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Schools, parents take up smart technology

For a very long time, St Julian High School, Gayaza, had failed to address complaints of theft of pocket money in the dormitories.

But as YUDAYA NANGONZI recently found, technology has come to the rescue.

The deputy head teacher at St Julian High School, Stephen Owori, recently told The Observer cases of theft have been resolved through a solution many students were initially opposed to.

“At school, we have a provision for students given pocket money in the excess of Shs 5,000 to keep it with the school bursar. But most of the students prefer to keep their money in the dormitory,” Owori said. “And guess what, money is delicate and they ended up robbing each other.”

St Julian students would go to the dormitories with pocket money ranging from Shs 70,000 to Shs 150,000 each term. Today, the vice is history after the school embraced a smart application dubbed LipaMobile, which uses plastic smart cards to make transactions.

“Parents no longer need to give hard cash to their children. [Instead] they send money to the card by dialing *270*77# on their phones … [after this, they are able to] monitor purchases made by the child through a text message sent after every transaction at the canteen,” Owori said, adding that theft of pocket money has reduced by almost three quarters since the school embraced the technology for the last one year.

“With these transaction cards, no one can steal and use it unless you have its secret code. The cards also bear the photographs of the owners; so, we also utilise them as school identity cards.”

Nabisunsa Girls' School students pose with their LipaMobile cards

A similar service was recently introduced at Nabisunsa Girls SS as Lenard Butsiba, the schools’ head of Chemistry, explains.

“It is now a school policy that all children must own a LipaMobile card instead of bringing hard cash. We use the cards as a gate pass, at the sickbay, library and in the dining hall to access meals and control doubling by some students,” he said.

Each card costs Shs 20,000 and a student can use it for up to six years. If a student decides to leave the school to join another that does not have the system, a parent can withdraw all the savings on the card at the school premises.

OTHER USES

The card is also being developed to embrace other uses. One of these is as a means of registering entry and exit into the school premises. As a gate pass, a student swipes their card at the gate and this sends a message to the parent, indicating that the student has checked in or out at a particular time.

“Parents can be able to determine the time it will take their children to reach home. By doing this, the cards control some errant children that would meander around the city and reach home late or after some time,” Butsiba said.

Laban Jemba, the chief executive officer of LipaMobile, who shared more on the service options of the application at Imperial Royale hotel in Kampala recently, said 15 schools use the smart cards so far and 23 more have registered to get started.

“Digital migration is an irreversible trend and the way to go. By students not having cash at hand, it is not easy to lure them into indiscipline actions that involve money like buying alcohol and marijuana, among others, since they need a swipe machine to withdraw money,” Jemba said.

Some of the schools that are actively using the system are Baptist High School, Zzana, Trinity College Nabbingo, Irma Pfeiffer Bweya High School and teachers at King's College, Budo.

Schools that have registered to start using the application this year include Uganda Martyrs SS Namugongo, Kawempe Muslim High School, St Lawrence School Ssonde, Viva College Jinja, Trinity Academy, St Augustine College Wakiso, and Mt St Henry’s High School in Mukono.

According to Jemba, parents are also able to obtain students’ academic reports, disciplinary reports, school announcements and class attendance, among others, using LipaMobile application on their mobile phones.

“While students can easily get pocket money on their card, a parent can also set spending limits [the times a child can withdraw money] from the card,” he said.

CHILD'S RIGHTS

To some parents, LipaMobile is a welcome development as it will enable them to monitor the growth of their children into adults. According to Tina Musuya, LipaMobile enables parents to assess how their children are developing into adults. However, she thinks the development should be taken with a pinch of salt.

“It has a good component, but I think it is keeping the child under the direct control of their parents, instead of igniting their ability to be responsible on their own,” she said. “We also need to know that they are our children but they are entitled to some level of dignity and privacy as human beings.”

Musuya, who is also executive director at Centre For Domestic Violence Prevention (Cedovip), argues that the app will enable some parents to stalk their children.

“If a child wants to buy their friend a bottle of soda, you as the parent will be watching and asking why that money is being spent,” she added. “Swiping as they get into class has nothing to do what kind of learning is occurring there ... the solution is to address some of the constraints to learning and allow the child to develop into a decent human being.” 

However, Patrick Kaboyo, a retired teacher whose daughter will soon join secondary school, is excited that the application will give him more opportunity to guide her development.

“The students will be excited about the facility, and forget their need to act responsibly,” he said. However, he agrees that there is a need to treat the advantages derived from LipaMobile with care.

“Innovation should not be at the expense of children’s rights to privacy.”

On the extreme end, Diana Kagere Mugerwa is opposed to some of the advantages derived from LipaMobile.

“That is stalking a child … I would not support it if it was introduced at my daughter’s school,” she says. “It will ruin the growing relationship between parents and children. Visitation days are usually meant to enable bonding, but now it will be a question-and-answer session where parents are asking why a certain amount of money was spent.”

PROGRESS CONTINUES

However, Esther Batenga, the client support manager of LipaMobile, said the application continues to be challenged by teachers in some schools.

“Parents would send pocket money via mobile money on teachers' phones and give them some money as well. Now, when they realised that they can no longer cheat the parents with cards, they are fighting the system,” Batenga said, urging parents to embrace the application in order to follow up on their monies to students.

Currently, LipaMobile is in talks with several supermarket owners to ensure that students are able to use the same cards for school shopping.

nangonzi@observer.ug

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd