WALKTRACK EDU PLATFORM- MY CONTRIBUTION TO EDUCATION SECTOR

The Internet as we know it has several resources and has had a very big impact on our lives since the early 1990’s. At home, schools, universities, business premises, bars and even buses these days have internet. For many, they just use to browse informational sites and social media.

In educational setups, the internet has been a big help to students especially during the time of coursework. People get to research, download and copy (plagiarise) other peoples work. Many times I have seen this happening and from my own experience at Gulu University.

During my time at the university, if not reading or cooking, I would most likely be downloading documents, ebooks, movies and of course the latest RnB songs.

I had a lot of thirst for reading online materials and was happy to learn government information, new computing concepts to stay a head of my peers. I was also very regular at the library, especially for newspapers and of course being around “nice” people. That was at campus.

For many times, since then, I realised that I had gathered a lot of content and yet new content was still coming. Then in 2013, I met some guy from Kawa Uganda who happened to come to Lira to promote his concept of e-learning. Instantly, recognized my efforts in the area of ICT and later gave me lots of educational materials. The materials where almost 20GB including valuable Geography documentaries, science animations and rare text books. That year, in the Computer Lab, I created an e-Library by simply copying these educational resources on all the servers, with strict permissions to only view. Together with CyberSchool which was already installed, the computer lab became the most sought after place in school. After classes, students would race to enter the lab and explore the e-Library. On weekends, an average of 600 students would use the 40 computers in the computer lab. I had to make students enter in shifts of 1 hour each. After 1 hour, another set of 40 students would come in.

however, in 2014, when we were doing computer repairs, our technician formatted the disks and I lost everything. That incident made made me think a lot of things.

Using the remaining files on my laptop, I started thinking of how I could still help students and teachers access educational resources, without necessary sharing my laptop (I always think that computers are like women).

Over the next year, I have many of my colleagues educational content in DVDs, flash disks and uploaded some onto Google drive. But still the impact was minimal.

In 2015, I hosted a website for my startup, Walktrack Uganda and with no physical presence and concrete business on ground, the traffic to the site was negligible. It was only excited friends who would check once in a while. However, I continued hosted the site every year.

From my experience at campus and I realised that we not only need to download from others, but we should also provide for others. That is how that Walktrack Edu Platform idea came about. I had only one goal-to provide educational resources for free.

Now in Uganda, there are many educational websites and all of them have some kind of arrangement that makes each different from the other. We have the carefully crafted Mwalimu Online Learning Tool, which I used a lot at the beginning and Mukalele’s sharebility which at first was his personal website.

I would not like to go into the details and specifics and these platforms, but it challenged me to do something and contribute to Uganda’s education sector. All I needed was to also publish, not just publish a book but web publishing.

According to Technopedia, web publishing is the process of publishing original content on the Internet.

The process includes building and uploading websites, updating the associated web pages, and posting content to these web pages online. Web publishing comprises of personal, business, and community websites in addition to e-books and blogs. I decided to publish all my stuff online and also got others from other sources. With this thinking in mind, Walktrack Edu Platform was born in January 2017.

Walktrack Edu Platform is an educational website that provides free & open educational resources for both teachers & students across Uganda. It provides important resources for secondary and university, although emphasis has been put on secondary. The resources are a result of my many years teaching experience at Lira Town College & All Saints University Lango.

The resources include Classroom notes, Powerpoint presentations, Questions & Answer booklets, Short books and Past papers. It has many resources from Lira Town College but will later create a platform to allow other people to upload new content to the platform.

My core motivation to put these resources here is to provide free high quality educational resources to Uganda’s digital generation so as to enhance quality learning especially in northern Uganda.

It is good to leverage today’s technological tools to bridge the gaps in our current educational set-up. I intend to provide more online assessments (objectives) especially in O-level Computer Studies & science subjects & provide important educational infographics in an easy to understand format.

The advantage with this platform is unlike others, I have provided lots of stuff, some in zipped folders so you get a complete package. What I am working on currently is the searching algorithm, which will allow to rapidly search the big resource bank for whatever you want.

I am very sure Walktrack Edu Platform will help many teachers & students, especially in the area of computing.I have received messages from Kabale, Kole, Gulu, Kampala and many other commending me to taking this work. With your support and goodwill, Walktrack Edu Platform will sure help thousands in search for new knowledge in today’s digital world. I am delighted by the positive response so far. I wish you all the best and please spread the word.

University Applications: Who should help students?

My normal day begins when I wake up at around 5:30am, in time to catchup with the 6:00am BBC news on radio Mega FM. Thereafter, I listen to press review, to get a head start on the major issues in newspapers. Since 2000, I have been a fanatic of reading newspapers. Every week, I buy 3 or 4 times (Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sunday).

I have my breakfast at 7:30am and thereafter live for office. When I arrive to school (by the way, teachers don’t have offices, they have open spaces to do work), I check on my teaching timetable to see if I have any lesson to conduct that day. I then check the in tray to see if I have uncompleted work from yesterday, or so. If I have, I go ahead and complete it. I then log into my email & social media accounts.

Ordinarily, apart from teaching, my work at school revolves around managing data/information and other computer issues.

However, at this time of the year, I receive numerous calls & Facebook messages from my former students, those who completed S.6 the previous year. They contact about two issues. For most of them, it is the about pursue higher education and others call or message to thank me for enabling them pass exams. The second reason is strange, because I think passing a collective effort of many teachers, parents and students themselves. I normally refuse to take credit alone.

        

Since 2014, I have been running a programme which I chose to call “Post High School Programme” (PHSP) at Lira Town College. The main objective of the PHSP is give career information and post-secondary education opportunities to students. I normally use 15 minutes of each of my 3 lessons in a week to talk about education after secondary school, opportunities for scholarships, different courses one can pursue, fees payable at universities and importance of living a responsible life.

This programme starts in School term II, and goes on until November, when S.6 candidates start their exams. So, in a week, I have 45 minutes of career talk.

Since I started in 2014, I realized that during this talks, students are very attentive, much attentive than when you are handling their academic topics.

They also tend to ask a lot of questions. However, due to limited time, I do not answer their questions and tell them to come to me privately.

My motivation for starting these programme is just one. When I started working at Lira Town College, I realized that most students had only two dreams – to enroll in UCC Aduku or Unyama NTC. I found these very strange. Every year, when government sponsored students list came out, Lira Town College was missing. Not even in the district quota lists admission lists. Why would some get 3 principal passes and go a Diploma programme? These are the kind of questions I sought answers for.

Robert Fritz once wrote that, “If you limit your choice to only what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want and all that is left is a compromise.” I think this was what our students were thinking. To them, University education was beyond them.

In much of Lango sub region, most people (read parents) think that University education is for the rich. I remember, my own parents told me that. If a parents can pay school fees of about UGX 400,000 per term for 4-6 years, I find it strange to give up after S.6. After all, there are only 2 semesters at university. A Computer Science degree that costs about 1,200,000 can be payable by such a parent.

Through the Post High School Programme, I wanted to give show that it is possible to pursue university education, even when you come from a poor family.

The other thing I did not anticipate is that the programme would be a huge success. For me, I thought I would just give information and then that is it. However, that was not the case.

When S.6 results come back in March, my office becomes very busy. Busy with former students.

After getting their results, they come back to ask me which course they can qualify for. They ask lots of questions, and with the help of the internet & my contacts at various universities, I can ably answer some of them from an informed point of view.

This brings me one begging question. After secondary school, who should help students? It is parents, former teachers or universities.

You see, I have always been a strong advocate of secondary-university partnerships. There is no reason why primary schools, secondary schools and universities work independently.

Primary schools feed secondary schools, who then provide students to the universities. In turn, the universities give them back to communities, when then scatter to do differently things in different sectors.

Information is power, so they say. It is a high time universities and secondary schools start working together. My programme alone, has provided Gulu University with many students, the numbers keep rising every year. The same with Kyambogo & Makerere. My students now have lots of valuable information, and with it they convince their parents that it is possible to pursue a course in Makerere, Kyambogo or Gulu. After studying all their lives in Lira, Oyam and or Apac, I very much encourage students to pursue high education in another region. Like myself and many others, having a multi-cultural experience is good. There is no need to for you to study in only one district. It limits your opportunities and dwarfs your outlook towards life.

When we were at Dr. Obote College, Boroboro (2008), one of the premier schools in Lira, we had some students who had been studying in only one parish. Canon Lawrence Demonstration Primary School (for primary), St. Katherine S.S (O-level) and then Dr. Obote College (A-level). This was laughable because all these schools are within 50 metres of each other. This only trains ultra conservative Ugandans who will never appreciate other tribes and cultures.

Universities have done little to connect to secondary schools. Lira Town College only receives only two universities every year. These are Gulu University and Uganda Christian University (UCU) who come for their yearly Outreach programme to try to sell their programmes to our students. Gulu University team, often from the Department of Computer Science, comes around in the October/November period, just before students start their final UACE exams. The UCU team comes in school term 1 (around February/March), and unlike the Gulu University team, they spend a whole two days talking to students. Other universities & institutions I think are comfortable with doing radio adverts and announcements. Yet there is more to be done.

When it comes to seeking higher education, I think all the important stakeholders to something. Parents provide the tuition, but lack vital up to date information about these things (how many of our parents have university degree or Masters?), students who certainly have a big problem selecting programmes to enroll for; and lastly the universities who provide the education.

It is a high time universities realize that it is difficult for students to access their information, and ultimately apply for different course they have becomes a tall order. Although in my programme, I encourage students to buy newspapers and check university websites, things in the villages are different.

It has even been complicated by the now common “online applications.” Kyambogo University came with it first in 2015, followed by Makerere and others have followed suit. Mbarara University of Science & Technology (MUST), KIU, UCU all now have online applications.

I have taken the initiative to support my students apply online, and also give them application forms for various universities & institutions. I now have students coming as far as Apac, Oyam, Kole and Alebtong. They were obvious referred to me by my former students. So, my small classroom programme is growing. In the period from April to June, I handle about 3-6 students every day, physically, on social media or phone calls. I do all these in my “small office”

One thing I am proud of is that, I know I am doing the right thing. The right thing to ensure that my students pursue higher education. I believe that “problems are only solved when one person decides to do something about it.”

The three things I am happy to have done in my career all have created massive impact. Starting the Science & Technology Innovation Club (STIC) which enabled us to gain national reputation in ICT competitions & several awards; the Post High School Programme (PHSP) which has enabled many students join universities & pursue their dreams; and lastly excellence in teaching ICT, which has turned us into some sort of ICT giants in the sub region(that’s what people tell me). From the onset, all these efforts came as a result of a well-intentioned decision to do more, to excel, to do the extraordinary to serve a people, community and by extension, the country. I borrow this quote, ”success is not just what you accomplish in your life, it is about what you inspire others to do.”

Back to my ordinary day. I receive request for data/information from my colleagues, teach my classes and do my online correspondence. These I do, up to around 1:00pm when I log out and shut down my laptop. I then check my diary to my “shopping” list (if there’s money). I then jump on my bicycle (most people don’t expect me to be riding a bicycle) and stop at the favourite supermarket (OM) and purchase and few items like sugar, coffee before proceeding home. At home, I listen to news or read a book, magazines or learn new software.  I retire to bed after 10pm.

The Future:

My department will reach out to various universities & institutions to see how we can improve on the programme. My school has 250 students in S.6 every year. In Lango sub region, the number rises to about 1,600 students (Lango sub region has about 45 A-level schools). I can help 10, 50 or so. When the numbers grow, I will definitely need help. Help with internet, computers, stationery, airtime and others. That is why I am thinking. Thinking of scaling up these programme. My target next year is to handle 500 students. Despite our political problems as a country, I prefer to look into the future with a lot of hope. Hope for northern Uganda. Hope for a better generation.

Deep inside me, it is my deep conviction that teachers are best placed to deliver valuable life messages about relationships, appropriate behaviors and higher education. but just like other “struggles,” one needs to make a courageous decision of conscience & completely regard personal gain.

As of now, I continue to give a little help here and there. Asante Sana (Kiswahili). Apwoyo Matek (Lango). Eyalame noi noi (Ateso). Apwoyo sana sana (Kumam).

      

School Reports: PSM from SchoolMaster is good.

When the school term 1, started in February 2017, I wrote a Call for Proposals for the School Report Card System & posted it on three online forums.

Lira Town College has since 2013 used 3 Report Card systems (software). I must say is difficult getting the ultimate solution considering the small budget, poor computer skills among staff, low value attached to IT systems and administrative challenges.

In 2013, we piloted with BestGrade, a free Excel based system developed for help school computerized records management and process academic progress report cards. It worked well in A-level where we had relatively small numbers compared to the “universal” numbers in O-level

We abandoned it largely due to absence of a functional academic & report card committee.

Fast forward to 2015. We obtained the KSIS system from a young software developer based in Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania. KSIS was a web based system, and worked well for both O-level and A-level. However, it was not without challenges.

It was difficult for add students, assign subjects to students and computing took a lot of time. The other challenge was the difficulty in keeping the records after printing. Any small mess with the OS means vital data is lost. The KSIS system was handled by a team (headed by me) and we assigned each class to one person.

However, in 2015, UNEB changed the A-level grading from computing subject grade averages to what it calls “criterions referencing”. This meant that candidates were graded based on fixed criteria irrespective of high or low they perform. The point here is balance papers if you want good grades/points.

So, we abandoned it in A-level but still used it for processing O-level reports. For A-level, we opted to use Microsoft Word. It was a tedious thing to do but I remember I was able to process all reports cards on time.

We also again switch to Microsoft Excel to handle some cases in the O-level, especially where there is a problem. We discovered that in the KSIS system, any candidate that had only seven subjects was given 1st grade. So, all these cases where corrected using Excel.

After publishing our need for Report card system, I received many proposals a number of individuals and companies. In total, they were 17 proposals, all of them from Kampala.

I remember receiving so many emails and also length calls from these developers.

However, one guy who really impressed me is Ronald, from SchoolMaster. He called me and told me about the PSM (Package for School Management) that they had.

I remember him telling me that “talk is cheap” and wanted to schedule an appointment with me. We fixed a date in March (which I do not remember now).

On the appointed day (it was a Saturday), I received a call from Ronald telling me that they were at school, waiting to see me.

That meeting was very productive. They installed PSM on one of my office computers and took me through the process of using PSM. Just like the say, seeing is believing.

     

We had wanted to pilot it with processing Beginning of Term 1 exams, however, we had not constituted a team, and I was away in Gulu the week preceding Visitation day. You see in Lira, Visitation Days are fixed in the middle of the term and parents are presented with either Beginning of Term or Mid Term exams results. This is now tradition in most schools in Lira and northern Uganda.

In last March, we processed the payment (of course we bargained) and signed agreements. Ronald had given him profound belief that the system would work for us.

Finally, in April we used the system and it has given the best academic reports we have always wanted. We easily generated marksheets and gave them to the team to enter the marks. After that, we simply uploaded them back into the system. The only small challenge was adding new students who were not on the class list. However, after setting up a network work went on very well. Only four people accomplished the work of processing reports for 2,400 students in 3 days. Perfect, isn’t it?

I liked these about the PSM:

  • The ease with which you assign subjects to classes & students.
  • Easy and fresh user interface.
  • Small results computing time.
  • It is easy to set parameters and other settings such as grading, comments.
  • The ability to deploy on a network and share data.
  • Flexible payment scheduled and agreement we signed. The school administrator does not have to sweat to get a service.
  • Top-notch customer care and support. I remember being given 3 people and still being to be get help at 11pm in the night.
  • Being able to export report cards to PDF and save.

I am writing these for the good of the ICT industry. We should be able to share ideas, collaborate and do things that help mutually help ourselves. I want to point out some issues here.

Firstly, I was disappointed that no one from Lira, Gulu, Sooty, Mbale responded to our request. If a young programmer has contacted us from any of these districts, I would have surely given them the deal. Kampala is good, but we need to do things here as well.

Secondly, having a ready package helps, but customer care is supreme. There are people who completed rejected an offer in excess of 1 million event when we had not seen their system. A customer rarely buys what he/she has not seen.

Thirdly, I think it is time secondary schools started working closely with universities. Some of the ICT challenges in schools can be solved ably well by students at universities, or lecturers. By doing these, we offer these students valuable experience in working with real life systems & in the end, they appreciated how a small piece of code can impact lives positively.

As Head of ICT, I can objectively say that has ICT has transformed the way schools run and although it is most of our headteachers are reluctant to deploy ICT systems, the global wind of change is coming. I am hopeful that small by small, schools will transform and embrace technology. You ICT serves 3 purposes in a typical schools. ICT is a subject itself, used in administration and as an aid to learning.

Thank you Ronald for your saving us. I will continue engaging you and your team on our other projects. I am grateful that I met you and your team. As we always say in Lira, “apwoyo matek” (thank very much).

End.

         

 

 

School Report Cards System: What works in Lira Town College & northern Uganda

On Monday, February 06, 2017, I wrote a Request for Proposals (RFP) for School Report Card System which I duly posted on two mail forums. Before I go far, let me give a little information about myself.

My name is Angoda Emmanuel (prefer it in that order), and I work with Lira Town College as Teacher (ICT) and also serve as Head of ICT. I have been in this position since 2012, after finishing a Bsc. IT degree from Gulu University.

Lira Town College is located in heart of Lira town (opposite Stanbic bank) and we currently have student enrollment of about 3,000 students & 97 teachers.

In Lira Town College, each class in divided up into “streams” each having between 70-120 students.

As Head of Department (HOD), I have taken initiatives to incorporate ICT into several school activities, these in order to increase efficiency, cut costs and keep up these today’s tech trends.

In 2012, I started by designing regular school documents such as letterheads, students leave chits, meal cards & class lists. For all these, MS Office was just more than enough, although before me, no one bothered.

Around that time, I saw that the challenge of writing manual report cards with carbon copies was tedious, dirty and very inefficient. (It took 3 days to get class position of a whole class). So, in 2013, we experimented with Bestgrade. It worked well mostly in A-level. However, our unstructured way of doing things meant that it could not work well especially in O-level that has hundreds of students. Coupled with limited expertise in computer use, we abandoned it & reverted back to manual system, after only 2 school terms.

In May 2015, I got into contact with Alex, a software developer based in Dar el Salaam, Tanzania (the land of another JPAM). I was on short holiday and he is exceeding good in web applications.

His dad was a friend to our Headteacher, and he happened to tel her about the young man’s system. Consequently, Alex brough the system to school & after taking due diligence on the system, we got it (on credit since it was holidays of First term). I have considerable experience in web applications, so together, we customized it to our requirements in the week that followed. Alex’s system was called “KSIS” – Kreative School Information System. He further told me that his system was popular in Dar es Salaam and surrounding areas.

Pros of KSIS

  • Allows importing data from MS Excel

  • it has good security .i.e assigning users

  • Beautiful interface & awesome usability features.

  • Easy to generate difference reports, per class, per subject, per student.

  • Easy to print

  • Easy installation using Apache, meaning you can run it as many PC’s as you like.

Cons:

  • difficult to assign subjects to students. This is the single most frustrating thing with this system. Only one class takes a week to assign subjects.

  • Weak backup system. It is difficult to recover data in event of computer malfunction.

The need for new system:

considering the non-formal way in which our school operates, I saw that we need a new system that operates pretty much in the way our people operate, without compromising quality & efficiency.

So, in short, we need a system that can adapt to our system, not we adapting to the system.

In northern Uganda, most secondary & primary schools operate like that. No good paper records, no clear separation of responsibilities, no clear common vision, no solid principles & of course no ethics. We do not have the sophistication, managerial efficiency & organization of Kampala & Wakiso.

Despite the above, we have some really good schools that have managed to produce good academic results despite those issues. Dr. Obote College, Lango College, St. Joseph’s College Layibi, Sir Samuel Baker School, St. Mary’s College Aboke, St. Katherine S.S, Sacred Heart S.S, Ocer Campion Jesuit College et cetera.

Submissions:

Firstly, I want to sincerely thank all the individuals & companies that responded to my call /request. In total, I received 17 submission & a couple of phone calls. The list is as below:

#

Name

Email

Company

Contact

1

Owachiu Denis

owachgiu@gmail.com

Dextra Uganda Ltd

0779660771

2

Ronald Eyit

ronieyit@gmail.com

0782151413

3

Samson

samson@schoolplus.co

SchoolPlus

0755425707

4

Vincent ML

vincenmangeni@gmail.com

_

0782186210

5

IdeaLink

info@.idealink@gmail.com

IdeaLink

6

Calvin Mugarura

mugarurac@gmail.com

Blue Node Media

0782689850

7

Chris R. Kasangaki

chriskasangaki@gmail.com

_

0772648222

8

Sonko Emmanuel

sonkoemmanuel@gmail.com

_

0777970780

9

Carol Mugabi

cmugabi@eygo.biz

EYGO Ltd

_

10

Kenneth Otto

kennethotto6@gmail.com

_

_

11

Sam Nturanabo

snturanabo@gmail.com

otimgerald@gmail.com

_

0777671455

12

Alex Oyite

alex@fixpertsug.com

Fixperts Uganda Ltd

(School Grade Book)

0783471120

13

Daniel Kakinda

dkakinda@yahoo.com

_

_

14

Hakim Sabunwala

Hakim.sabunwala@gmail.com

_

_

15

Paul Bukol Mweru

paul@streamtechnologies.com

Stream Technologies Ltd

0776566115

16

Lauren Babirye

sales@schoolmaster.co.ug

SchoolMasters

0781771867

17

Ronald Sebuhinja

sebsronnie@gmail.com

SchoolMasters

_

Observations:

1. High prices. Most individuals have overpriced their solutions. This issue of bringing Kampala prices to Oyam or Kole is a big issues that developers have to take care of. A school that charges 250,00 as fees/tuition can never pay 5 million for software, however. Think developers should have high price, high-end apps for Kampala & Wakiso elite schools but also develop low-cost but functional applications for rural folks with limited resources. Going open source is good & may be instead of having one-time purchase, we introduce termly contracts or outsourcing.

2. Standalone systems. Most submissions are standalone systems with little compatibility with other systems. Basically, they are closed systems. To complicate matters, these systems are designed with strict & fixed “license regimes”. If the computer on which the system is installed malfunctions & you want to run the OS, you loose everything & have to call again to have it re-installed. These phenomenon is what has rendered CyberSchool project useless in most schools. People always want to do many things on a single PC.

3. Comprehensive package or specific solution? Most solutions submitted are what their developers call “School Management System” which purportedly has different sub-components for managing accounts, HR, students, reports, admission & procurement. I think it would be good to have only “School Report Cards System”, something small & specialized to handle only that aspect. This will certainly make the system small, user friendly and considerably cheaper. Most teachers & schools only want results to be computed speedily, efficiently & stored securely for future use/analysis. The issue of integrating accounts info, registration info, class attendance or gate pass is good but sounds so out of this world (northern Uganda).

My Preferences:

Personally, due to extensive experience I have with web applications, I would go for the following:

  • Web based system that runs on Apache

  • Should be able to allow upload of students data from MS Excel

  • Search of students across levels, class & streams.

  • Easier way of entering marks.

  • Auto-generated remarks & grading.

  • Customization of settings such as grade limits, passwords.

  • Ability to export student reports as individual PDF files for easy storage.

  • Should be able to aggregate grade summaries, performance charts, list best performers.

  • Should be able to produce marksheet (whole class with the respective subject marks for verification).

  • Should be able to run online securely (if the school can host it).

  • Should be able to check missing marks & typo errors (values such as 123).

  • should be able to take into consideration all subject papers & their allocated marks. (e.g. Paper 1, Paper 2, Paper 3).

  • Easier way of selecting subjects using responsive check boxes, but compulsory subjects can be auto-checked at once at the top.

  • Good use of security features such as serial number for each report card, watermark feature & printing date & time.

  • Should be able to print individual reports as well class reports for all students.

  • Good backup mechanism & system restore procedures.

Conclusion

Once again, thank you all for your submissions. I have realized that the ICT sector in Uganda is vibrant and we have many young ambitious professionals ready to develop world-changing solutions. I am ready to host you in Lira (male developers) so you can run around these schools and extend your market to northern Uganda. Lira Town College system requires a change. Lango College also uses the same system as ours. Dr. Obote College Boroboro still uses BestGrade & complain endlessly. And so many schools.

Also developers should target mock examination bodies across the country. In Lango subregion, we have Lango Secondary Schools Mock Examination Association (LASSMEA). LASSMEA registers over 10,000 students and struggle each year to compute & process results. In second term, I can host (free meals & accomodation) developers who are ready to meet the management of LASSMEA to see how to capture the area.

The school term has just started and I encourage developers to design affordable solutions within a range of UGX 400,000 to 1,000,000 for northern Uganda market. And lastly, I like this quote from Mother Teresa, “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

Asante Sana. Apwoyo Matek.

Gulu Technology Camp 2017

Oysters & Pearls Uganda has organized a “Technology Camp” for young people this coming 2017 from January 08-21 at Gulu High School. For the past 3 years since June 2013, Oysters & Pearls Uganda has been running the technology camp, in line with their vision, “Cultivating education & technology.”

The program targets school students in P.7 – S.6 classes, and the curriculum is incorporated within the science school curriculum in subjects such as physics, chemistry and mathematics. However, it is more of hands-on technology for practical purpose. Group work is very much encourage as students have to work and present in groups and consequently, this widens their knowledge base and also brings their dreams to a reality.

They intend to teach the following: Robotics & electronics programming, Video game development, Mobile phone applications development, art & crafts, teachers/trainers development sessions, and additional experience in playing new game technology such as Oculus and HTC Vive among others.

What to bring: Students must bring mattresses, bedding & mosquito net, personal hygiene items, and a flash light. All meals are included. Drinking water is provided in the classrooms. Phones are allowed but should remain off during class. If you bring a laptop, you must register with the camp administrator and never leave it unguarded in the dorm. Bring athletic clothes and shoes. Dress code is casual and should be modest. Bring one nice outfit if you plan to attend prayers.

Oysters & Pearls – Uganda is a registered NGO in Uganda and has been working with the blind and visually impaired in Northern Uganda since 2011. In 2013, the robotics program and advanced computing was developed for the sighted students. In 2015, a community office was opened in Gulu Town to serve a wider audience. Oysters &Pearls -Uganda works closely with several Ugandan partners such as Fundi Bots, based in Kampala, and U-Touch, which has five community-based offices in Uganda.

Details: class Jacob  0706 939414

op-uganda-technology-camp-flyer

code-of-conduct-technology-camp-2017

The Making of Oysters & Pearls Makerspace

In January 09th, 2016, I traveled to Gulu for the Annual Robotics Camps that was scheduled to start on January 10, at Gulu High School. I had traveled with my 4 students, and 3 former students had gone their earlier. The camp lasted 2 weeks and had over 80 high school students from about 38 schools, and it consisted of Robotics Class (Beginners), Advanced Robotics and Video Game & Animation class.

Despite meeting new people & learning new stuff, my satisfaction was not in any thing being learnt there. The joy & contentment of being around my former students was sure one of the best moments of my life. Denis, Jacob and Jennifer were all teaching at the camp, and are all graduates of our successful robotics programme at Lira Town College.

They are pursuing higher education at Gulu University and as an alumni there, I took it upon myself to introduce them to my former lecturers. So far so good. But that is not all.

After that Robotics Camp, the founder of Oysters & Pearls Uganda, Ms. Sandra Washburn was keen to take things a bit higher. With equipment from the camp and available office space, a dream ignited to start the first tech hub in Gulu-Oysters & Pearls MakerSpace.

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace is an innovation hub and robotics centre located in Gulu town-northern Uganda. Jacob chose to call it a Makerspace because in his words, “it will be a community centre with tools that enable developers & young people learn, collaborate and build their tech projects.”

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Now, most of us who have heard of Outbox, Hive Colab and other tech hubs in Uganda will say this is copy & paste. I have visited their twice, but sincerely, what these young people are doing there is unique, different and a step forward for a better Uganda.

Right now, the O & P Makerspace is the best place in northern Uganda for developers, students & tech enthusiasts to meet, learn and build great apps and tech projects. They also host a range of events, workshops and trainings.

O & P Makerspace works with schools such as Gulu High School, Sacred Heart Girls S.S, and University students  and provide programming support and best robotics resources for free.

Oysters & Pearls – Uganda is a registered NGO in Uganda and has been working with the blind and visually impaired in Northern Uganda since 2011. In 2013, a program to robotics and advanced computing was developed for the sighted students. In 2015, a community office was opened in Gulu Town to serve a wider audience. Oysters &Pearls -Uganda works closely with several Ugandan partners such as Fundi Bots, based in Kampala, and U-Touch. O & P Makerspace is owned and run by Oysters & Pearls Uganda.

The Team

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace is still small entity, and runs with a small team who all share a common dream. The awesome team consists of Racheal, Jacob, Denis, Jennifer & Francis.

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Initiatives & Programmes:

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace has been involved in quiet many projects that include: Technovation Challenge (Global), Technovation Challenge (Uganda), Science & Technology Innovation Challenge (STIC), Africa Code Week, Gulu University Outreach Programme, Lira Outreach Programme & Special Programming Classes for Gulu youths.

Latest Technology

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace has the latest stuff in technology. They have Rasberry Pi, Arduino kits,  Virtaul Reality tools (Oculus), Android Programming, Scratch, PC Duino,   Smart Phones, USSD, Messaging Platforms, Soldering kits and many others.  Almost 50% of what they have today was not available during my time at Uni. It is great learning from these young ones.

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High Lights:

Throughout my service as a teacher, deep inside me, I have never wanted to betray my public duty to educate tomorrows future generation. For who are we, if we do not nurture tomorrows leaders today? The 3 former students I have talked about here are just a tip of the iceberg. There are many others scattered across the country pursuing different ambitions. Those who have chosen to contribute to this country through education, hard work and honest living. Many others.

I like the fact that Oysters & Pearls Makerspace  is a truly inclusive  place, supporting disabled persons, young women and old persons. According to  Jacob, they have a plan to fully integrate the blind & visually impaired students at Gulu High School & Ngetta School for the Blind into their robotics programme. This will the first of its kind in East Africa, will no doubt be applauded by numerous rights activists in Uganda and beyond.

This is a lesson to many of Uganda’s youths, that you should make a decision to focus on learning valuable tech skills, as a result of your own “intelligent choice” for a better future. These 3 have easily found “an opportunity to use their education” not only to liberate others, but also place themselves in the service of humanity (and Uganda).

With support of Dr. Benedict Oyo, I feel contented that Robotics projects have been accepted at Gulu University as final year projects in the Department of Computer Science.

As Charles Onyango-Obbo says, technological citizens are emerging. It may be too late for most of the current Uganda population, who still carry some of the old habits. But the little ones, those are the future. And that should be our focus.

The Future

A wide range of people believe that hubs represent a genuinely new and exciting model for supporting tech entrepreneurs. Considering, the long time I have spent with these young guys at Oysters & Pearls Makerspace, I believe they will no doubt have a commercially viable project by close of this year. It may be web application, android app, business model, open source project, Ugandan papers or whatever. All of them are accomplished achievers amongst their age mates.

I also believe that will disrupt the tech landscape in Uganda because at 23, 24 their best years are ahead of them. The future is bright.

Contacts:

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace

Jacob: odurjacob2@gmail.com

Denis: obotedenis256@gmail.com

Jennifer:  jenniferajok14@gmail.com

 Other links:

http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1431859/uganda-technology-hub-africa-2030

https://angodaemma.wordpress.com/my-star-students/

‘Penalised’ In Primary, Privileged In University: East Africa Education Spending

August 21, 2016

WITH the youngest demographic profile in the world, African governments are doing well to invest a significant amount of resources in the education sector.

Universal primary education became a priority in the past decade and a half, driven by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and progress on this front has been laudable. There has also been significant progress in expanding access to secondary and tertiary education.

But the education spending disparity through the levels raises some questions. In East Africa, for example, governments spend an average of $57 per primary school pupil, and $127 per secondary school student.

At tertiary level education spending is more than ten times higher, at a mean of $1,493 per student, but even this masks huge disparities among countries – Tanzania is the clear outlier, spending an average $4,391 per university/college student.

The inequity in resource allocation is clearer when you consider that it is just a tiny minority of people who make it to higher levels of education in the first place. It East Africa, it is only about 5-7% of the six and seven-year-olds eligible for the first grade of primary school in any year that will eventually graduate from university.

Such dismal transition rates means that it is actually those in the lower grades of education – the bulk of the children in the school system – who are ‘penalised’ by low government spending.

And considering that it is generally those from wealthier backgrounds who will go to college and university, the impact on inequality becomes clearer.

PRIVILEGE

Or as a recent report by the Society for International Development puts it this way: should countries that are unable to provide every child with a quality primary education cover the bulk of costs for students at the tertiary level (which is also the most expensive), considering that they will, for the larger part, come from more privileged backgrounds?

Even worse, data from the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) concluded that on average, 56% of students graduating from East African universities lacked the basic and technical skills needed in the job market.

When broken down per student, it emerges that a large chunk of public investment is spent on the tertiary sector, it is worth interrogating what value for money citizens are getting in this respect.

Source: http://www.africapedia.com/2016/08/21/education-spending-east-africa/

New technology in buliisa, uganda!

By Simon Kaheru
A FEW days ago I received a short video clip via WhatsApp that I inadvertently opened almost as soon as it arrived. Normally I let these videos pile up till I have enough time to watch and delete them in a pile.
I was very pleased with this one. In the clip, a young fellow was manipulating a ‘wire car’. I put the phrase in quotes because when we were children we had a knack for finding bits of loose metallic wires either from clothes hangers (discarded or stolen) or broken up bits of fencing material, and we made wire cars.
There was always one boy in the neighbourhood who taught the rest of us and kept making modifications every so often without explaining where he had learnt them.
The first wire cars we made used ‘chokolos’ (soda bottle tops – I still don’t know why they were called that) for wheels and we had to squat to push them along. The upgraded wheels were cut out of bits of sapatu (rubber or foam slippers), then the ones above those had chokolo rims inserted into the rubber or foam sapatu.
The next level of tyres were made of metallic wire rims and had rubber tyres made from strips cut from the rubber inners of actual car tyres, wrapped around cuttings of buveera for the off-road variety.
It took us about an hour to fashion a good car complete with steering wheels to drive it as you walked along, axles and even side mirrors and number plates if the materials were available.
In my case that was thirty years before what I saw in this WhatsApp video.
The teenager in the video was operating a ‘wire car’ that was a fully operational excavator! Standing at one end of the truck, he actually had a boom arm lifting the soil carrying bucket an the other end, and drove it round picking and dropping soil!
The amazed onlookers made various exclamations in Runyoro and Luganda, proving its authenticity, and one fellow in overalls walked round the young technician to marvel at his creation.
Eno yagikola nga tatunulidde bu lad bwo!” (He made this without looking at your instructions/manual/readings!) exclaimed one fellow.
The commentators even knew the parts of the excavator such as the “boom” and “circle drive” (I had to google to learn them).
“New technology in Ngwedo, Buliisa!” another declared, before my favourite by one who was as overwhelmed as I was: “Eh! I love Uganda, allo!”
I can only guess that the young man had probably spent time observing some road construction for a while and worked out a way of replicating the truck.
Sadly, I am not sure if there is a village called Ngwedo (thats what it sounded like) in Buliisa, and whereas I will ask people at the district to find the young fellow, I fear success may be limited.
This is the type of chap that needs to be located, nurtured and supported to take his technical prowess to a level of global commercial proportions. Not only could he set up an entire industry of local toy manufacturing, if a wise entrepreneur funded him, but perhaps he could enhance technical education by becoming a trainer (NOT a student) at our institutions.
The automatic steps some would take would be to place him into a school or university, but without proper planning there is a high chance that his creativity and innovation would be stifled there.
How else can you explain the existence of so many qualified Engineers, some with Masters Degrees and Doctorates, with so few wire truck excavators of this nature?
In fact, this chap would most likely be the type to create a host of technical solutions in agriculture, manufacturing…you name it!
Simply by observing and trying things out.
And rather than pick him up and out of his village in Buliisa, we (you, me, an entrepreneur, a university, the government…) should pick up from people like Emmanuel Angoda and implement what he is seeking Ushs65million for.
Emmanuel Angoda is a teacher of ICT who has been at work in Lira Town College for the last five years teaching, training and mentoring young people in his chosen field of ICT.
I have not spoken with him yet but find him heroic for many reasons: over the years I have noticed his name popping up quite humbly in professionally elevated circles because of his noble work. His students have won Awards at the Annual Communication Innovation Awards, they have stood out during ICT and Academic events and also Science Fairs.
This week, he sent out an email unveiling his dream of setting up an ICT innovation hub in Lira Town, called Walktrack Innovation Hub, in which his partners are some of the said students. The cost of setting up that dream is only Ushs65million. That is 1,000 times less than the cost of tarmacking one kilometre of road, which process probably spurred the innovation of the Buliisa technician.
Seriously, people, read his blogpost here: https://angodaemma.wordpress.com/
If we had a hub like Angoda’s in every district, imagine how many times we would hear the exclamation, “I love Uganda, allo!”
This article is available online at: https://skaheru.com/2016/06/

Walktrack Innovation Hub

I been very active in tech circles in Uganda for five years. This whole time I have been serving as at Lira Town College as a teacher(ICT), a fact that has no doubt made me appreciate the importance of education. I have seen parents sacrifice a lot for the education of their children. I have seen education remove barriers between the rich and the poor. I have seen my students rise up to challenge students from Makerere College School, Budo and Ntare, despite their different educational settings.

It is this desire to see my students succeed that gives me strength to pursue higher ambitions. I have hatched a plan to set up and innovation hub in Lira. We’ve had “hubs” in Kampala and we need one in Lira, except that we shall have a different approach. I want it to serve as a transition point between high school and campus. I want to partake in nurturing tomorrows tech leaders. I want to serve my community, and my country.

Over the years, my students have gone ahead to pursue Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Information Technology and other tech courses. It is ironical but again fulfilling to know that they draw their inspiration from me, while I also give the same inspiration. I do not want these efforts go to waste. Technology is now with us, and will very much be here with us in the future.

The road to it will to tough and to torturous, but we are determined to have Walktrack Innovation Hub. Download our proposal here: Walktrack Innovation Hub 2016

East African unions unite against scourge of education privatisation

Leaders of Education International affiliate organisations in East Africa gathered in Kampala, Uganda, to coordinate their response to the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education spreading across the continent.

The union leaders of Education International (EI) affiliates from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zanzibar shared their national experiences and developed a deeper understanding of EI’s Global Response to the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education. The meeting was held on 15-16 May in Kampala, and was sponsored by the Danish Union of Teachers (DLF).

National campaigns

The participants concluded that the commercialisation and privatisation of education is the greatest threat to the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. They pledged to return home with a renewed determination to develop and implement national campaigns aimed at exposing and reversing government policies which allow, facilitate and encourage commercialisation and privatisation of education.  A key objective of these national campaign plans will be to ensure that governments implement and enforce a legislative framework necessary to protect and advance the right of all students to free quality public education.

KNUT: Inequity of privatisation

“Privatisation is a cancer that must be removed from Africa,” said Wilson Sossion, General Secretary of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and President of EI’s Africa Regional Committee. “It represents an affront to the rights of children. It will drive and deepen inequity.”

UNATU: Commercialisation a ‘virus’

These views were echoed by Juliet Wajega, Deputy General Secretary of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU). She said commercialisation of education is a “virus” that is consuming education in Uganda and it is hindering the achievement of SDG 4, a prerequisite to achievement of all the SDG goals.  “As teacher unions, we must mobilise to encircle and paralyse this virus until we exterminate it.”

TTU: Build alliances

Yahaya Msulwa, General Secretary of Tanzania Teachers’ Union (TTU), recognised the size of the challenge and the influence of large global actors driving the commercialisation of education. He reminded leaders that they must build alliances with like-minded education stakeholders and national labour centres to strengthen their ability to lobby successfully in support of quality free public education for all.

ZATU: Underfunding of public education

Discussions also focused on the need for governments to fulfil their obligation to properly and adequately fund public education. In far too many instances, public schools are being starved of the resources they need to pave the way for privatisation. Daud Mussa Tafurwa Omar, General Secretary of the Zanzibar Teachers’ Union (ZATU), said: “The problem is public education is underfunded.  Consequently, there is poor infrastructure and a lack of teaching and learning materials in school. There is an insufficient number of teachers.”

Lack of political will

The union leaders rejected as hollow claims about a financing gap when it comes to funding quality education for all. Instead, they identified a lack of political will as the issue. They were appalled to learn that new statistics released by Oxfam International show that more money leaves Africa illegally than all the aid provided.

Angelo Gavrielatos, programme director for the Global Response underlined that tax loopholes and tax havens must be closed. “The international community must act to end this scourge which is denying Africa’s children the resources they need and deserve,” he said. Tax avoidance is depleting Africa of the revenue base required to ensure every child receives access to quality public education.

Article adapted from: https://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/3963