08 April 2008

Mkomani, an island school connected to the world

Not so long ago Mkomani Primary School in Lamu, an island off Kenya’s coast, lacked books, desks, floors and ceilings. Today 17 brand new computers acquired with UNESCO’s support adorn its premises.

A large public primary school for girls, Mkomani was established over 30 years ago. Twenty-nine teachers, of which five are paid by the Parent Teachers Association, tend to 1079 pupils. On hot sunny days the classrooms are furnaces and on rainy days the pounding rain on their iron sheet roofs seriously impedes learning. Last year only three girls from the school were accepted at National Secondary Schools and only 43% of the graduating 8th grade class went on to secondary education.

On his visit to Lamu Town, the oldest best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa and a World Heritage Site, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura offered the school a donation to improve the school’s learning environment. In return he was presented with a long list of needs including books, classrooms and an early childhood development (ECD) centre.

The School’s Management felt that UNESCO could best contribute to the school’s innovation by helping set up a computer lab. To this end, the library, a large room with a new cement floor and a recent aluminium roof, was converted into a modern computer lab. A wireless hub with an outdoor antenna provides Internet access for the school, as well as for the neighbouring boy’s primary school. UNESCO had found a ‘niche’ to transform the school.

Current statistics indicate that less than 2% of public primary schools and only about 800 out of some 4,000 secondary schools in Kenya have computers. Moreover, access to Internet is seriously limited by its cost and insufficient electricity. Mkomani school, however, is located on a main electrical line from the island’s hospital and has a regular supply of electricity. The biggest challenge was to find an affordable Internet solution with good bandwidth and reliable access.

Source : Unesco

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