IESC Kenya: Computer Wizards and Early Childhood Development

The Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) is a short-term service and career development opportunity for a select group of Intel employees to support the deployment of Intel classmate PCs in developing countries. In this blog, I recap my team’s first week in Kenya working with Orphans Overseas.

Karibu students using new Intel classmate PC convertible to study the alphabet

A toddler navigating a computer is an impressive sight anywhere, but it’s especially head-turning in the slum areas surrounding Thika, Kenya. At the Karibu Centre, pre-schoolers receive a hot meal and an education – including lessons on the Intel classmate PC – thanks to Orphans Overseas.

During our IESC assignment in Thika, a local TV channel ran a story praising these “Computer Wizards at the Age of Two.” That’s a slight exaggeration (the 3-5 year olds get most of the computer time at Karibu), but it’s not far off, and we marveled at students navigating the mouse to breeze through literacy and numeracy exercises.

It’s clear evidence of the ability of computers to not only teach ICT skills, but increase student engagement, attendance, and as NGO director Jorie Kincaid aims to demonstrate, test scores. In Karibu’s case, they are looking closely at the admissions test given by local primary schools prior to enrollment.

On a tour of Gachage slum, this boy caught my eye

In the nearby Gachage slum, John the tribal chief led us on a walk through the neighborhood to show us the daily challenges that families face. Despite the power lines overhead, the single room dwellings are un-electrified, and most parents are lucky to find work busting rocks at a local quarry. During the rainy season, standing water is everywhere.

One of the highlights of our trip (in addition to the adorable students!) has been working with the Karibu Centre teachers. Karibu recently launched an initiative to take classmate PCs into nearby public schools to teach basic ICT skills. Our team is helping to develop an ICT training curriculum that maps to the Kenyan learning objectives for early childhood development.

Jane is one of Karibu’s field teachers and is the perfect embodiment of the organization’s mission. Jane comes from the Gachage slum, where she experienced the challenges of growing up on one meal per day and going to public schools.

Now Jane is helping to lead the organization’s expansion into the community. Jane takes classmate PCs to local schools on a rotation, providing computer lessons to students, and in the future teachers so they can improve their own PC skills using the Intel Easy Steps program.

Jane demonstrating lesson plan using classmate PC on a chair instead of monitor due to power cut

I asked Jane if anything like the Karibu Centre existed when she was growing up. “Oh no,” Jane recalled, telling me about her school. “It was made using mud, so sometimes when it rained it would be swept away.”

The solid foundation of the Karibu Centre was evident to our team, as we hunkered down in the school’s covered courtyard while rain pounded for hours on our first day. Personally, I feel that empowering teachers with technology has felt as satisfying as building a school. After training them on how to document a lesson plan using PowerPoint, the teachers told us it was the first time they had ever given a presentation to their colleagues using a computer.

“Working with Intel is something that is so awesome!” Jane told me when I asked her for a message to take back to my colleagues in the US. “I so enjoy every visit.” We feel the same way about working with Orphans Overseas!