I used lockdown to gain ICT certification - Atuhangaine

Monday December 21 2020
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Doreen Atuhangaine, a finalist in telecom engineering at Kyambogo University earned her ICT certification under lockdown. PHOTO | PAUL MURUNGI

By Paul Murungi

Ugandans who saw opportunities during the Covid-19 crisis did not let it go to waste. Among them is Doreen Atuhangaine, a final year telecom engineering student at Kyambogo University, who saw an opportunity in the academic field.

Atuhangaine, who was under the Covid-19 induced lockdown, had retreated to her parents’ home in Bushenyi District after schools closed on March 20 ,saw a career opportunity to utilise during the lockdown. 

She says that for a long time, she had wanted to pursue information and communications technology certifications to supplement  her course, but was planning to do  the certifications after completing university. She notes that telecom engineering by its nature is a demanding course, and apart from the training at university. One is required to do other key certifications to prepare for easy absorption into the job market.

“I had wanted to do my certification after my final examination. But when Covid- 19 hit, I realised, it could take me long to do it since the pandemic is unpredictable,” she says. 

Opportunity struck for her in April this year when Huawei- a global tech company announced free ICT certifications under the flagship of the Huawei ICT Academy. 

The academy is a school-enterprise cooperation project that involves higher education institutions, to help build talent ecosystem covering the entire process of learning, certification, and employment — by deepening the cooperation mechanism between universities and enterprises, aiming to promote industry development, and innovate talent development models based on enterprise requirements.

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Atuhangaine had learnt about the opportunity through a colleague who encouraged her to give it a try’.

Three kilometres everyday

Atuhangaine was ready to hit the ground running and start her online courses during lockdown, but the situation back home in Bushenyi presented many challenges. Bushenyi District by its nature is not fully covered by electric power and Atuhangaine’s home falls in an area without power.  And therefore, without power, nothing could be done.

Whereas she had the necessary gadgets such as a laptop and phone to access the internet; lacking power was a turn off forcing her to moot ideas on how to do the courses.

To solve the power challenge, she turned to a family friend for help, who had a shop in the nearby town of Rwentuha, which is three kilometres away from her home.  Whereas the power issue had been resolved, transport became another problem.

 At the time, government had announced restrictions on movement of public and private cars, with boda boda cyclists only being allowed to carry goods. She therefore had no option but to walk from home to Rwentuha town.

“When I signed up for the courses, we had no power in the village so I would walk every day to Rwentuha town, which is approximately a 50-minute walk from home,” she says.

“We had a family friend who had a shop in town, but of course at that time, most shops were closed but they allowed me to use space in their shop and do my work especially during day time. I would pack my food though sometimes it would go cold,” she recalls.

Atuhangaine says she started with the Associate level (beginner level) and took on Routing and Switching, Cloud Computing, Network Security and Wireless LAN. The Associate level training took her 2 months including a week of examinations.

After completing the beginner’s level, Atuhagaine upgraded to the Professional Level to improve her efficiency in Routing and Switching. 

“I picked interest in these courses because for my particular course in telecom, when you go to the field, you find key practical sections that haven’t been taught in class. It is through such certifications that I got to learn about such key areas,” she explains.

“Everyone needs to take initiative, because some students get to the work place after place, and then realise that they had to do the certified courses. These courses are not taught in class, but they ask for them when you get on the job.”

She notes that whereas some workplaces offer such training, this entirely depends on the kind of company one will work with since not all may offer the opportunity.

High data costs

The online lessons were instructed by both Ugandan and Chinese instructors with about 70 students, and took place between 8 am and 5 pm with a break of lunch in between.  The long hours meant Atuhangaine had to spend heavily on data. She has no estimates on data expenses, but maintains it was also an expensive affair.

“I cannot really estimate how much I spent on data but it was expensive, because at one time, I used Shs 30,000 in a day. But later, I learnt to subscribe to ‘work from home bundles’ to cut costs.”

Future plans

Atuhangaine’s plan is to join a high level tech company where she hopes she can put her skills into good use.

“I want to join a company that will give space to practice what I have learnt with physical devices. This takes practice and experience, but it will give me real exposure to the kind of telecom equipment I learnt about in my online courses,” she sums up.

Importance on ICT certifications

John Peter Olinga, a Huawei Instructor says ICT certifications are important because they expose the student to a world beyond the classroom. The training is centered particularly on ICT infrastructure known as network engineering, and this comes with a blend of security and virtualization. 

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John Peter Oling conducting an ICT Academy session in June 2019 on how the academy has been a fertile soil for ICT talent cultivation In Uganda.. PHOTO | COURTESY

According to Huawei, as digitalisation accelerates in various industries, colleges and universities urgently need to reform traditional teaching content and focus more on cutting-edge technologies, ensure that courses keep up with the times, guarantee that teaching materials are related to industry practices, and help students become more employable.

Data costs in uganda

Cost of data is a major limitation of Internet use in Uganda.

In the 2017/2018 National Information Technology survey, 76 per cent of the Ugandan Internet users cited price of data bundles as a key limitation while 49.2 per cent cited slow Internet.

The cost of Internet has many dependencies, notably the cost of landing services in the country from the fibre links at the coast lines, cost of back haul through our neighbouring countries; Kenya and Tanzania and the cost of redundancy and protection to ensure that the service is always up.

Source: Ecobank Research 2019

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