Since November 2017, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) with funding from Spider has been implementing an e-learning project that incorporates use of information and communication technology (ICT) into the teaching and learning of mathematics and basic health education in Nakivale refugee camp.
The camp was established in 1960 in the Isingiro district of western Uganda. It is the 8th biggest refuge settlement in the world with 79 villages and a population of over 100,000 people. The camp has six government-owned schools (five primary schools and one secondary school) with students from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda. These schools lack the necessary resources to deliver quality education.
The project is a public-private partnership between Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports, Istreams Software Development Company and Africell, an Internet service provider in Uganda. Research that began with a baseline study was carried out by researchers at Kampala International University in Uganda to assess the project interventions. Another research study was carried out by MUST. Data was collected from all schools by means of surveys and focus group discussions. 277 learners and 20 teachers participated in the study.
The study found that young people account for 60% of the total refugee population. The study shows that more than 40,000 children in the resettlement are victims of forced displacement, wars, conflicts and other human rights abuses.
Out of the 6 six schools in the refugee camp, only one school (Nakivale secondary school) had electricity and computers at the time the research was conducted. This school had only 10 computers. The survey shows that more than 70% of respondents have no access to computers.
Mathematics is the most poorly performed subject in schools within the camp. The average failure rate of mathematics in these schools is 80% yet it is a requirement to pass mathematics national exams at both primary and secondary school education levels in Uganda.
The research also found that girls drop out of schools due to teenage pregnancies and the cases of classroom absenteeism are high due poor health conditions and diseases that are preventable. Students lack basic health education that would help them to improve their hygiene conditions.
To support the teaching of mathematics and health education the project introduced an online learning platform that teachers can use to engage students and provide course material accessible from any location within and outside the camp via http://www.mathnakivale.com/. The project manager notes that, the online learning application hosts digital content such as audio, video, interactive quizzes, and text for primary school mathematics developed based on the curriculum developed by the Uganda National Curriculum Development Centre. “…it also consists of basic health sciences including sanitation, personal hygiene, sexual and reproductive health, management of adolescent life, management of basic and communicable diseases like typhoid, malaria without excluding safe, and clean water.”
Young people in the refugee camp
Students without access to computers
Schools with electrity and computers
Teachers were very optimistic about the project support but also concerned about implementation challenges as seen in some of the responses:
“This project is going to do a wonderful job, but we lack training and the pupils are many. I doubt if they will all be provided with access to computer.”
“I have never prepared content using a computer and thus the implementation of E-Learning will be a challenge.”
Indeed, the findings shows that the majority have never prepared electronic content to upload on the e-learning platform. Both teachers and students perceived the platform to be useful in terms of improving performance by enabling access to learning materials they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, especially multimedia tutorials in video and audio formats.
Currently the e-learning platform is in use after introductory teacher trainings. The challenges that remain untackled include the lack of pedagogy skills for teachers, limited access to internet, modern library and sufficient computer resources, the overwhelming number of learners in classrooms, and students’ negative attitudes about mathematics and science. The project support and efforts towards overcoming the highlighted challenges is ongoing. An evaluation study will present the findings of the project interventions.