KAMPALA, Uganda — On May 28, the ninth International Conference on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for Development, Education and Training began in Uganda, with the theme of Opening Frontiers to the Future.
The three-day conference is an opportunity for educators, researchers, technological providers and others to participate in a conversation about technology’s role in learning. The 2013 eLearning Africa conference, held in Namibia, included 1,480 people in various education and technology-related professions from 65 countries.
The location of the conference is rather timely, as education in Uganda has been a topic of concern over the past few years.
While about 90 percent of Ugandan children are enrolled in primary school, only about 25 percent of those children stay in secondary school. The amount of poverty in the country only worsens this problem, as many parents cannot afford to keep their children in school or enroll them at all.
In trying to improve education in Uganda, many name “teacher absenteeism” as a major deterrent to progress. Some teachers are forced to take multiple jobs to pay their own bills when they do not receive their teaching salaries. Despite some disagreement about why teacher absenteeism occurs, the World Bank reported in 2013 that 40 percent of public school classrooms are lacking teachers and that there are high dropout rates.
A 2013 Uwezo Learning Assessment Survey found that Ugandan students are having difficulty learning, especially in terms of becoming literate. Uwezo found that 11 percent of Ugandan children in primary seven, the last year of primary education in the country, are unable to read.
Additionally, World Bank Resource Development Director for African Region, Ritva Reinikka, said that in Uganda they “see often that primary six children are unable to read primary two paragraphs.” Reinikka went on to say that this data is “quite astonishing and it indicates that pupils are not learning at school.”
The overall data demonstrates that Ugandan students are having trouble learning earlier in their education, with Reinikka attributing this result to teacher absenteeism, teachers lacking proper skills and a lack of textbooks for students as well as to the effects of poverty in the country. Prior to the release of the Uwezo report, it was already found that 90 percent of Ugandan schools, both private and public, did not have textbooks.
In response to these issues, Uganda has dedicated its resources to building infrastructure, such as expanding electricity and Internet services to rural areas as well as to some schools that currently lack affordable electricity. These efforts are better known as the National Backbone Initiative.
By expanding these services and undertaking other technology-based initiatives, Uganda hopes to improve education. This year’s eLearning conference examines the newest innovations and how these measures can be implemented in the curriculum.
Several schools in the country have used technology to help improve both their curriculum as well as communication between teachers and students. One example is Gayaza High School in Uganda, where teachers have made notes, homework and research materials available to students online. This school’s eLearning project has made it a contender to win a $15,000 prize from the Microsoft in Education Global Forum for having one of the most innovative programs.
The conference, which concludes on May 30, will feature numerous keynote speakers and will help foster relationships between professionals in the education field and policy makers. The last event of the conference will be a debate on the motion that “there is now nothing more important to education than access to the Internet.”
It will be interesting to see if the Ugandan government undertakes any new initiatives once the conference is over. In hoping to solve some of the country’s educational issues, only time will tell whether technology will be the key to the government’s best solutions.