M-Soma: Connecting Kenyan Youth to Computer Skills Training

The MasterCard Foundation

Today, some measure of computer and technology skills are critical to nearly every occupation. In order to prepare for the demands of the modern work force, young people need and expect the opportunity to acquire those skills during their schooling. In Kenya, this is not always possible due to internet connectivity challenges in rural areas, availability of computers, and a lack of teachers trained to instruct students in computer studies. While most secondary schools have some computer equipment, very few have sufficient ICT tools for all their teachers and students. In secondary schools in Kenya, the student-computer ratio is 150:1, severely limiting student access to computer training (Survey of ICT in Education in Africa).

Since many young people are not able to gain these skills in school, there are courses available after they graduate. These courses are offered in cities throughout the country and run for six or eight weeks.  However, they are expensive, inadequate for those wanting to work in the field of IT or computer science, often lacking in practical application of skills and difficult to access for rural youth.  The combination of the cost of the course and cost of housing makes computer skills training out of reach for thousands of young graduates.

Fanice Nyatigo and Moses Surumen, MasterCard Foundation Scholars at UC Berkeley, have collaborated to address this challenge. They have created M-Soma, an initiative to provide Kenyan students from under-resourced schools and communities with access to computer training giving them the technical skills and community support they need to become digital creators.

Says Fanice, “I am where I am today, not only because of my own effort and skill, but also because others have invested in my well-being and education through various scholarship and mentorship programs. I have seen the extent of the impact that a small investment in someone’s education could have on their life. For this reason, I am highly passionate about creating social change through education.”

The M-Soma program consists of four elements:

  • a four-week “boot camp” training program held annually in June, targeted at students who might not otherwise get the opportunity to study computer science courses. At the end of the boot camp each student is paired with an M-Soma mentor.
  • Mentors, who lead workshops during the boot camp and afterwards engage their mentees to feel inspired, excited and confident about their technology skills. Mentors are students or alumni of universities in US, Canada, South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda and Kenya.
  • Mobile apps for online learning, overcoming the challenges of slow internet connections and low bandwidth devices. With the mobile apps, learners can save content for offline use. The apps include lessons that build on the initial training, access to free resources available on the internet, and provide opportunities for users to engage in dialogue and share ideas. The app assists the students to set up reminders and push notifications on their phones to virtually meet with their mentors.
  • primary school curriculum designed specifically for young Kenyan students, allowing them to engage with contextually and culturally relevant topics while learning computer science. The curriculum is focusing on the application of the concepts taught in algebra, science, social studies and other subjects to introduce them to coding. Currently, M-Soma is partnering with the Kibera School for Girls to develop a yearlong curriculum for classes 4 to 8. The school is the first free primary school for girls in the Kibera slums in Nairobi.

M-Soma aims to teach 50 students in its first year and 80 students subsequent years. Graduates of the program will become mentors to subsequent cohorts, creating a ripple effect of skills training beyond the immediate reach of each session. The program will establish a network of alumni to support current students and provide opportunities for conversation and collaboration well into the future.

This aspect of the program is especially important to Moses, who brings to the project many years of experience leading mentorship programs. “I’ve learned a lot from sharing my ideas with other people and listening to them share their ideas. M-Soma means more to me than just an e-learning platform. I think of it as an avenue to create more mentors, either through boot camps or facilitating conversations among Kenyan youth.”

This initiative will not only create a network of young leaders who are trained to teach students basic computer skills, but will ensure Kenyan youth have the opportunity to learn these vital skills for years to come.

More information on M-Soma: www.msoma.org

Originally posted by The MasterCard Foundation