Uganda has the second youngest population in the world with 15 million students across learning institutions. These learners are currently at home due to closure of schools due to Covid-19.
They now face the challenge of continuing to learn while at home given the chronic lack of access to digital learning platforms and inadequate tools in Uganda’s education system.
This will certainly exacerbate the poor learning outcomes that we have seen among our graduates at different levels of education and affect the productivity of our future population.
Before the advent of Covid-19, we had 11 million children enrolled in various primary schools and getting some form of formal education.
The grim statistics of 74 per cent dropout rates before completing Primary Seven, and the very low numeracy and literacy skills among these students at 45 and 35 per cent respectively, was worrying then and is set to be worsened by the long break out of school – as the gains made by teachers are quickly getting eroded.
At tertiary level, employers have often decried the lack of practical skills and passion for work among our graduates. Students undertaking research projects to gain practical skills have greatly been affected by the lockdown as they take to herding cattle and performing domestic chores during the lockdown.
It is not surprising that our students have been caught up in this situation because the education system has largely operated outside digital learning platforms and leveraging technology in promoting learning. The authorities have over the years paid less attention to building teachers capacity to use technology in developing learning content and its use in accelerating learning among students.
Yet that is what revered education systems like those in the Nordic countries, Europe, US and most of Asia are doing to groom the right leaders in different fields of study.
There is need to work towards bridging the digital gap in our education system as well between the urban and rural divide in terms of access to technology.
Digital learning helps students to develop self-directed learning skills, encourage peer-to-peer learning and interactions among learners.
It also enables teachers to conduct research and develop or access content relevant to accelerate learning among students. Once established, these platforms should be incorporated as means for assessing and monitoring students’ performance, engagement of students beyond classroom hours and as platforms where teachers and students can access materials for research.
Rural schools should be equipped with simple technologies. For instance, there is need for all teachers to have laptops and access to the Internet for conducting research and or accessing quality learning materials for their students.
The idea of providing TVs and radios to communities should be a short term measure.
In the meantime, Schools can cluster their students and allocate them teachers to facilitate their learning.
For instance, we can have five students per cluster. A simple mobile phone with FM radio can be availed to every cluster, especially those in rural schools.
The FM service in the phone would allow for learning through radio programmes while the subscription to the closed user group would help the teachers interact with student clusters without being on-site to avoid getting or spreading Covid-19.
This is a cheaper option, especially when partnerships are sought with our local companies in an attempt to address the digital gaps in our education system.
Mr Ariong is head of Alumni Programmes Teach For Uganda.