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Will electronic inspection improve education levels?

With more schools mushrooming across the country, the Directorate of Education Standards (DES) and local governments are facing an uphill task to crack a whip on substandard schools, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.

Previously, schools were few and manageable but the inadequate number of inspectors coupled with resource constraints today is hampering effective inspection.

A village classroom

According to Patrick Balyogera, the acting commissioner, basic education standards at DES, ideally, district inspectors should be in schools at least twice a year but the reality on ground is outrageous.

“It is true there is a shortage of inspectors and for districts to cope, they have to engage associate assessors [retired head teachers with exemplary performance] whose recruitment is affected by limited government funding,” Balyogera said.

As a result, the few inspectors carry out inspection and send hard copies of reports to DES to compile national school inspection reports.

This practice, Balyogera said, has been cumbersome with reports being delayed while others are concocted in education offices because inspectors do not reach the schools.

Due to the challenges experienced in reporting and compiling data, the ministry of Education and Sports under the Uganda Teacher School Effectiveness Project (UTSEP) introduced an Integrated Inspection System (IIS) to enhance inspection.

The project is part of a grant worth $100 from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)/ World Bank that government received in 2015 to support implementation of the Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP).

Launched in November 2016, the three-year e-inspection is being piloted in 1,000 government schools distributed in 46 districts where interventions such as improving reading, constructing classrooms, training teachers and head teachers, among others, are undertaken under the UTSEP project.

Balyogera said the ISS will help DES in analyzing data consistently and generate reports as well as disseminate information on time.

“The system can filter out information for a school, district, regional and national level at the click of a button. The main target in this is to ensure that learners achieve,” says the head of primary education end this year but it has received a one-year extension till June 2019 before it is rolled out countrywide.

HOW IT WORKS

The digitized inspection is carried out using phone tablets which have been installed with two tools; a teaching/learning observation and head teacher’s management tools.

He explained that a team of two people visit a school in a day, make observations, focus on teaching and learning and management of the school. While at school, the inspector and associate assessor observe at least three teachers in class while teaching.

“They are also allowed to sit at the back of the class to see how lessons are conducted. They later interface with the head teacher, fill the outcomes of the inspection into the tablet and take pictures where necessary,” Balyogera explained.

The two officials would then record the Global Positioning System (GPS) and finally submit the information to the Integrated Inspection System (IIS).

The inspectors also interface with the teachers and give feedback on their classroom inspection. They in turn make a summary of all their findings and discuss them with the head teacher and leave a copy of the agreed recommendations at the school before departure.

Joy Nabeta, the head teacher at Magogo primary school in Iganga district, whose school has been inspected using the system, said it is worthwhile although a bit lengthy and takes a lot of time.

“This is a good initiative but the inspectors spent one and a half hours collecting data from my school. What happens in schools where the teacher has to attend to learners for lessons?” she said.

Rev Augustine Kiregeya, an associate assessor, told The Observer that although they take a lot of time in schools, it helps build the capacity. “Why do we need to rush?” Kiregeya asked.

“We would rather spend a lot of time in a school but ensure that everything is in place and guide the head teacher and teachers appropriately.”

He is optimistic that the e-inspection, if properly managed, will improve standards.

“Teachers have been reluctant and not implementing education policies very well because they know inspectors are not there. With this technology, they are going to be more active,” Kiregeya said.

For now, the teams are also challenged with poor network while uploading information.

“You can click on something and it takes long; some- times it fails yet you are assessing and want to move to another school. [Yet] you are not allowed to leave a school without sending information.”

The tablets are also locked by the ministry and are not open to social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or Google. Kiregeya requested government to make them open to aid inspectors and head teachers in research.

EMERGING ISSUES

Two and half years while using the e-system, Balyogera said they have noted the teacher absenteeism is on the increase.

The system allows inspectors to track head teachers, teachers and learners’ absenteeism rates as schools are compelled to keep the up-to-date records of attendance. A countrywide sample study carried out by the ministry of Education and Sports last year found that teacher absenteeism ranks at 45 per cent while that of head teachers stands at 20 per cent.

This, according to the ministry’s director of basic and secondary education, Robinson Nsumba-Lyazi, accounts for loss of up to Shs 72 billion annually. Balyogera noted that over time, they have also realised a tendency of teachers claiming to carry out continuous assessment yet they are continuously drilling children due to parent’s demands.

This has resulted into teachers’ less preparation for lesson and poor interpretation of the curriculum. On whether the e-inspection would improve standards, Balyogera said: “The impact may not be realised now but I am sure on the grades will improve. We may not get it right 100 per cent but we shall be able to gather enough information and generate comprehensive reports.”

MORE FUNDS

As government spearheads this new initiative, Kiregeya is concerned that inspectors are still poorly facilitated despite the unfavorable geographical locations of the schools. As an associate assessor, he gets Shs 225,000 to cater for transport costs and Shs 144,000 as allowance per term.

“The money also sometimes comes late. Balyogera agrees that government needs to revise unit costs for inspection grants from the current Shs 30,000 to about 100,000 or more.

“If these people are to move in a pair, they have to share the Shs 30,000. Remember, they have to make phone calls, photocopy summarised feedback reports for schools and hire boda bodas which are all expensive ventures,” he said.

Other recommendations made by DES to improve standards include involvement of school management committees in the affairs of schools, recruitment of more Center Coordinating Tutors (CCTs) and regulation of NGOs implementing activities in schools that end up confusing teachers, head teachers and learners.

“The NGO projects are good, they have the same targets but we need to know how to sequence them,” Balyogera said.

nangonzi@observer.ug

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