Uganda is holding a secret. It is host to one of the largest implementations of eLearning in Africa to date. From urban uptown schools to village schools. Already in 2005 the Ministry of Education and Sports agreed to a pilot in 10 government secondary schools, deploying computerised Science and Mathematics software and virtual laboratory software. Having reached 250 schools, the ministry then joined hands with the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), and the software by now has been installed in 750+ secondary schools – all over Uganda.
Where many eLearning interventions in 2005 provided computers, word processors, and generic content, Uganda went ahead and took three extra steps.
Firstly, Uganda was very focused, selecting particular and few subjects – science (physics, chemistry, biology) and mathematics and for O-level only. The software was not only engaging with its 2D and 3D imagery and animations – but it was also fully aligned with the national curriculum, using local examples and local voiceover – making it easier for teachers to use and easier to understand. The visuals, interactivities and voices helped to capture the senses of vision, hearing, and touch (manipulation) enabling easier understanding and retention of abstract scientific concepts.
Secondly, the Ministry of Education and Sports realised that to enable changes in schools that have long taught in very particular ways, it was necessary to work closely with schools and teachers for a longer period. Head teachers were sensitised, teachers trained, a “super teacher” identified in each school and given extra training, students trained, science software clubs established for students, hardware supported – and schools visited regularly to re-train, support, and encourage changes in behaviour.
Lastly, monitoring and evaluation was continuous, tracking inputs, results and impact, looking for correlations, finding the right “mix” and using it.
Key challenges are large classes and small screens, power problems, hardware issues, negative attitudes of teachers and the school administration – and getting users easy access to hardware and software. Strong catalysts are students – being excited about computers and now also the sciences.
When the “mix” is right, failure rates were cut in half in just 1 term, distinctions were seen in districts that never had them before, the average performance was lifted, students became excited about science and mathematics – and teachers would understand complex concepts for the first time and become better teachers.
The ultimate aim in all these efforts, and in focusing on science and mathematics, is to enable a rapid increase in science-related vocations (doctors, architects, engineers, science teachers, science & technology researchers, etc.) to build the base of the scientific workforce necessary for any country’s development.
It has been concluded in this case that there currently are no short-cuts to reaping the benefits of eLearning. Just as you can find schools that shine you can find schools that never take off, due to the persistent challenges of poor attitudes, poor administration, power and persistent hardware problems. However, the Ugandan case shows that by making a sustained, tailored effort, interest in studying and grades can leap.
Since 2012, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has joined hands with the Ministry of Education and Sports. UCC is mandated to provide computers to all secondary schools in Uganda. In 2012 it also started to support the deployment of the software in secondary schools, something which has increased the number of schools with the software to 750+. The supply of computer equipment has greatly expanded access.
The software used is called Digital Science and Virtual Lab. Digital Science is for teaching and the Virtual Lab for laboratory practicals which can be watched step by step on the computer with virtual reactions and results – practicals which can be carried out endlessly and at no cost.
Cyber School Technology Solutions Ltd. has also provided all sensitisation, training and support to schools through field staff deployed country-wide, as well as monitoring & evaluation services.
As one school that embraced eLearning well expressed it:
“…we were amazed by the sharp improvement in the performance of Science subjects…”
Head Teacher, Katooke Secondary School, Kyenjojo District
The Ministry of Education and Sports showcased this initiative on 28th May at eLearning Africa.
Cyber School Technology Solutions Ltd. answered questions and showed off their software in the conference exhibition area.