Home to the largest lake in Africa – Lake Victoria, source of the River Nile – Uganda is located in East Africa, with Kenya lying to the east, South Sudan to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west and Rwanda and Tanzania to the south. With a population of 35.4 million people [mid 2013 estimates], Uganda is becoming ever more densely populated. The country gained independence in 1962, became a republic in 1966 and had its first military coup in 1972. Between 1971 and 1985 Uganda had a total of five presidents. Since 1986, Uganda has had one president – President Yoweri Museveni.
by Muhumuza Mark Keith
Facts and Figures
Uganda’s economy is liberalised, with the country open to foreign investors. Coffee is the single largest export (US$372m, 2012). Being landlocked, Uganda depends on imports that mostly come through the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. Imports at the end of 2012 were US$5.1bn whereas exports were US$2.3bn. Most of Uganda’s imports are from India and China whereas it exports more to the local economic region – the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).
The World Bank estimates that 70% of Uganda’s population is dependent on agriculture, most of which is subsistence. As a result of low production and a young population – 70% of the population is under 25 – the UNDP Human Development Index places Uganda 161st out of 187 countries.
Recently, the country came up with Vision 2040, the aim of which is to prioritise areas that can turn Uganda into a middle-income country by 2040. One critical factor in all this is the oil sector. With significant discoveries of oil made in 2006 the sector is likely to increase economic growth projections, boost industrialisation and transform Uganda a large-scale oil exporter. In the 2013/14 National Budget, at least 40% went to infrastructure projects like roads and there is a renewed focus on upping Uganda’s electricity generation to attract manufacturing investments.
Uganda’s internet penetration was estimated to be 6.2 million users in 2012, or about 17% of the total population. Due to the rise in mobile phone penetration and the young population, internet users have also been on the up. Annual growth rates since 2010 indicate at least two million new users are coming online each year. This growth is mostly driven by increased mobile phone penetration, which currently stands at an impressive at 17 million connected Ugandans.
The landing of fibre-optic cables – EASSY, TEAMs and SEACOM – has also made internet connections faster and cheaper. The very first fibre-optic cable to land in Uganda was the 17,000kms SEACOM cable in 2009 from the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. There are four major telecom companies – Orange, MTN, UTL and Airtel – which have all bought into these fibre optic cables.
The Ugandan government has also embarked on getting the country hooked up: the National Backbone Infrastructure/E-Government Infrastructure (NBI/EGI) project is aimed at linking all government ministries, departments, districts and local government offices. Currently being implemented by the National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U), it is expected that internet costs will decrease for government, schools, research institutions, various targeted user groups and universities. Once completed, the initiative will also benefit Uganda in a variety of other ways, including creating a more transparent government, making online applications for passports and filing electronic tax returns easier and supporting government data processing and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).
eLearning in Uganda
A 2009/10 National Household Survey estimates that Uganda’s literacy levels are at 73% for people aged 10 and above. On average, however, rural areas have slightly lower literacy rates despite the free education provided by government – in public schools – at primary school level. Most rural schools have lower teacher-to-pupil ratios and also lack basic resources such as textbooks.
Several eLearning initiatives have been put in place, mostly by private companies and NGO’s, to support the rural poor. For instance, MTN Uganda – Uganda’s largest telecom company – has implemented an online education platform for 50 secondary schools in Uganda. Additionally, Makerere University, Uganda’s oldest public university, is at the forefront of various eLearning projects. Due to the rising demand for resources in the country, implementing some eLearning projects can be expensive, which is why Makerere University has tasked various researchers and academics with finding out the best approach.
With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Schools Online and SchoolNet Uganda, a VSAT project is also being implemented. This is targeted at providing connectivity – at lower costs – in “school based community learning centers.”
SchoolNet Uganda is yet another project where the private sector works with government to make Ugandan graduates more competitive through training. The training is aimed at both educators and learners using ICT tools. Furthermore, it builds partnerships for them, globally and locally.
Internet access in rural schools is also still widely limited due to the cost and limited classroom infrastructure. Projects like Uconnect – free internet – and donating computers to schools ease these costs, but only just. About 300 schools are part of this initiative.
Introduced in 2002, Connecting Classrooms is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID). It is targeted at government-aided schools and links Ugandan students and teachers to other schools – globally – that are part of the programme. Its main aim is to expose teachers and pupils to a broader international perspective in order for them to become better informed.
In 2004 the government, through the National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC), began implementing computer related tools, like CD-ROMs, to be used by schools that didn’t have access to textbooks. In 2005, with funding from the Institute for International Cooperation and Development, the government started developing content – on CD-ROMs and intranet – for National Teachers’ Colleges throughout Uganda. This digital content is developed by Kyambogo University and then disseminated to the various NTC’s in Uganda. If teachers can learn how to use digital content then it is widely expected that they will be able to disseminate information about using the same techniques once they get on the job.
eLearning Africa 2014
The eLearning Africa 2014 conference will be hosted in Kampala, Uganda on 28th – 30th May.