The generator comes back to life with a loud rumble, and a cheer rings through the classroom as the computer screens flicker back on. Break time has only just finished at Kibiko Primary School, but there is a scramble among the children to log onto their computers. The lesson is about to start, and they can’t wait.
“I’ve noticed a change in attitude. The children used to be intimidated by subjects like math, but now it’s fun for them and they look forward to their time in the lab,” says Nelius Njiru, who teaches math, science, and Swahili at Kibiko.
Kibiko is one of 205 primary schools across four Kenyan counties to be part of the iMlango program, which aims to improve education by delivering internet access, computer labs, smartcard-based attendance monitoring, and online learning tools to primary school children.
The iMlango platform offers one-on-one math tuition and allows students to access a wealth of online content, including English lessons, African stories with a social message, and life skills training.
Importantly, it also allows schools to collect accurate attendance data through sQuid Android tablets and contactless cards.
“Monitoring attendance and talking to parents and the community has helped us understand the reasons behind some children missing school so frequently” says Patricia Wawira Ndwiga, the teacher in charge of iMlango at the school. And, while simply making class more fun with iMlango’s interactive lesson plans is enough to entice some children back to school, others have more serious reasons for missing class.
“I used to stay at home sometimes because we didn’t have food or I could not wash my uniform” says Silvia, a Kibiko 7th grader who puts into words an experience that is common for many girls in Kenya. In some communities, when families are unable to cover the costs of their children’s education, the girls are usually the first to pay the price of poverty and stay home.
“Some people here think that girls should work, not study” says Joan, a 7th grade student. “When girls are educated they can achieve a lot for themselves and also help their community.” Some of the other girls in the classroom—who want to be neurosurgeons, lecturers, and journalists when they grow up—nod their heads in agreement.
To help girls achieve a quality education, iMlango has also started offering financial incentives to the most underprivileged families. Five dollars are uploaded every fortnight onto a pink plastic smartcard, which is usually given to the women in the family and can only be used with selected merchants.
“My mother can buy soap and food with the pink card, and it helps a lot,” says Silvia. “I never miss school anymore.”
iMlango, which is supported by the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and delivered by four companies working in partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), has already impacted the lives of 68,000 girls across Kenya.
And its impact is not limited to academic subjects. The program offers a variety of afterschool activities, such as debate club and a tree club, where students can plant trees and learn about the environment. Girls especially are encouraged to work on issues affecting them and come up with their own projects, which they can then share with other schools in the network. For example, girls from a school in Makweni have created content on the importance of handwashing and good hygiene. At Kibiko, Silvia and her friends compete in the national debate competitions and, through the school’s girls’ club, have learned how to administer first aid and make healthy juices.
While the girls at Kibiko, like at many other schools around the world, face unique obstacles to their right to education, innovative programs like iMlango, together with the girls’ determination to rise above these obstacles, is giving them a chance to achieve their goals.
“It has given us a lot of confidence, because we know that our computer, maths, and English skills are as good as anyone else’s. We really know how to express ourselves now,” says Joan.
The teachers agree. According to Nelius, “iMlango is doing wonders for our children.”