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Pioneer project provides distance learning for Kenyan school students

Updated: 2021-08-03 08:08 ( Xinhua )
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On a sunny Saturday afternoon, laughter of adolescents resounds through a black-and-white three-floor building dubbed Konnect Hub in Githurai 44, a middle-to-low-income community on the outskirts of Nairobi.

"We don't have summer here," says Levin Chama, an 11-year-old boy, sounding genuinely bewildered.

A bunch of children grin with delight on hearing those words from their classmate.

Levin is answering the question through video conference to Laura Klein, a German college student thousands of miles away, about what Kenyans like to do, after she shares how a German family usually spends their summer.

It is an eye-opening class, during which volunteer teachers from all over the world give the East African nation's children a virtual tour of their home countries, offering them an opportunity to experience the culture of a country they may have not known about.

Such distance learning has been a weekly fixture at Konnect Hub since April. The Konnect School, an initiative by Kenyan internet service provider Ahadi Wireless Ltd, which has Chinese investment, is the first digital learning environment in Githurai region.

Under the Konnect School program, children aged between 5 and 15 take various online classes, including literature, mathematics, culture and arts.

"I like this kind of distance learning. It is very different from going to classes at school. I have learned a lot about other countries," Levin says.

Ann Kariuki, a 15-year-old high school girl who signed up for the program after being referred by Levin's mother, says the Konnect sessions are amazing for showing her different places around the world.

"It teaches us that if we want to have a good life, we should really try hard," she says.

Abhigail Xu, a Philippine teacher volunteering at Konnect School in Nairobi and teaching English as a second language, says having a remote educational system like Konnect School in Kenya makes a big difference.

"It's just a simple thing for me, but in the long run, it'll be a very big thing for the future of Kenyan kids," she says.

Zhou Tao, founder of Ahadi Wireless Ltd, says his aim is to build the largest community-based broadband network in Africa by delivering affordable internet services to help every child enjoy distance education.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Kenya in March 2020, schools had been closed to curb the spread of the disease. The country adopted measures to move classes online to help students continue their education from home.

Zhou says low- and middle-income families account for some 80 percent of Nairobi's population. Children from underprivileged families are more likely to be excluded from online learning because they cannot afford suitable internet services.

Internet access in Africa has grown rapidly in recent years, but access rates are still well behind the rest of the world as affordability of the service remains a major barrier to many.

A report by the International Telecommunications Union said that, in 2019, only 28 percent of urban households in Africa had access to the internet at home, well below the global average of 72 percent.

At the end of 2019, less than 30 percent of the population in Africa was using the internet, compared with the proportion of 51 percent worldwide, it said.

To help address the digital technology divide on the continent, Zhou launched the Konnect project in early 2020 with a target market of middle- and low-income residents struggling to afford the cost of internet services, despite their desire to be part of the ever-expanding digital world.

Users of Konnect pay 20 Kenyan shillings (18 cents) per hour and between $9.21 and $18.43 monthly to access the internet service with a speed of up to 8 megabits per second, per device.

So far, Konnect, in partnership with China Telecom (Kenya) Ltd, has registered more than 65,000 users in densely populated communities in Nairobi.

"We hope to promote affordable internet services to as many families in Africa as possible, so that Africa can better connect with the rest of the world," says Zhou.

The entrepreneur says Konnect is not just providing affordable internet but building a basic service with internet as a tool to promote opportunities on top of the infrastructure.

Zhou says he hopes to expand the Konnect project to other African countries, such as Uganda, Ghana and Zambia, in the near future.

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