Should Remote Teaching & Learning Rely on Internet Access?

Is remote teaching yielding the necessary fruits with Uganda's internet penetration standing at 26%?

The year 2020 brought an unprecedented disruption in the education sector. That year and 2021 will always remain in the memories of educators, learners, parents and perhaps decision makers. With Covid-19 ravaging all sectors and negatively impacting on all aspects of our life, the education sector is almost in disarray. To imagine that a learner can go for 2 years with little or no learning in this modern era is unfathomable.

In the beginning, just after March 2020, everyone thought that the closure of schools was just a temporary break. Little was done to engage learners. But as we progressed through the year, it became clearer that the end of this break was not in sight. Some schools started engaging learners and the most obvious mode was through online channels like WhatsApp, Telegram, YouTube, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams etc.

What ITAU Thought

However, these were solutions for a few elite schools whose parents could afford daily internet access and the right gadgets for their children. As the ICT Teachers’ Association, we thought we could do more and work together with a few government agencies and well wishers to reach out to a larger audience.

In a 2015 report by BBC on Uganda’s media landscape, it was clear that 87% had access to a radio, 34% to a TV and 13% to internet. This shows that internet access still lags in terms of access and usage. As of last year, internet access stands at just about a quarter of the population.

Our first approach was to request for access to national television studios. We put together a team of volunteers and asked them to prepare adequately. We thought that this was a good idea since there were already national TV channels dedicated to the target audience – school going children and the youth. Like in many of our efforts for such noble causes, our efforts hit a dead end. We were asked to pay for production costs – which costs were way out of our vocabulary.

With that setback, we had to painfully stop the dozens of ITAU volunteers who had offered to make this project happen. With the encouragement of a few members, we kept knocking on peoples doors but all in vain. This was an indication that efforts to reach out to more students remotely was not necessarily on the agenda. This broke the morale of the volunteers ITAU had put together. We had to abandon the project!

My Experience Delivering Lessons With Offline Solutions

While everyone was experimenting and implementing remote learning with online solutions, I decided put my team’s ambitions on hold and try out something solo. My approach usually is to use my brain without influence from the internet and other people. I put my computer class at E-zone School of Computing on the chessboard. I thought of setting up Kolibri offline but quickly realised that didn’t cater for situations where students were scattered over a wide geographical area.

After a few hours of random thoughts, I wondered why CDs. DVDs, Memory cards and Flash Disks seldom feature in solutions for remote learning. For a school like mine where students are spread within a 10 km radius, the lack of internet was no excuse.

Students of E-zone School of Computing on whom we tried remote learning using offline solutions.

I quickly embarked on a pilot study where I created learning material in various formats. I then out the material on memory cards. The students were able to watch instructional videos, listen to my audio explanations and read short notes on many aspects.

I used tools like Balabolka to read out text to speech and Bandicam to record instructional videos. Finally, on a pre-arranged day, I would make a conference call with my students where we would interact and answer each of their questions. During this interaction, I would endeavour to find out through their feedback where I needed to improve.

This way, my students had access to learning when we couldn’t have them in a physical class. With the success of this pilot project, it was proved that even without access to internet, the thousands of learners who have no access to internet can, with a few tools be helped.

Lessons from the Edify eClass Project

Over the past year, Edify Uganda, a Christian NGO has supported the Christian School Owners Association in building their capacity to use ICTs in Education. The most recent project was the eClass project where Edify Uganda bankrolled the project to deliver remote lessons to learners from hundreds of schools with classes from Kindergarten to A Level.

Edify Uganda thought it wise to seek the help of the ICT Teachers Association of Uganda in implementing this project and it was massively successful. The project was chance for the ITAU volunteers to show the education sector how remote learning can be done even with limited resources. It was proof that having a a huge budget didn’t necessarily translate into impact to the intended beneficiaries.

While the eClass project relied on the internet, a major concern presents itself. It is a fact that there are hundreds of schools under the Christian School Owners Association. This would mean that we would have thousands of learners enrolling or the free online classes since they were fully funded by Edify.

Sadly, each of the online classes never exceeded 300 learners. What does this mean? It is proof that online solutions intended to enable continuity of learning are targeting a small potion of the student population. With Uganda’s internet penetration standing at just about 26% and very little of that intended for academic purposes, there is need to look into and promote the use of offline solutions.

It is such challenges that motivated us to start the ITAU EdTech project where we endeavour to work with institutions, educators and companies to build impactful solutions in the teaching and learning. Many solutions are discussed and implemented in board rooms giving little attention to the input of the teachers and learners on ground. Using the Each One Teach One approach, the ICT Teachers Association is confident that as time goes on, we shall be able to have a rich collection solutions for us and by us.

Dumba Stephen is a teacher of ICT, veteran computer repair technician and creative web designer. He is the Director E-zone School of Computing and Director – Business Development at E-zone Web Services. Steve is also the Team lead of the ITAU EdTech Project. He is a regular speaker and facilitator at tech and ICT events.
+256 772 111 223 , +256 752 111 223 ,