The e-learning proposed by government to ensure continuity of learning during the Covid-19 lockdown will fail unless a number of obstacles to digital teaching in the country are addressed, European Union (EU) and Belgium government officials have said.
During an e-Learning webinar via a Zoom meeting on Friday, Mr Simon Muliisa, the EU’s digitalisation focal person, said the study they conducted on the country’s digitalisation in March revealed that the over the top tax (OTT) imposed on social media users has made it difficult for e-content to be delivered.
“When this tax was imposed, it locked out ease with which students would access study material availed by institutions,” Mr Mulisa said.
He also said some teachers find it difficult to send learning content on social media platforms that are mostly used by learners because they do not have money to pay taxes daily.
In June 2018, government introduced a daily OTT of Shs200 on social media.
The tax triggered protests from the public, and last year, Ministry of Finance said the tax had not yielded the anticipated revenue as some people were evading it by using bypass methods.
Shortly after the introduction of OTT, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) indicated that the number of internet users dropped by three million in the first three months.
Mr Muliisa also said the taxes on imported smart phones have made the phones too costly for many learners.
“Devices such as smart phones, laptops and desktops are still costly for most learners and this has caused access gaps. Government should reconsider the tax on smartphones like the VAT and excise duty and now the proposed 10 per cent on imported phones. This will improve the access,” Mr Muliisa said.
He said their study also revealed there is lack of digital skills by both teachers and learners, especially on how to use various digital platforms.
He urged government to continue the integration of digital literacy into the official curriculum to bridge the gap.
Mr Muliisa said this, occasioned by limited broadband access, especially in rural arrears and high costs of internet, has greatly hampered technological growth in the country thus worsening digital access.
He said the study established that only 2 per cent of primary and secondary schools have fibre optic access versus 40 per cent of universities which he said is still very low.
He asked government to design and implement broadband for schools and consider TV whitespace deployment in rural areas.
According to the 2019 UCC’s annual performance report, the country had 16.9 million internet subscribers by December 2019 and the number of active smart phones on the network stood at 6.6 million. “Covid-19 has been a wakeup call but the agenda must be beyond the pandemic. So little done, so much needs to be done and as EU, we are ready to support the Uganda government to achieve her digital transformation goals,” Mr Muliisa said.
Ms Christelle Jocquet, the resident representative of Enabel Uganda, called for a national strategy for e-Learning that must be expedited.
“The challenges are several and cannot be left to the government alone. In the spirit of sustainable development goals, partnership to overcome these bottlenecks is essential. We can only achieve this by means of joint effort with government, private sector and development partners,” Ms Jocquet said.
Mr Augustine Ssekyondwa, a business process analyst at the National Information and Technology Association, said government is working on closing the digital divide in the country.
“We have noted that there is limited access to digital content. We have also learnt that the internet and connectivity are very central. We are not sitting back and we are doing our best to improve,” Mr Ssekyondwa said.
Mr Patrick Muinda, the spokesperson of Ministry of Education, said they were formulating an ICT education policy to address some of the e-learning challenges. He said once the policy is completed, it will be taken to Parliament for approval.