Unlocking Opportunities for Young Kenyans with Recycled Computers

Posted by on Jan 19, 2023 in Education, Stuff You Should Know, World

Digital technology has become fundamental to economic success in today’s society. It allows people, countries, and companies to participate more fully in the global economy. Small businesses can use digital technology to reach more customers. Digital skills unlock many new, high-paying jobs. However, people in less developed countries often lack access to these technologies.  The term digital divide describes this unequal access to digital technologies and their information and resources. TechLit Africa is a non-profit organization trying to bridge the digital divide in rural Kenya. Using donated computers, TechLit Africa creates computer labs and teaches computer classes in primary schools in rural Kenya. In 2022, TechLit Africa co-founder Nelly Cheboi was recognized on the Top 10 CNN Heroes of the Year and Forbes 30 Under 30 lists for her work. 

About Nelly Cheboi 

Nelly Cheboi’s work is motivated by her own experiences growing up in Mogotio, a small village in rural Kenya. Her family did not have much money. Cheboi remembers going to bed hungry and living in a flooded house. Since schools in Kenya are very expensive, her single mother worked hard to pay for Cheboi and her siblings’ education. Through her hard work, Cheboi earned a full scholarship to study at Augustana College in Illinois. Before attending college in the United States, she had almost no experience with computers. She quickly had to learn basic computer skills to complete her coursework. During her junior year, she discovered her love of computers and software engineering. Although she was still learning many basic computer skills, Cheboi earned a degree in computer science. After graduation, she secured a software engineering job at a technology company in Chicago. 

Throughout her time in the United States, Cheboi gave back to her family and community. She sent all her income from various campus jobs back to Kenya during college. Although she was able to support her family, she wanted to find more sustainable ways to give back to her community. Inspired by her belief that affordable education is a path out of poverty, she built the Zadadi Yetu primary school in her hometown of Mogotio. While working in Chicago, she noticed the number of computers that companies throw away every few years to upgrade their technology. Cheboi began collecting and transporting those computers back to Kenya.  After a year, she quit her tech job, moved back to Kenya, and co-founded TechLit Africa in 2019. 

TechLit Africa’s Mission 

TechLit Africa seeks to give African kids the digital skills needed to lift themselves out of poverty. The non-profit accepts computer donations from companies, universities, and individuals. It outfits the computers with valuable learning and career-focused software. These recycled computers then create computer labs in primary schools across rural Kenya. Working in schools allows TechLit Africa to get thousands of students, regardless of gender, excited about technology and its opportunities. The TechLit Africa business model supports community involvement. TechLit Africa trains local teachers to run these computer labs in their own communities. Local tech support teams ensure that all the computer labs are monitored, maintained, and improved regularly. 

The TechLit Africa curriculum follows their three pillars of tech literacy. The first pillar, troubleshooting, encourages students to apply both technical and generic problem-solving skills to computers. Internet skills, the second pillar, teach students about the ways in which online behaviors are different than in-person ones. The third pillar, self-efficacy, focuses on building a student’s ability to adapt, learn, and innovate with new technologies. Using these three pillars, TechLit Africa offers computer classes for students from 4 to 12 years old that focus on practical and career skills. Their specialty subjects include internet security, touch-typing, graphic design, software engineering, and video and audio production. Students also have frequent opportunities to learn directly from professionals in various fields. 

Impact of Cheboi’s Work 

Computer classes through TechLit Africa are creating a generation of digital natives in rural Kenya. The term digital native describes a person who grew up with digital technology. These digital skills make students eligible for more positions in the online job market, which is much larger than locally available jobs. In rural Africa today, online jobs can dramatically increase a person’s income from $4 per day to $8 per hour. The three pillars of tech literacy taught in the TechLit Africa curriculum also help students develop the skills to respond to changing technology. This helps students in the long term by giving them the skills to continue to adapt and innovate. TechLit Africa has already built 10 computer labs, reaching 4,000 students and 20 teachers. With Cheboi’s recent recognition and growing support, TechLit Africa will be able to reach another 40,000 students in 100 new schools across rural Kenya.  

Dig Deeper Use the Internet to read some of the stories from TechLit Africa’s classrooms. You can also visit the TechLit Africa website using this link. How have these classes positively impacted students in rural Kenya? Write a summary of what you learn.