By Frank Obonyo
The introduction of mass media and online learning by the Ministry of Education and Sports has received mixed reactions. The opponents say this strategy is untenable in rural parts of Uganda. They point to poverty and lack of electricity as some of the impediments. Others say rural teachers are ill-equipped to deliver online lessons and it will exacerbate inequality in the education sector.
I do appreciate these concerns and sympathize with the ministry, which is walking on a tight rope. They have annual plans and targets which should be met at all costs.
However, everything has been disrupted by Covid-19 and the situation seems uncertain. It is also unfortunate that we are introducing such a vital project during the pandemic. Education, like any other sector, has gone through a sea of change.
Technological advancement has not spared medicine, business, media, politics, religion, etc. All over the world, humankind is keeping pace with the modern graphic and digital technology. It is common, for example, to be served by only one teller at the bank, with the rest of the counters empty because technology has replaced human resource.
This implies that teachers must leverage technology resources such as radio, the Internet and other online platforms as meaningful pedagogical tools. It also enhances parental involvement in their children’s education.
We used to carry bundles of counting sticks or soda straws in polythene bags to aid in arithmetic. Today, my children look at it as an alien thing to do. I see a whole world apart when I recount to them our methods of study because everything is moving at lightning speed.
During this lockdown, I downloaded Mr Hare series for them to improve their reading skills. It is no longer a hard copy thing! Fifty years back, nobody could imagine that this kind of education revolution could happen. The Internet has transformed all sectors, and we are living in a world in which education is increasingly digital.
When I was pursuing my undergraduate course at Uganda Christian University (UCU), phones had to be off or on silent mode during lectures. Today, I teach at the same university and majority of the students take notes using their smartphones!
They no longer carry notebooks to class like I did. In fact, when I introduce a new word or concept, they quickly consult Google and sometimes supplement what I have. Those who hold genuine reasons for absenteeism can follow the lecture online because of UCU’s effective e-learning platform.
Also, when the lockdown was looming in Kenya, our Master of Arts in Digital Journalism physical classes at the Aga Khan University were suspended. It didn’t mean that the semester had to close. We continued with virtual lectures, assessments and other academic programmes of the university. It has given me more flexibility in learning, and I don’t have to repeat the semester because of Covid-19.
It is true that technology remains sparse mostly in our rural schools. Teachers are limited in digital skills and there exists technology divide between urban and rural schools. But, town dwellers also have a false impression about rural folks. The assumption is that rural people are so vulnerable that they cannot afford even the basics of life.
I have lived and worked in the remotest parts of Uganda, but radio is the major mode of communication. According to the 2019 BBC Uganda Media Landscape report, majority of Ugandan adult population had a working radio (87 per cent) and mobile phone (74 per cent) in their household.
With proper planning, it is possible to carryout electronic learning even in the rural parts of Uganda. For how long shall we keep regurgitating the same challenges, yet the world is moving faster than we think? Just like the American-Canadian fiction writer William Gibson said, the future is already here – it is just not evenly distributed.
We might be dancing with the enemy – traditional and mundane method of delivery – which doesn’t prepare the 21st century learner. Instead of pulling down the idea, we should ask: what opportunities exist for our children in the modern era, and will electronic method of delivery shape learners into solutions to the world’s problems? Despite these prevailing challenges and assumptions, our education system has to adapt to the online method.
The writer is Communications Officer, Uganda Christian University