By Kupewa Taaka
Ensuring access to education is a key precondition for the full realization of the right to education. Without access, it is not possible to guarantee the right to education.
Whereas the closure of schools is appreciated as a measure for containing Covid-19, many educationists believe, that the closure will impact negatively on learning outcomes of many children. Educationists and parents have suggested the adoption of virtual learning as a measure for ensuring that learning continues. The question that then has to be answered is how accessible is virtual learning.
The National Information Technology Survey 2017- 2018, indicated that about only 15.8 per cent of Ugandans own smartphones. The survey also indicated that the majority of those that do not own mobile phones, attributed the cost of the mobile phones as the biggest barrier and the challenges of charging the phone battery due to lack of electricity. The unequal distribution of internet services in Uganda, also makes it almost impossible for the biggest percentage of students to embrace e-learning. A 2017-2018 survey conducted by Research ICT Africa (RIA) indicated that Uganda had one of the lowest (14 per cent) internet penetration rates, with a huge urban-rural gap in internet use of about 70 per cent. With the above statistics, it is clear that the many students cannot afford to study online. Yet, given the uncertainty brought about by Covid-19, E-learning could be the solution. The government should therefore take measures to improve accessibility of e-learning.
The distribution of electricity should be extended to all households across all parts the country. Households to which power from the national grid cannot be extended, should be facilitated with solar energy as it a cheaper alternative, this can be done, by reducing the import tax levied on solar appliances to reduce the prices of appliances to increase access to solar energy. Appliances like solar panels are imported at a high price and taxed highly thus making them expensive despite providing a viable alternative for communities that are far away from the national grid.
The rural- urban internet gap can be addressed, by extending internet broadband infrastructure to all parts of the country. This can be achieved through partnerships between the government and private internet service providers through funding. Additionally, to reduce the cost of internet, taxes like the social media tax and the recently imposed 12 per cent tax on the internet should be abolished. In the alternative, tax free internet packages for students should be introduced.
The government should also, through partnerships with private sector, consider entering memorandum of understanding with global manufactures like Lenovo, HP, and Acer, to manufacture low cost computers which, which would be purchased at subsidized prices.
Lastly, the ministry of education in collaboration with NITA-U, will have to design nation-wide ICT training and skills development programmes, to equip teachers and students with basic digital literacy skills (both cognitive and technical). Having said that, if virtual learning is embraced, the government must ensure that no child’s right to education, is infringed upon as result of challenges like inaccessibility to internet, electricity or a computer device.
Kupewa Taaka, email@example.com