Learners should be skilled in ICT

Monday April 6 2020

Ugandan students who won silver medals

Ugandan students who won silver medals competing at the Global robotics contest in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) in October last year. COURTESY PHOTO  

By PAUL MURUNGI

The imminent threat that technology will wipe out many physical jobs is real. We can no longer ignore how technology is impacting the way we live, work and conduct business.

John Matogo, the Universities Relations and Digital Nation Africa Leader for East Africa at International Business Machines Corporation proposes that whereas technological disruption will lead to shrinking job opportunities; from his insight, he points to the emergence of new job opportunities across labour markets in the fourth industrial revolution.
Evoulution
“The workplace is changing rapidly,” with what Matogo, describes as: “the evolution of the employee”

“People are working from home but before, people used to work from offices. We focused more on input, but we now focus on output,” he says.

Quoting the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs report, he says globally, the labour market transformation brought about by the fourth industrial revolution may lead to the creation of 133 million new jobs and the simultaneous displacement of 75 million jobs over the 2018–2022 period.

“The type of opportunities that are set to materialise are also changing fast, in tandem with the evolving needs of the technological and economic context—demanding pragmatic and effective mechanisms to support workers’ transitions to the new opportunities that lie ahead,” the report reads in part. The report proposes a massive skilling revolution at university level.

Big leap
But, how prepared are Ugandan universities to prepare students for this big leap? It’s a question I paused to Evans Maganda, the Director of Distance Learning at Cavendish University during the annual higher education conference held in Kampala early this last month.

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Teaching methods
Maganda noted with concern that our universities’ methods of teaching were still crude in nature, “where most students only aimed at how many A’s or B’s they scored at the end of the course while lecturers aimed at completing the assigned credit units.” This, he says, may hamper a faster re-alignment to the key changes in technology.

Human capital
Robots, big data, internet of things, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and machine learning are key technology terms that dominated the recent annual higher education conference.

In attendance were mainly university ICT academicians with key scientific research papers pondering on the theme on how adequately Ugandan universities were preparing human capital for the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Dr Julianne Sansa Otim, a senior lecturer at the College of Computing and Information Science at Makerere University, set the pace by defining the Fourth Industrial Revolution as the fusion of technological advances in Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things, 3D Printing, Genetic Engineering, Quantum Computing, Robotics and other technologies.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence according to Dr Sansa, involves computers that can “think” like humans in detecting problems and creating solutions. These are used in detecting crop diseases and during laboratory diagnostics. This, she says is being used by Makerere University scientists to fight crop diseases while Internet of Things involves everyday items connected to the internet.

Psychology and social sciences
Prof Tonny Oyana, the Principal at College of Computing and Information Science at Makerere University explains that core sciences such as physical sciences including physics, chemistry, and Mathematics is what forms teaching elements of the fourth industrial revolution at university. Additionally, biological sciences such as Biology also form part.

However, arts sciences such as psychology and social sciences are critical in technology.

Irene Kaggwa Ssewankambo, the acting executive director Uganda Communications Commission says there are numerous opportunities in artificial intelligence for students and teachers.

She says learning is more personalised and time consuming tasks such as grading of students and preparations can easily be done so that teachers have more time for innovation. This can support scheduling of flexible classes such as e-learning.
The missing link
Micheal Niyitegeka, a senior ICT lecturer at Clarke University argues that there’s need to integrate technology in all university courses and curriculum with arts and science students working together to create solutions.

However, this is lacking in most institutions.

“Social science students should understand how technology is changing human behaviour”, he says.

Prof Oyanna says the only way we can develop high quality human capital is by nurturing top talent from high school. This, according to Oyana must also include; integrating ICT from early childhood because on many occasions, when terms such as artificial intelligence or big data are introduced to students at university, they say, “the course unit is hard.”

In the same vein, Vincent Bagire, the permanent secretary at Ministry of ICT and National Guidance stresses that one key way to develop human resource is by developing our own systems and avoid relying on foreign technology.
“You can take care of Cisco applications, but you can’t develop Cisco and yet that’s where the profitability is,” he notes. However, in terms of rating, he says the country has basic infrastructure systems to handle the fourth Industrial Revolution.
Innovation funds
Uganda’s young innovators are facing one challenge- capital. But, this won’t be a challenge anymore in the near future.

John Muyingo, the Minister for Higher Education says efforts geared towards supporting the Fourth Industrial Revolution dream is by government providing money particularly to grassroot innovators through the Innovation Fund set up by the President.

“ICT is going to be a tool which will receive more emphasis and we stand to see more innovations and it being a medium of instruction,” he notes.

ICT infrastructure could be a challenge as well in some universities. However, Prof Mary Okwakol, the executive director of the National Council for Higher Education says institutions are working hard to put up the necessary infrastructure amidst financial constraints.

However, her emphasis is that, “even within resource constraints, institutions must move to skill students because this will affect their reputation in future.”

Whereas technology is a rich ecosystem for learning with access to a lot of content, there remains pertinent questions to ask as we embrace the revolution. For instance can digital content create evaluation and high critical thinking skills?

Matogo at IBM says there should be a passage from understanding digital content to undergoing practical assessment by executing a specific task learned by students.

Efforts made
There are a number of practical measures being undertaken both by government and the private sector to develop capacity for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This year, three Makerere students won at national level the Huawei ICT Global Competition and will head to South Africa for the regional competitions.

As of last year, more than 6,000 Ugandan ICT students from various universities registered to take part in the annual global competitions.

Nicholas Turyaheebwa, a second year student of Computer Science at Makerere University hopes such ICT competitions can enhance his ICT skills.

“I want to acquire networking skills that will help me to practice and prepare for the job opportunities in ICT after university,” he says.

Similarly, last December, a team of four Ugandan students won silver medals in the World Robotics Competition in December last year in the City of Dubai, in United Arab Emirates.

The team comprised of Rosemary Muthoni from Tropical High School in Kampala, Lisa Mackenzie from Kashaka Girls S.S in Mbarara district, Bonita Marunga from MaryHill High School in Mbarara Districy and Victoria Akia from Mount St. Mary’s Namagunga in Mukono district.

According to Jerusha Bazanama, the coordinator at Apps and Girls, a social enterprise NGO that was responsible in sponsoring the girls, the girls were scouted for in different secondary schools across the country. The selected students had a one month training workshop in programming, coding, assembling and operating robots before heading to Dubai.

Carolyn Ekyarisiima, the director at Apps and Girls says the annual Global Robotics Competitions is an inspiration to students with interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics giving them the skillset to solve problems in society.

She says they priotised girls for the robotics competitions because ICT is a male-dominated field and therefore, there’s need to bridge the gap between ICT and girls.

Her hope is having many secondary schools get involved and organising national robotics competitions to better student’s chances of winning at the world competitions.

A number of innovations are going on in various universities with a focus on developing solutions in disease control, climate change, health as well as services.

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