When, in 2007 the Government of Rwanda, through the One Laptop per Child Programme (OLPC), chose to distribute laptops to all children in primary schools across the country, some thought that this was just a dream that will never come to fruition.
Fast-forward, nearly a decade after this initiative was rolled out, at least two schools in every administrative sector in every corner of the country, has these laptops deployed, and children are enjoying this privilege.
Current statistics show that over 970 schools are beneficiary to the programme where more than 275,000 laptops have been deployed, which put Rwanda in the top position in Africa in as regards deployment of these machines, and only third globally after Uruguay and Peru.
The OLPC programme is aimed at providing access to technology for Rwandan primary school students and to also promote ICT as a tool in teaching and learning.
Under Rwanda Education Board, the programme deploys laptops and trains teachers and also provides maintenance, repairs and overall support in the usage of the laptops in schools across the country.
During the deployment of the laptops, the head of school is furnished with OLPC programme guidelines on usage, support information, storage and handling and then signs a contract agreement with REB that involves the transfer of ownership and responsibilities.
The heads of schools need to start taking full ownership and responsibility of the equipment provided whereby they ensure that the laptops are all functional, and those that are not should immediately be reported to REB and they have to ensure that the laptops are used in class regularly according to the new curriculum.
As noted in the on-going investigations by the Police, most of the missing ICT equipment is because of mismanagement by the school authorities.
Under the new competence based curriculum which was rolled out at the beginning of this year, there is now a subject called Science and Elementary Technology (SET) where there are components of the OLPC programmeand the laptops embedded within the technology part of SET.
The regional pedagogical inspectors under REB are now providing reports on the usage of laptops in schools with focus on the teaching and learning process. This will help to further boost the usage of the laptops and will help set precedence for the precise assessment and evaluation of the programme.
Parents too, especially through the Parent Teachers’ Committees (PTAs) at different schools, must take keen interest of what is going on concerning the implementation of the laptops programme for its effectiveness.
It is also down to officials in charge of education at the district and sector levels to monitor the management of the laptops and to make sure that they are being used in class for teaching and learning, with any technical issues being immediately reported to REB.
Similar to other programmes running across various ministries in the country, the OLPC programme faces different challenges, which are being worked on continuously.
The issue of schools where laptops are not being fully utilised, is being tackled by a redeployment exercise whereby students within a certain year who study in the morning and afternoon shifts in the same classroom are allocated a number of laptops to use on a shared model and the surplus laptops are deployed to new schools in the same district.
This exercise is helping in the efficient management of the laptops at the school levels and also increased the reach of the programme to provide access to technology for more primary school students.
An inventory check is done at the schools at the end of the academic year and cases of irregularity are immediately reported to the Police and investigations are started.
It is through such efforts that, like it was reported by this newspaper early this week, 600 laptops were recovered by police.
Rwanda is working towards a nationwide digital transformation through different ventures like the setting up of an Innovation City which will host various learning institutions and technology companies with a focus on the promotion of research in science and technology through which innovation will be harnessed to focus on sectors like education, health, agriculture and in the provision of government services and logistics.
Hence students in our primary schools will be set to go through, benefit and contribute to such facilities and services and grow up in future to be our own versions of ‘Jobs’, ‘Gates’ or even ‘Zuckerberg’.
The writer is the National Coordinator, One Laptop per Child (OLPC) programme