The conventional framework for innovation goes a little something like this:

A bureaucratic process required by government is painstakingly long and complicated. It possibly collaborates with a large private organization to facilitate a small part of the process. Infrastructure is funded by donors and supported by NGOs. Eventually, a citizen who is fed up with the system innovates a solution that could potentially work, if given the support and funds to scale.  However, red tape and financial barriers usually prevent these innovations from ever being implemented for positive impact. 

Kenya’s newly elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta, in his inauguration speech last month made a promise: “Within the first one hundred days, we will put measures in place to ensure that all students, joining class one next year, within the public school system receive a laptop. 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.”

This promise made by a politician, now has to be implemented by the bureaucrats in our ministries technically and institutionally.  Beyond the promised laptops, these civil servants have to think about the infrastructure that will support the laptops (electricity, solar power, data connectivity and security.)  The government has also realised that the hardware needs digital content to aid learning.  Finally, the National ICT Innovation and Integration Centre is training teachers all over the country on ICT integration in the classrooms.  We hope the government has all crucial layers of this cake stacked up in time for our next Standard 1 intake:

Rather than doing all this themselves, the government ought to bring together the somewhat cynical players in the other four corners of the room:

  • Big business capable of providin hardware and infrastructure support
  • Small citizen-driven innovators with software platforms and digital educational content
  • NGOs to conduct implementation, training, on-boarding and M&E in schools
  • Donors to write the big cheques and fund everything!

What policymakers might find is that the key players above do a much better job at creating products, services and support for sustainable solutions if given the chance.

Most importantly, all of the above needs to be done while keeping the desired learning outcomes in sight:

  • Are the learners benefiting from the intervention?
  • Are they scoring higher in their exams?
  • Are they learning to think for themselves?
  • Are they developing democratic values?
  • Are they aspiring to know, do and be more?
  • Are they better prepared to drive Kenya’s Vision 2030 economy?

It’s a good sign that we have recognized that the status quo is not adequate.  The more frequently we implement disruptive interventions, the better.  But the interventions should be pedagogically informed and analytically designed to incorporate existing models that have been tried and tested, rather than reinventing the wheel.  Organizations like the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) can inform policy makers, help build genuine collaborations between innovators and enablers, scale innovations and implement result-oriented evaluation strategies.

The Isolated Corners of the Innovation Room: Government, Big Corporates, Citizen Innovators, NGOs and Donors

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