Mud and Cell Phones: Nonformal Learning Networks in Rural Kenya
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Despite global efforts to achieve universal education, millions of people still lack access to learning, with a high concentration in sub-Saharan African countries. Like many rural communities around the world, Kenya’s rural population experiences challenges in accessing resources and opportunities equal to those living in urban centers. With 74% of its population living in rural areas, research into providing accessible education and access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) is a priority for both the Kenyan government and the communities where these challenges exist. In response to these challenges, recent critical developments in communication and sustainable energy have enabled remote communities to gain greater access to distant services. In cases where banks and electrical power are not available, off-grid portable solar panels and cell phone banking through the locally developed M-Pesa technology have been remarkably successful. If cell phones can stand in for banks, can other technologies increase access to education for people in remote locations? Could a learning network using ICT paired with essential services such as water and sanitation, support an existing education system which is otherwise not reaching all people? Scholars such as Ivan Illich, Paulo Freire, Philip Coombs and Wangari Maathai believe universal education is not possible through formal education in the present style of school institutions. Their theories propose strong arguments which support nonformal learning outside of the classroom. Coombs especially argues that nonformal learning is key to rural development where primary schooling is not available due to geographic or socio-economic barriers. The Kenyan government, as outlined in their Vision 2030 and National ICT Master Plan, believes ICT plays a critical role within many sectors, including education, health and employment. With goals to provide ICT infrastructure in all schools and health centres, and provisions to build innovation hubs throughout each of the 47 counties, architecture plays a significant role in how these spaces of ICT and nonformal learning are designed and allocated throughout rural communities. This thesis criticizes current models of rural connectivity which fail to acknowledge the strengths and diverse cultures of the communities in which they are inserted. Instead, it recognizes the importance and value of local knowledge, culture, and traditional forms of knowledge exchange and argues for a design process which is in fact rooted in the unique culture and knowledge of each location. This thesis contains a range of work influenced by two visits to Kenya, the first in 2014 for two weeks, and the second in 2017 for one month within the case study site of the thesis. Designed from the perspective of a foreigner, this thesis emphasizes the importance of an inclusive design process—a process which acknowledges the contributions of many individuals, existing community groups and local experts. The proposal is largely influenced by conversations that took place within the community and takes the form of a network of scalable nodes rooted in cultural tradition, nonformal learning, ICT and essential resources. The placement of these nodes is informed by existing gathering spaces and contains different combinations of architectural program that use ICT as a tool for nonformal learning. Mud and Cell Phones: Nonformal Learning Networks in Rural Kenya proposes a dynamic network, not fixed in any given moment of time, able to expand or contract to suit the changing needs of each community it serves.  “Rural population (% of total population),” The World Bank Data, accessed November 4, 2017, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS.  Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, “National ICT Master Plan 2014-2017,” presented during DMB Workshop on e-Participation from 13-16 January 2015 (Nairobi: United Nations Public Administration Network, 2015), 7.  Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, “Constituency Innovation Hubs Agreement,” (Nairobi: Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, 2017), 2.
Cite this version of the work
Anne Sewell (2018). Mud and Cell Phones: Nonformal Learning Networks in Rural Kenya. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/13259