E-Learning in schools can improve STEM outcomes and digital skills.

Globally, since the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, there has been a significant increase in the use of the internet and other devices across all age groups. This was because the Covid-19 lockdowns interrupted many social services and sectors of the global economy.

In Uganda, despite the OTT tax, there was still an increase in the use of the internet, mostly for social media, and other online platforms. Therefore, in 2020, many secondary schools and universities ventured into e-learning, and for many, it was the first time. The Ministry of Education and Sports, together with the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) moved in to regulate and standardize e-learning, through the introduction of Open, Distance, and E-learning. (ODEL) framework. The e-learning platform of choice became Moodle, a popular open-source learning management system (LMS). For me, universities did not have to wait for the pandemic in order to introduce e-learning. After all, these universities had been teaching Computer Science, Information Technology, and other related tech programmes even before the pandemic.

In secondary schools, the adoption of elearning (and ODEL) has been slow and disappointing. After schools were closed last year, many schools resorted to use of social media, especially WhatsApp to share learning resources, instead of launching standard e-learning platforms. For secondary schools, I believe that both offline platforms are most suited for them (CyberSchool), as it relieves the financial pressure on both teachers & parents to maintain access to internet. Additionally, there’s little possibility of having students diverting to social media & football streaming.

E-learning in schools can be implemented using two approaches. But first, I must state here that e-learning should be part of learning. This therefore means that it should be embedded into the normal learning routine in schools, especially secondary schools, and universities.

In the first approach, e-learning is done within the framework (environment) of the school, managed and supervised by teachers/lecturers. In this case, both teachers and students use school/university resources e.g., computers, electricity, internet, lab attendants, etc.

This is a method that is most agreeable and widely used world over. It means teachers or lecturers continue normal teaching in class, but supplement it using e-learning, e.g. giving online assignments, viewing simulations etc.

The other way is purely online learning, which is now becoming popular in Uganda and elsewhere, with students & teachers far apart. In this case, teachers/lecturers upload learning material into the elearning platform and students receive and complete activities. In this situation, I strongly believe that special consideration has to be made to make it fit for science (STEM) & largely practical subjects or courses.

One can use these two approaches simultaneously, but the second approach is likely to encounter challenges. These challenges with elearning in Uganda are anchored in 3 main areas namely; access to devices (computers, laptops & tablets), access to internet, and access to electricity. Currently, Uganda’s electricity access stands at nearly 60% in urban areas, while in rural areas it is 16%. This figures make it impossible to successfully implement e-learning, and digital transformation in general in rural areas.

Meanwhile, data from UCC indicates that only 28 per cent of Ugandan between 18 to 28 years have a smartphone. Yet, it is this age group that is at populates universities.

The other issues are inadequate digital skills and lack of interest in upgrading learning facilities. I will give my personal experience here. I studied my IT degree without ever using an elearning system, much as the lecturers were teaching it theoretically. There are a lot of inconsistencies in our education system, but the pandemic has shown that people can change, and digital change is happening throughout Uganda and the world.

Although the progress has been slow, especially in secondary & primary schools, e-learning is here to stay, and it is better to embrace it now than later. E-learning in schools can achieve 3 outcomes; improve learning outcomes, especially in STEM subjects, improve digital skills, and promote Development Education.

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