This newspaper yesterday carried a report that highlights a major challenge faced by many schools in Uganda – skills gaps. It particularly pointed out lack of basic computer knowledge and skills as one of the key factors affecting the performance of teachers in Masaka District.
The report by the Masaka Primary Schools Head Teachers Association revealed that majority of the school heads and their classroom teachers lack basic computer skills needed in a modern teaching environment.
For teachers in remote schools, computer skills may sound alien given the more pressing challenges they face: Lack of classroom blocks, inadequate teaching staff, lack of science laboratory, etc. Such factors greatly contribute to poor grades in many schools. And this is a long-running challenge that has, sadly, not been comprehensively addressed despite the fact that the Ministry of Education is fully aware of them.
The sensible step would be to draw up a practical plan to address these issues in a sustainable manner. Instead, we have quick fixes that, at times, create more problems. Early this year, for instance, Mukono District made a drastic decision to demote 24 primary school head teachers because their schools had performed poorly. While such a move gives the impression that the authorities are concerned about education, it is important that steps taken are corrective, not just punitive.
Though the Masaka report focusses on computer skills alone, it represents a broader issue – skills training, especially for science teachers because this has a huge impact on how students perform in science subjects, a discipline President Museveni is passionately promoting.
Stories such as computer-illiterate teachers in Masaka, like the ailing healthcare system, are common in the media. Newspapers and other media platforms do a good job at highlighting these gaps, but many times, that is where it ends. We must ask the crucial question: So what if a teacher in one part of the country can’t use a computer? After all, some teachers don’t even have access to the basic teaching materials; the Daily Monitor recently reported that teachers at a Karamoja school were using dried cassava as chalk to instruct pupils.
But all these stories matter and here is why: The computer illiterate teacher in Masaka cannot submit school enrollments lists in soft copies as required by the Education ministry and they cannot take part in capacity building programmes conducted through the E-learning system.
Such programmes are important for continuous development of teachers, and ultimately, the children they teach. There must be a deliberate effort to equip teachers with relevant skills if we expect our children to get quality education.