the corona pandemic, schools in Uganda were closed for almost two years. A
small - Belgian - innovation to be able to continue to communicate eventually
led to a digital revolution in Ugandan teacher training.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, an education official in the district bordering Uganda's capital Kampala banned teachers from bringing computers, mobile phones and tablets into classrooms.
The official, Frederick Kiyingi, at the time believed that telephones and ICT devices were distracting students and jeopardizing their concentration.
The whole world around me Teacher
William Musaazi sees it differently. 'With this smartphone, I can get around the world at the touch of a button. And that saves me a lot of effort. At the same time, it makes my lessons interesting. It's like a captivating movie, but with multimedia," said Musaazi. 'The days of teaching from the abstract are over. We need to bring the real world to the students, preferably at no extra cost," he adds.
The Ugandan Ministry of Education has made efforts to equip schools with desktop computers, but Musaazi realizes that there is no national strategy for getting ICT infrastructure into schools. He says he keeps the devices out of the classroom for fear of going against existing guidelines. In addition, he notices that many of his colleagues often only used mobile phones and tablets for calling and texting.
Distance Learning Strategy
In March 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced a measure that brought learning to a halt. Schools and universities were closed for almost two years, with 15 million students without education. The Ugandan Ministry of Education proposed to give lessons via radio and television, but that has not worked.
The Belgian development agency Enabel, together with the ministry, developed a strategy for distance learning. The result was ' TTE Sandbox ', a digital portal that enabled at least teacher training to continue.
Workshops taught at the five National Teachers' Colleges (NTCs), where teachers are trained, the use of technology in the classroom – rather than just the traditional methods. The students learned how to use digital tools – such as screencasting, podcasting, video conferencing, e-books or padlets – to teach. The strategy was also rolled out to prevent the Ugandan education sector from becoming extinct and disadvantaged after the prolonged period of closure.
Technophobia Ironically, Enabel had already proposed the use of technology to the NTCs in 2019, but experienced teachers were reluctant, recalls Virginie Hallet, manager at Enabel in Uganda. “They said they were born before the age of computers, and they didn't know anything about it. So why would they use it in class?', said Hallet.
Andrew Tabura, a government official responsible for secondary teacher education, explains that although the colleges were equipped with ICT tools, the teachers had a "technophobia." But the necessary training has thawed everything out. 'When the covid closure was a fact, they realized that these tools could still be used to reach the students,' says Tabura.
Defibrillator for Education
Hallet explains that TTE Sandbox was initially a set of communication technologies to facilitate distance learning at the NTCs. However, it gradually became an effective tool, to the extent that it helped to speed up the resumption of educational activities.
According to Virginie Hallet, 62 per cent of students who were at home in different parts of Uganda were able to attend classes. 'It meant that the training could continue. I think we had similar student participation in Belgium in June 2020', says Hallet. The Sandbox, she said, made the minds mature for using technology in the classroom.
At the NTC in Kabale, 400 kilometers south of Kampala, teachers are still using the TTE Sandbox and other online tools to teach aspiring teachers almost a year after the colleges reopened.
One cold morning, professor Molly Nakimera is teaching her. The auditorium is equipped with an overhead projector and a set of speakers. A number of cables connecting to a laptop computer are visible. Nakimera projects a role-playing video about education management. Then the class is invited to comment and contribute to the created scenarios. Nakimera says it would normally take more than three weeks to complete this course. But with the help of videos and podcasts, she achieves a better result and is less time-consuming. 'I teach a very large class. I used to have to yell a lot as a teacher. I regularly couldn't even finish the syllabus," she says. She says that her ICT knowledge used to be limited to typing Word documents. She knew nothing about podcasting and making educational videos. For her, the smartphone was meant for making calls and checking emails. Now she realizes that it is a small computer in her bag, and also a teaching and learning tool. 'These are new things that make me feel more stimulated, that make my work easier. I feel it makes me more professional," said Nakimera.
Zoom and Google Classroom
Mujungu Herbert, a physics and math teacher at NTC Kabale, says that before the pandemic, teachers mostly used chalk, their voice, and occasionally lab or environmental materials in their classes. 'With the ICT equipment I notice that the students are more active during the lessons. Education is more student-oriented than teacher-oriented', explains Mujungu.
When asked why he hadn't embraced the technology earlier, he replied that he and his colleagues saw no reason to. The existing pedagogy did not say a word about it either. 'I only came to a computer when I was preparing for an exam. Before the pandemic, I had never heard of Zoom. But while we were in lockdown, we realized that we could only access our students with the help of ICT tools," says Mujungu. “We've started using Zoom for virtual meetings, there are some applications that I've started using to record my own screen. Then I got to know tools like Google Classroom to teach an online class,” he adds.
Google Classroom allowed students to virtually participate in lessons, create tests and tasks, and follow them in an interactive way. He does add that students who do not have access to the internet miss classes. Even those who do not have a smartphone or tablet have more difficulty accessing online resources.
This article was originally written by Michael Wambi from Inter Press Service (IPS), a news agency providing news from the Global South present in more than 400 locations.