» Download Audio
By Machrine Birungi
30 December 2008
The United States is working with Microsoft to improve education management with computer technology. The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, will provide $2 million to purchase equipment for the project. Microsoft will design software that will help gather data in the education ministry. The alliance is expected to provide educators and students with online resources. Voice of America English to Africa Service's Machrine Birungi in Kampala reports that Uganda introduced free primary education for all children 10 years ago, opening doors for millions who would have been too poor to go to school.
Under the Universal Primary Education program, the number of children between six and 15-years-old tripled over the past decade.
One of the remaining problems is the lack of a strong system of education management. Teachers and administrators need to share vital information, such as changes in school courses and programs, especially in rural areas.
With no access to Information and Communication Technologies, known as ICT, it has become harder for teachers to stay aware of decisions made by the education ministry.
Richard Ogwal is a teacher at a school in Bugiri District in southeastern Uganda. He says out of the 21 teachers that were assigned to the school, only six reported for duty. The others declined the offer because of the severe shortage of adequate facilities like teaching supplies and living quarters For teachers.
"Teachers were here but some of them have refused to come," said Ogwal. "Some only report and look at the situation and they don't come back. Living standards here are difficult. For example, water is the biggest problem here. We get water almost six kilometers away from here."
Twenty-seven schools may have to close because of the shortage of teachers in Bugiri District.
Ogwal says the few teachers who do stay to work find themselves in overcrowded classrooms without enough information or teaching resources:
"There is big workload among teachers because you will find a teacher teaching about three or four subjects in more than two classes. In fact, a teacher cannot find sufficient material because of the workload."
The lack of reliable data management systems in schools also makes it harder to record, collect and access important information. Some teachers spend days traveling to the headquarters to check whether or not their names are on the payroll. Once teachers are hired, it takes years for them to get onto the government payroll because of red tape. One example happened to Andrew Okumu. He was working as a teacher at Budalla primary school and was later transferred to Mutumba primary school. But because of the poor flow of information, the transfer was not on the books at Mutumba, making it difficult for him to start earning a salary.
He explains the dilemmas that faced him:
"I have not been given an assignment because I have not met with my boss," said Okumu. "My boss went to the district to rectify the situation of the teachers who are not receiving their salaries. I had asked the headmaster of Budalla not to delete me because the staff ceiling at Mutumba is almost full, meaning that I have no way to access the payroll of Mutumba primary school."
Minister for Education Namirembe Bitamazire says a better system of information technology – and teaching education professionals how to use it - will help them deliver better education for students from primary school to university:
"We need information," said Namirembe Bitamazire. "We need data to be able to make correct decisions especially decisions on policy, planning budgeting and the rest. But where you don't have correct data it is always difficult to arrive at correct decisions. Right now we have expanded our school system. And we need to know as regularly as possible what numbers we are sponsoring in each school, district and classroom."
The mission director for USAID in Uganda, David Eckerson, says the agreement between USAID and Microsoft is a milestone that will help the government of Uganda improve its educational system:
"What we want to see is an education management information system that is fully operational at the district level," said David Eckerson. "So all districts will be running information management systems where they will have access to information to make decisions to improve the education system. And we will start in those districts that do have the electricity to use the computers and then we will slowly but surely expand elsewhere."
USAID has committed up to $2 million US to help implement the project. Microsoft will set up and manage an interactive website with education resources and curriculum, including tools to help parents participate in their children's education.