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Kenyan Teens Build E-Learning Website For High School Students

posted May 21, 2013, 8:23 AM by Mpelembe   [ updated May 21, 2013, 8:27 AM ]

E-Masomo is Kenya's first education resource website made for high schoolstudents by high school students. Teenagers, Brian Kirotich and Martin Sieledesigned the platform, which provides students with learning materials; from past examination papers and interactive videos, to a review of the entire curriculum.

NAIROBIKENYA  (REUTERS) -  While most Kenyan teenagers savoured the break from school over the 2012 December holidays, 17-year-old Brian Kirotich and 18-year-old Martin Sieleused the down-time to create an interactive website that put their entire curriculum on the internet.

The two students, in their final year of high school built an application called E-Masomo - Swahili for E-learning, with no formal IT training and a budget of 142 US dollars, which they sourced from friends and allowance savings.

E-Masomo provides free access to sample papers for Kenya's final high schoolassessment known as KCSE, video tutorials, educational debates and interactive forums.

"We realized that there isn't anything on the net for high school students in Kenyabasically if you want to read using a computer or you want to read online in Kenyaand you're a high school student it was practically impossible. There was nothing you could find tailored for the Kenyan education system and it's much fun and easier to study with a computer and know... it seems more interactive than just looking at a teacher... you know it's much easier., said Siele.

E-Masomo gets an average of 400 hits every week.

The application was entered for a local science fair and has made it all the way to the regional finals as the top entry. However, they did have a hard time convincing judges that two teenagers could develop such a website.

Kirotich and Siele's interest in computers started at an early age. Kirotich was inspired by hackers in movies, while Kirotich's inquisitive nature drove him to investigate every bit and function of his dad's computers.

"It was TV... I used to watch some series and then you just see some gut on a computer, he does something that looks so cool. I remember this movie, Italian Job, that hacker guy, when he hacked the traffic lights thing, I just... man computers are so cool. I have to do this someday," said Siele.

"I blew up a computer. Our two computers, one was spoilt and as I was using one, it got messed up so I figured out probably the power supply was having a little heat so I removed the power supply in the old computer and tried fixing it in the new computer," said Kirotich.

The two have to balance the E-Masomo project with their schoolwork. Their performance at the end of the year will largely determine whether they make it to university. The teens spend at least two days every week maintaining and developing the website.

In 2009, the schools syllabus managing body - Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) launched the first phase of a curriculum digitization project that will enable both public secondary and primary schools to start offering e-learning.

But there are tough challenges ahead: limited internet access in schools and the re-training of teachers who need to keep up with the constantly developing trends in ICT.

David Kariuki, the Principal at Alliance Boys High, where Kirotich and Siele go to school says students are ready for ICT learning.

"I think our students are easily adapting to I.T because of the kind of exposure that we are giving them nowadays unlike us from the past and this can be very well be seen when we look at, for example when you have a new phone. You look at the phone, our children are easily manipulate... they are able to access and even be able to function, have more function than we have, than we know," Kariuki said.

There have been several private and government initiatives to computerise public schools since 2002 especially in remote areas where there are no libraries. Projects like this one in western Kenya gave primary school children hand-held computers or e-slates, which stored textbooks.

But its the declaration by Kenya's newly elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta that all 800,000 students entering the first grade in public primary schools from 2014 onwards will receive a free solar powered laptop, that has ICT learning advocates excited.

"We made a promise to our children and we will keep it. Because we believe that early exposure to technology will inspire future innovation and be a catalyst for growth and prosperity," Kenyatta said in his inauguration speech on April 9.

Analysts say the political goodwill and machinery of the government will play a big role in promoting ICT based education but implementation must be treated carefully.

"My take, in the first way you can execute it to make it successful is that if you let the kids just play with them, just give them these tools and tell them, even take it as a toy, tell them here is a laptop, you guys go figure out after an hour come and present to use what you have figured out, whoever has figured out the most gets a prize or something. You will be surpassed how far those kids learn about technology on their own without any restrictions, without any inhibitions and be free to experiment," said Andrew Mugoya, technical director of Asilia, an applications development company.

Officials say Kenya's Ministry of Education plans to spend 30 million US dollars to roll out the ICT learning initiative by providing computers for public schools.

ICT ministry officials say the government needs a total of 1.8 billion US dollars to fund its free laptops for schools initiative for the next five years.