A look back at the inception of Sharebility Uganda 10 years ago

Sharebility Uganda digital library has served over 2.3 million learners, home schooling parents and teachers during the #COVID19 school lockdown, with free study resources for all classes and all subjects. Mukalele Rogers takes us 10 years down the memory lane for Sharebility.

Similar to the dorm room roots of innovations like ‘Facebook’, The word ‘Sharebility’ was coined in a shared dorm room at Busitema University Nagongera Campus where I stayed with my course mates. In the room, we jointly contributed and shared resources / consumables like sugar, soap, juice, odii (read gnut-paste), etc – we used to call this ‘The spirit of sharebility’.

2008: Rogers Mukalele (left) with roommates in Room J, Obbo Makhola Hall, Nagongera Campus, Faculty of Science & Education, Busitema University.

Spirit of Sharebility extended beyond the dorm room to the academics – we used to share things like reading materials, computer software and also generously shared knowledge during discussions at campus.

2009: Pioneer ICT Teacher – trainees of Busitema University sharing knowledge in the computer lab at Nagongera campus before fire gutted the lab later in 2017. This is the place where I first learnt how to use a computer.
2010: Outside Obbo Makhola hall, trying to pick a telephone signal to connect and share an internet connection which we needed to do a coursework at Busitema University Nagongera Campus. This was during the pre-smartphone era.

The Challenge of teaching notes and resources during School Practice

In our second and third year at campus in 2010, we were sent out by the university as student-teachers to various schools for Internship. Unlike today where sharing of resources is common through social media apps like WhatsApp, by then few people had access to smartphones. We mainly used Facebook only when we got access to a desktop with internet access such as in a cafe.

To make matters worse, we were teaching a new subject (Computer Studies) for which few text books were not on market. The books that we had to use for reference were Kenyan books, yet they too could not address the Ugandan syllabus fully. For my first school practice, I was sent to Rock High Tororo and I suffered a lot – I had no reference book – not even the Computer Studies syllabus book was available because the school was just introducing the subject! But I was lucky in the final year – I was sent to Jinja College for my teaching practice, and Jinja College had acquired a Sh. 900M mega computer lab at the time. The lab was fully connected to good internet too.

2011: Screenshot from my Facebook timeline showing comments on a photo taken from the computer lab at Jinja College where I claimed that I was passionately driven by the spirit of ‘sharebility’ to do alot more thank just teaching!

The privilege of working at Jinja College gave me access to resources like Internet, the physical library and strong computers. Because of this, I became very productive and was able to digitize computer studies teaching materials for all classes, and also authored several textbooks on my own! I was using the internet to research and create content for each topic on the Computer Studies syllabus from S1-S4. Many of my OBs and OGs used to reach out to me to send them the notes, presentations and examination papers which I was creating. After I noticed increased demand, I decided to create a blog through which I could share my resources to help everyone out there!

2013: “Finally, I have responded to the request of many. In the spirit of “Have to share”, I have shared my teaching notes download page with no password. Lets make online digital content freely available to bridge the digital divide for the benefit of our nation Uganda. Who is ready to join me? Check out: rmukalele.hpage.com” – Facebook Post, May 21 2013.

Within a few months, my blog started getting lots of traffic from teachers in other schools who were not my OBs or OGs – they simply landed on my blog after a Google search – as narrated in this earlier testimony by Mr. Dumba Stephen.

Crowdsourcing Model Introduced

Till this time, the sharing was one-way: me to the world. But this one way model is not sustainable, because once the source is no longer in position to create more content, then the platform becomes dormant and obsolete. Because of this, I came up with a new innovation – I added many of my friends to a collaborative Facebook Group, and created a shared folder through dropbox.com service which I integrated in the blog.

2015: Screenshot of a post in a facebook group of ICT Teachers inviting them to contribute / upload to sharebility dropbox folder.

“Q U O T E –
The design of a distributed heterogeneous educational resource sharing platform can realize the inter-connection, inter-communication and sharing, reduce the cost of educational resources and speed up the process of access to resources for teaching and learning. Consequently, the time and cost that would have been incurred by a single teacher is sharable amongst the partners through a give-and-take commitment. This is the reason why several countries have adopted the norm of being part of educational networks and associations.”

(Changquan, Xuefeng, Yukuo, & Yanhong, 2010).

Sharebility shared during UCC Teacher retooling workshops

During this time, Uganda Communications Commission and the Ministry of Education were conducting retooling workshops aimed at equipping teachers of other subjects already in active service to teach ICT and Computer Studies, after realizing a shortage of ICT teachers yet ICT had just been introduced at A Level. During the workshops, the ICT teachers who already knew about the Sharebility blog shared about it to the new teachers, because the blog was rich with the teaching notes, ICT syllabus and past papers they needed to get started. During one of the workshops which I managed to attend at Kololo SS, I was given chance to share with the teachers and demonstrate to them how to share resources through the platform.

2016: Closing ceremony and some reactions of UCC retooling workshop for ICT Teachers at Kololo SS on Sept 6 2016. I got an opportunity to showcase and demonstrate the Sharebility Uganda system to teachers and encouraged them “to register on the system and be apart of it as we develop the culture of sharing and receiving educational digital resources to promote education in Uganda.”

The Birth of the ICT Teachers Association of Uganda (ITAU)

By 2016, the various UCC retooling workshops had created a network of teachers who mainly connected through Facebook. On 9th Dec 2016, a Whatsapp group was created by an ICT teacher at Nakamwa SSS -Sir. Nicholas ‘oMubedhe’ Munyagwa, who added me as one of the admins of the group since I was already popular in the ICT Teachers network due to Sharebility. During mobilisation, he refered to the WhatsApp group as ‘An extension of Sharebility’ and the initial purpose was basically resource sharing.

Nicholas’ tweet relayed from Facebook, announcing the creation of the first ITAU WhatsApp group on Dec 9th, 2016

My post in the ICT Teachers Facebook group on the same day 9th Dec 2016, inviting them to join the 1st ITAU WhatsApp group. I also sent out invitations to all teachers who had registered on Sharebility platform since 2013.

It is from this WhatsApp group that the idea of forming the ICT Teachers Association of Uganda came about. We had another workshop in 2018 in which I did the coordination role of the association and the first steering committee for the association was elected. I also continued the drive for sharing more resources and encouraging members to join Sharebility during subsequent ITAU workshop.

Makerere University Final Year Group Project

During this period (2013-2017), I was also undertaking another degree at Makerere University, which required us to build a system solving a societal problem, before graduation. When this task was given to us by the University, I shared with my group members about Sharebility and the problem of scarcity of digital teaching / study resources tailored to our Ugandan curriculum, and proposed that we build a custom PHP powered system for Sharebility Uganda, to replace the then existing blog and dropbox based system.

Unlike other student groups who developed their final year projects on ‘localhost’ offline and only presented it to the university panel for graduation purposes only, I encouraged my group members that what we were coding was to be tested and used by an online community of teachers, and thus we hosted it on a live server even during development stage.

“Hello friends, this is our project thus far. We’re having sleepless nights. We are not building this for merely presenting it to the panel, but we’re building this for Uganda. This is a system to accelerate the revolution towards Computer Aided Learning (CAL) in Uganda. We have a dream. This system will stay here on earth long even after we the founders will be gone. Please go to http://mukalele.net/sharebility/register.php, signup and leave a comment.” – Post in our class group, April 9th, 2016.
2016: It was all joy when I, together with my group members Ssemujju Bernard, Kwesiga Allan Geoffrey, and Pauline Tusaba successfully defended our final year Sharebility Uganda project at College of Computing and Information Sciences, Makerere University, June 16, 2016.

Even after graduation, we continued promoting the new Sharebility Uganda Platform and it gained a lot of traffic to the extent that bandwidth on the hosting server was no longer enough to handle the demand, and we had to upgrade the hosting server as detailed in this 2017 blog post. We also participated in UCC’s Annual Communication Innovation Awards (ACIA) 2017, where we emerged finalists (2nd runners up) in the Young ICT Visionaries Category which was won by developers of a A BEEHIVE INTRUSION AND HONEY MONITORING SYSTEM.

2017 YouTube video demonstrating the Sharebility Uganda system ahead of ACIA2017.

Makerere Innovation and Incubation Center admits Sharebility Uganda as Startup

In 2017, an innovation hub for boosting new technology creations was unveiled at Makerere University in partnership with Ministry of Finance. Makerere Innovation and Incubation Center was aimed at transforming ideas and innovations into small and medium sized companies with promising large scale growth. When I saw a call for startups to apply, I submitted an application for incubation of Sharebility Uganda. We were called for interviews and successfully enrolled.

COVID-19 School Lockdown Sets In

When schools were closed in March 2020 due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools opened up many WhatsApp groups for learners and parents. Teachers digitized their study content and started sharing it like never before. The challenge I noticed was that content shared through WhatsApp is only accessible temporarily.

I saw this as an opportunity to back up all the content that was flooding the WhatsApp groups on a daily basis. At this rate, we could no longer manage to meet the maintenance needs of the manually coded PHP system and so we decided to rebuild the system using open source, SEO friendly WordPress software since it already has an active community of developers who regularly release updated versions of the software. We constituted a team and published over 10,000 resources on the new system available sharebility.net .

According to current Google Analytics the new Sharebility Digital library has served over 2.3 million learners, who have visited the platform over 4.2 million times since the first lockdown.

Screenshot of Google Analytics for sharebility.net showing 4,282,529 page visits since May 2020.

Sharebility in the news papers, company registration, team formation

In August 2020, we were approached by Journalists from The Observer and The New Vision news papers for interviews which were published in the papers. This gave us more encouragement and to also register the startup company with Uganda Registration Services Bureau.

Published article is available on the Observer’s website: https://observer.ug/education/66146-mukalele-provides-free-reading-materials-for-all-schools-for-free

The sharebility team administers the system, coordinates the network of teachers who contribute content to the digital library and provides user support. In addition to the digital library, Sharebility team is rolling out additional e-learning products and services as laid out in this pitch presentation. There is a plan for launching a fully fledged ‘Sharebility Online school’ in future. Read more
Sharebility Uganda Pitch (554 downloads )

Participation in Startup Uganda Awards 2021

As part of Kampala Innovation week (www.kiw.ug), Startup Uganda will present Uganda’s startup community’s most prestigious awards for the year 2021. The Education sector, more than most, has been turned on its head as a result of the pandemic. The Award will go to the innovation that has been able to provide solutions and fill the education gap during this time, whose solution is the most innovative and has seen the most growth.

As part of the Pre-Event activities for Kampala Innovation Week, Makerere Innovation and Incubation Center hosted a panel to discuss education in Uganda during the pandemic. The panel was moderated by Madam Happy Immaculate from the Sharebility Uganda team.

If you missed the panel discussion on Post Pandemic Discussion, you can watch it on the Startup Uganda YouTube channel where all other sessions are being streamed.

The Kampala Innovation Week Panel discussion on Education in Uganda hosted by MIIC and moderated by Sharebility Uganda’s product Manager, Happy Immaculate.

Final note: Requesting for Your support

Dear reader, I kindly ask for your vote for Sharebility in the Startup Uganda Awards 2021.

Sharebility Uganda has been nominated for the awards under the Education Category alongside other EdTech startups. Voting is going on online till Thursday 25th November 2021 and the Award Ceremony will be on Friday 26th from 2:30 PM – 04:30 PM.

Article by Rogers Mukalele

Founding Director- Sharebility Uganda

National Coordinator – ICT Teachers Association of Uganda

Tel/WhatsApp: 0776960740