpact. At Ogande, we were disappointed to find that many computers were not being fully utliized. One computer was still in its box and was unpackaged for us when we arrived. Two other computers lacked software, so the headmistress and the computer teacher brought them over to our hotel that evening for us to install Windows and Office. Ogande should now be prepared to connect to the internet when they receive a telephone line.

Kanga Boys high school did not have an ISP when we visited, but they informed us that the Board of Governors planned to make Kanga a central location for all schools in the area to access the internet. The school has a fair number of computers relative to other schools in the region, but the number was still short of what they should have in order to adequately serve their student body. As one of the leading schools in academics, we hope their students will have the opportunity to receive instruction in computer science and the internet to benefit from opportunities like those offered through Swissimpact.

Kisii Boys high school did not have an ISP on the first day we arrived, but they were expecting representatives from Swift Global later that afternoon. When we returned several days later, we gave a demonstration of the Swissimpact site to the computer teacher, the deputy principal and other teachers. The computer teacher was very interested in the site and was especially eager to discuss the possibility of foreign exchange progams in the future. Kisii high school logged into the website successfully after we left and seem excited to participate.

Agoro Sare currently has one functional computer which is available to students on a limited basis. They have a large student body and many students who are eager to learn more about computers, but unfortunately they lack the resources. They are waiting for donations that are sorely needed. The one computer they have is not connected to the internet since it is far from the telephone line in the administrative office. We hope that arrangements can be made to help this school remain on par with other schools, as the need and the desire to learn is abundantly clear from these students.

After an extended stay in Nairobi due to illness, Ken and I continued to the coast city of Mombasa, the location of Mbeheni Primary School. We were very impressed that primary school students were receiving computer education and makes us hopeful for a bright future for these youngsters. One of the two computers at Mbeheni was connected to the internet, but because they were running and old version of Explorer, we weren´t able to show them how to use the chat function. Unfortunately, the computer did not have the capacity to download a higher version from the Windows or Office CDs that we brought. We attempted to download Explorer 5.0 from the internet but it wasn´t successful. Ken left the deputy principal with a report of what upgrades must be made for the computer to be more efficient.

Mbeheni was the last school that we visited. I think that overall the trip was successful and that we accomplished something at every school that we visited, even in those that were not able to connect to the internet. Our presence and assistance opened these schools to new and rewarding opportunities that they will surely benefit from in the future. I learned that in order for progress to be made, one must start small and build over time. The first and most crucial steps are the hardest, but now that these have been made, the enthusiasm of the students and their desire to learn and achieve will revolutionize the education system. It will offer future generations of students avenues which never before existed. In this age of computers and technology, learning these skills early in life gives these students an advantage that is immeasurable. Each student´s individual success contributes to the collective success of the whole country in terms of what they can give back. Kenya is a rapidly developing nation with an abundance of resources, but its greatest natural resource is its children. The Swissimpact project which donates computers to schools allows students to communicate with their age mates across Kenya and abroad, share ideas, all while learning essential computer skills is a valuable tool and truly a great investment in the future of Kenya.