Steps to a Global Education: Fundamental reforms needed at Highway S. S. Kiganda

In a bid to provide as relevant an education as possible, Highway Secondary School Kiganda is focusing on equipping learners with 21st-century skills, collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking, problem solving and effective communication. One of the realities we are grappling with is to integrate the fast emerging technology in our service delivery – teaching. With limited resources at hand, we are pondering creative ways of getting our students and teachers to make the most out of technology.

The challenge

Developing the 21st-century skills thrives on appropriate, effective methods of teaching. However, we seem to be glued on “traditional” methods because of resources beyond our reach. Our staff do all they can to get as close as possible to this, but still, there is a lot at stake when we compare ourselves with higher achieving schools. Our learners will meet and compete for the same jobs and other opportunities with all the others from everywhere else. We want to ensure that we equip them with enough competencies to compete favorably. Using modern technology is one of the major focus areas. Our goal in this is to avail technological user competencies to all our learners.

Our context:

 

  • Our Computer laboratory

Our computer laboratory has 07 functioning computers serving over 1000 students and 47 teachers. We do not have any connectivity to the internet. Our school management system runs offline on two computers connected with ethernet cables. Our financial information is completely on paper, largely because of the unreliable electronic management system. Our students do not use mobile phones (see the next section for details). Our classrooms are devoid of any technology devices: no computers, no smart boards, no document cameras, no speakers, nothing. With this inadequacy, our hands are tied!

High school students in Uganda mandatorily choose between studying Subsidiary Mathematics or Information Communication Technology (ICT). With quite a few rules applying to this choice, a majority of students end up stuck with ICT. We find ourselves having to restrict other students from using the few computers in the computer laboratory so as to afford the high school computer students (totaling to around 120 per year) a chance to use the 7 computers available.

 

  • Mobile phones – a potential resort

Our school policy, currently, does not allow students to use or own mobile technology devices, especially cell phones, at school. As an educational institution, we derive our policies from the national educational policies. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education seems unclear on whether or not children in secondary schools should be allowed to use mobile phones.

On September 9, 2013, The Daily Monitor, one of the leading newspapers in Uganda published an article with the title, Students free to use phones at school – government. Basing his article on an address made by the Director for Basic and Secondary Education, Dr. Yusuf Nsubuga,  Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, reported that according to Dr. Nsubuga, “government has directed secondary school head teachers to relax rules and allow students possess cellular phones.” Dr. Nsubuga reasoned that mobile phones are no longer a luxury but an educational material which, however, needed to be regulated like all other materials for effectiveness. He refuted allegations that phones contribute to students’ strikes, which is one of the reasons advanced by opponents of students’ use of phones.

The following day (September 10, 2013), however, an inversely related article with the title, Ministry of Education bans mobile phones in schools, was published in The New Vision, which is the government newspaper. The latter article indicated that “Education and Sports Minister (then Maj. (rtd.) Jessica Alupo), in a statement, said her Ministry maintains the position that no student shall be allowed to possess a mobile phone in school for whatever reason.” The Education and Sports minister advanced three reasons for the ban: that experience had shown that phones contribute immensely to examination malpractices through information sharing, that the girl child could not be protected effectively, and that mobile phones promote drug abuse and other criminal behavior in schools.

In our particular case, there has been a growing call by students to be allowed to use mobile phones. We are pondering this decision. It poses both challenges and an opportunity. The challenges, as the Minister of Education reasoned, are related to morality. However, to cite the morality issue as an excuse for not allowing learners to use technology resources is to admit that we have failed in our professional responsibility to guide our young people on how to think about situations that affect them. Incidentally, it is only self-defeating to try to imprison their minds – they always find a way to access the technology resources. And, when they do it stealthily, they focus on things that we try to shield them from. The other challenge will be the universal capacity for students to buy and maintain mobile phones. However, this cannot deter us from having the few that can afford the resources go ahead to purchase them. This should be a learning point for our learners to collaborate and share resources, especially that socioeconomic inequality is an age-old reality that is not about to go!

The opportunity in allowing our children to use mobile phones is that they will supplement the technology resources owned by the school, to help learners conduct their own research. This will improve their problem-solving skills and diversify their sources of information. Our job in this will be to guide them on how to safely and productively interact with technology resources; especially how to evaluate the information they read on the internet and other platforms.

Required intervention

There is an urgent need to equip our computer laboratory and to provide technology resources for our classrooms. This done, there is need to build our teachers’ and students’ capacity to use these resources productively. We have amongst staff members those that are competent to conduct workshops for both students and teachers, separately and collectively, to strengthen this capacity. The only pending intervention point here is securing the technology resources.

We will review our technology policy to accommodate our learners’ use of technology resources. In the policy review, we will set parameters for learners to use these resources, particularly for learning purposes.

 

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