For years now, computer scientists have repeatedly stressed that the technology to improve learning exists in all forms. From computer sets to improved software to online forms of communication, the technology has evolved to improve how learners are taught their information.
MOSES TALEMWA set out to find out why the improved technology has not changed teaching outcomes. Last month, the district education officer in Wakiso, Frederick Kinobe Kiyingi, issued a directive calling for the banning of mobile phones in schools. However, the directive has irritated several experts in e-learning.
Kiyingi specifically warned teachers, who spend much of the official teaching hours on WhatsApp as well as surfing the internet, that they run the risk of being fired from work.
“There is time for everything…. the time for WhatsApp and surfing internet as well as time for teaching pupils,” Kinobe advised, as he set up a taskforce to end the vice.
“Government and parents pay teachers to teach their children, not to indulge in WhatsApp and surfing the internet.”
However, Kiyingi’s view is not necessarily well appreciated among experts on e-learning. One of them, Dr Paul Birevu Muyinda, the dean of the school of Distance and Lifelong Learning at Makerere University believes that Kiyingi has failed to appreciate how smart phones benefits education.
Dr Muyinda, an e-learning expert, argues that Kiyingi’s attitude is typical in the civil service, and is behind the challenges in effecting modern teaching methods in schools.
“Most civil servants are comfortable with the traditional system of teaching, mostly using the blackboard, which is why teachers see no need to innovate and make learning easier,” Muyinda said.
“We need policymakers to be convinced that integrating IT resources will improve learning in the long run.”
Muyinda argues that most teachers are not IT-savvy, but even those are easily discouraged from using this knowledge in their teaching.
“Many teachers ask themselves why they should struggle to put up a powerpoint presentation for students if they are not going to be appreciated for it – yet it takes a lot of their time to prepare,” he adds.
He believes that this argument also prevents those without the knowledge from seeking it, thinking that if the traditional systems have worked well, there is no need to change.
“These teachers know that they have always gotten away with dictating notes to their students in the same way for a long time; so, there is no need for one to consider e-mailing the notes and reserving vital class time for discussion of the subject matter.”
At Kampala International University (KIU), the deputy vice chancellor for Research Innovation and Extension, Dr George Nasinyama, agrees.
“The future of learning in Uganda is not where a teacher stands in front of the blackboard, holds a piece of chalk and dictates to learners what they must know. The future is online,” Dr Nasinyama adds.
He cites KIU’s experience where changes in learning are already taking shape. The university is installing most of its learning modules (courses) onto an internet portal, to make them accessible to learners and reserve lecture room interactions between students and lecturers for discussion of already-studied material.
“Students will be able to log onto our secure internet platform, which will enable them to access the learning modules [lessons] – some will come with tools such as videos or reading materials,” he added.
Makerere University is also moving into the same direction. Since the beginning of this year, preparatory work is already in high gear to transform Dr Muyinda’s department into the Institute of Open, Distance and E-Learning, to manage the migration of all learning at Makerere onto online platforms in three years.
“The university council is using the institute to drive e-learning at Makerere, by initially holding trainings for staff in the various colleges to understand online facilitations in their various areas,” he explains.
The institute has been mandated to train 40 staff, with 20 of them already undergoing the one-year diploma in online pedagogy at the institute, under funding from the Norwegian government. The remaining 20 staff will join later this year and this, Dr Muyinda believes, will resolve several other problems.
“For instance, teachers are not being trained on ICT in education, but after this, it will be a foundation course for all students, making it possible for them to put into practice what they have learnt, when they graduate.”
Both Nasinyama and Muyinda believe that schools should adopt ICTs in their teaching to improve learning. According to Nasinyama, “When you look at the internet today there are a lot of learning materials, we think this is the way to go … grey notes are on the way out, and are being replaced by PowerPoint presentations and smart boards. The important thing is for one to be greatly guided in how to use them”.
For his part, Muyinda believes that the concept of the computer in learning has evolved over time, making it necessary for policymakers to embrace new methods of teaching.
“For instance, today teachers in some of our upscale schools are communicating with the students and parents through social media off their smartphones,” Muyinda explains. “Students and parents need to know that they can consult their teachers for vital information at most times.”
Dr Muyinda adds that some parents have set up WhatsApp and email groups where they can communicate with their teachers on the progress of the students. In other cases, some teachers set up WhatsApp groups for discussion of important lesson techniques and strategies in education, while others use them to encourage students to discuss lesson topics.
“It would be inconsiderate of Kiyingi to ban such vital sources of communication on the pure assumption that they cannot be used to pass on important information,” Muyinda offers. “What is important, like in all other cases, is for monitoring to ensure they are being used for the right purpose.”
Dr Muyinda believes that schools also need to take their websites and web portals more seriously as sources of information for both learners and parents about the schools.
“Anyone seeking out your website is looking for active and updated information about your school; so, first impressions matter greatly. Websites can be used to explain important information about your school, staff and students.”