Recently, the Government of Uganda announced that schools could go ahead and allow students to use mobile phones for academic research while at school. This breaks the tradition where it has previously been illegal for students to have such gadgets with the confines of school. It should also be remembered that even while at home, the same sentiment prevails, allowing teenagers to use phones poses many risks.
Mr. John Chrysostom Muyingo’s communication was met with a lot of disapproval especially from teachers. Many were firmly against the government’s suggestion and warned of the dangers it posed. Mr Martin Okiria, the national chairperson of Secondary Schools Head Teachers’ Association is quoted to have said, “We should all meet as stakeholders and come out with a mechanism of how to implement this so that it is not abused by students for pornography and entertainment. If this is not done, it will cause destruction in schools.”
When the discussion came up in the ICT Teachers Association WhatsApp groups, the message was the same – allowing students to use phones in school was not a good idea. So the question remains, should we brush off the idea? Should the status quo remain? If, yes, till when?
A bit of my experience
For a long time, I have been a proponent and seeker of alternative avenues to acquiring knowledge and practice. Around 2012, before Google classroom came, I put together a team of students at St. Peter’s SSS Nsambya with the objective of curating all the books in the library into digital form – why? There was a concern from administration that students would hide in the computer lab and never even visited the school library. This was believed to contribute to poor performance by students.
Although we were unsuccessful (due to limited knowledge of HTML), at least we had a progressive mindset. We believed that the school computer lab would be an additional source of information and help in decongesting the library.
Truth be told, where do you find a library and computer lab that can accommodate even a quarter of a school’s population? Also, there was time when accessing a computer lab was like asking for a passport to heaven. But things and times change, kids are now even being begged to go and visit the lab.
I have also been to computer labs where a rule is written in bold “NO PLAYING COMPUTER GAMES”. While I agree that many computer games are simply a distraction and often have violent themes, the rebel in me always pushes me to find a middle ground where some kind of games can be allowed. I even wrote an article where I suggested 5 fun but educative computer games for school computer labs. I was fortunate to have a progressive head of department who accepted without hesitation when I suggested a few games for the lab.
What schools and teachers should do
To rally against phone use by students in schools is only medieval. In a world where we are doing everything digitally, we only ought to face reality and find best ways we can incorporate phones in a school environment. The coming of Covid-19 was an eye opener which even exposed to us digital tools that have been largely ignored yet have been in existence for some time.
The lock down was an indirect awareness campaign where teachers learnt that YouTube could be used as a platform for teaching and learning. The same is true for Facebook which for example we used to stream live classes when ITAU implemented the Edify eClasses program during the lockdown. The evidence is glaring to show that teaching and learning can now be done in more ways that we previously imagined….and if we are to go digital, the use of phones cannot be ignored in a school’s ecosystem.
Solutions to start with
Kolibri is an open source education platform that is intended to provide learning in areas with limited or no internet connectivity. When installed, you can opt to install pack it with some of the various curricula that is freely available online. Once installed, you don’t need internet to access the resources.
The good thing with Kolibri is that staff can be asked to create learning material which can then be uploaded to the platform. Once this is done, students can use their phones, tabs or laptops to access this material though a wireless network.
The good thing with Kolibri is that you can even do tests and assignments to assess students’ progress. In this way, the phones in your student’s hands are being put to good use.
The team at Learning Equality has even recently released a new version which introduces SINGLE LEARNER DATA SYNCING. This means, a learner uses Kolibri at home then their data syncs with an offline server when they come to school.
Use Google Family link
Google Family Link is a good option teachers can use set-up a child account and then supervise it, which addresses many of the issues surrounding ownership of a phone by a student. Google family link allows you to :
- apply filters on Chrome, including custom black and whitelisting for websites
- apply SafeSearch to remove sexually explicit and violet results in Google Search
- set Android app activity and limits
- use location tracking to find your child’s device
- use Google Photo sharing
- monitor activity such as web and YouTube history
- set usage limits, including individual app limits
Once setup, you’ll be able to use the app on the parent phone to oversee those areas you want to protect, granting permissions for apps, as well as being able to set time limits – for the whole device or for particular apps. Teachers can then be able to enforce times when the phone can be used e.g. bedtime for boarding students.
Prepare enough assignments
It is true that even when there is access to learning material, students may opt not to even access it. One way to ensure that students are using the school’e resources appropriately is by providing enough learning material to keep them occupied.
The students should be briefed in advance the repercussions of not submitting work. This will force them to use their phones for research purposes there by limiting the temptations to use phones for unacceptable activities.
Try the MTN WakaNet
At the peak of the lockdown, I was privileged to be on the team that managed the Edify-Uganda eClass project. We needed reliable yet affordable internet since we had classes and review meetings all day. After trying out several options, I found the MTN WakaNet to be the best option. But for this particular case where phones are being allowed in school, the WakaNet comes in handy when you have to control what they can access on the internet and when.
I was even prompted to write a comprehensive article on why I chose MTN WakaNet where I detailed the uniqueness of their new router which helped control at what time users had access to the internet.
Use Google Classroom
Google Classroom has been around since 2014 but not many teachers know the power of this lesson management tool. When I and curriculum expert Ogwal Isaac were creating a syllabus for the Certificate in Digital Pedagogy, Google Classroom was top on the list. With this tool, teachers can upload lesson notes, post assignments, mark and even grade students.
Teachers’ fears may not march the ease with which students adopted the use of technology during the lockdown. In the image below, this particular virtual S.3 class had more than 500 students. This was an indication that while we assume otherwise, students also appreciate the use of available tools in learning – phones being one of them.
Now that phones are allowed in schools, administrators can rally teachers to create classrooms and upload all learning material including syllabi. The students’ gadgets can then be configured to access only the content on their Google Classrooms.
While teachers’ fears for phones among students are legitimate, the current challenges and trends demand that we need to adjust. We need to also appreciate that these students are digital natives who are looking at whatever they have at their disposal to help them in their everyday life – including academics.
Schools will however need to come up with a policy on the use of ICTs to help guide adoption. Not to be left out of this policy is the need to have continuous training and retooling for teachers in ICT integration. There are several solutions that will help digital immigrant teachers to cope with the pace and embrace technology in teaching and learning. One such example is the 13 module Certificate in Digital Pedagogy Training, a collaboration between the ICT Teachers Association and E-zone School of Computing which is currently in its first cohort.
Edify Uganda, an NGO promoting Christ centered education is also funding EdTech trainings across the country where teachers are brought up to speed with the use of digital tools in their work.
Have you heard about BYOD? Read Rogers Mukalele’s article to help you understand better why you need to embrace it in order to fit within the current puzzle of ICT integration.
Stephen Dumba is the National Coordinator of the ICT Teachers’ Association of Uganda. Besides teaching ICT, he repairs computers and builds websites. Steve is a speaker and facilitator at tech events and and CEO of senior1.org and a consultant on education technology.
Tel: +256 772 111 223 | +256 752 111 223 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org