The continued closure of all education institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected all stakeholders in the education sector. The most affected are learners, whose access to reading material has been greatly curtailed.
However, Rogers Mukalele has offered a silver lining on the Covid-19 cloud through his innovative online portal called Sharebility. It allows everyone to freely access reading materials from all schools countrywide, writes Ernest Jjingo.
It is every student’s dream to study at the top schools such as King’s College Budo, Uganda Martyrs SS Namugongo or St Mary’s SS Kitende. However, the high level of excellence and financial demands required is often out of reach for most students and their parents.
Many of the students who can only dream of studying at those schools have often been reduced to buying notes and exam papers of the top schools as a way of catching up with the best.
That, however, has changed over the past few months with the advent of Sharebility Uganda, a centralized platform for educationalists to publish, share and market their digital teaching and online content.
A brainchild of Mukalele, it has aided teachers and parents to continue teaching their children even outside the classrooms.
The platform crowd sources digital education resources to aid the new trend of ICT integration, digital pedagogy, home schooling and e-learning in schools.
Starting Sharebility Project
Mukalele says he came up with the concept after finding a hard time looking for teaching materials when he was a student teacher at a certain school in Tororo and the only option he had was to look it up on the internet.
“Due to my past experiences and challenges in access to teaching materials, I decided to come up with a solution [Sharebility] which I did as my final-year project for my IT degree at Makerere University,” he says.
“We started a vlog (video blog) with my colleagues where we could share pass papers and other teaching-related information and later when I learnt some web development skills, I decided to start a platform mainly to address the need for learning materials which can help any teacher to teach,” he said.
Sharebility Uganda has grown to become an online digital library having a vast pool of free educational resources plus a public marketplace for premium teaching and learning content.
“On the Sharebility platform, we organize all content like class presentations, notes, e-books, tests and quizzes, homeschooling packages, exam past papers with answers, video lessons, tutorials, schemes and lesson plans) arranged basing on all levels (nursery, primary, secondary, tertiary and others), classes and subjects in the curriculum,” he says.
“Most of the learners in Uganda are in rural schools such as UPE/USE schools. These schools don’t have well equipped school libraries. Although many schools have recently obtained computers through programs such as the Rural Communications Development Fund of the Uganda Communications Commission, most of the teachers don’t have the necessary skills and resources to make good teaching and learning materials and fully utilize the computers like their counterparts in modern schools. Sharebility Uganda initiative overcomes many of the challenges involved in reaching the underserved students in rural areas.”
He, however, notes that some private schools have been a bit selfish not wanting to share their work with others because they see it as competition and Sharebility wants to break that selfishness so that such schools look at educating the nation and not just their school.
Mukalele adds the need to connect teachers to share teaching and learning content was what motivated him to create the Sharebility platform and they have successfully done this because they have formed a network of teachers of different subjects which has created a resource pool that supports their work.
“So far we have more than 1,000 registered users and we want to build a depository which can support all categories of teachers and learners so that this digital library can also support the traditional libraries in schools because we are moving towards digital learning,” he said.
The teachers on the platform are required to share content they have created by themselves and not copyrighted material without the consent of the owner. “We respect copyright because Sharebility is not supposed to infringe people’s copyright but when you look at most of the documents like pass papers, they are actually not copyrighted,” Mukalele said.
The platform is fast becoming popular among teachers and learners with over 8,000 page views per day and the feedback they have gotten so far has been amazing.
Mukalele now plans to make the platform a project and increase the quality of the content shared away from just crowd sourcing content from the public which has no quick guarantee of quality. “We are trying to engage some partners to be able to get some funding and train teachers about e learning and create content systematically class by class, make good quality video and audio recordings which can supplement what is being crowd sourced,”
The platform has picked up so much during the Covid-19 period as schools are closed and both parents and teachers are trying to find ways of still educating their children and there is a question whether it will still have the same impact when everything normalizes.
Mukalele however says that the platform will continue being impactful because the trend is now teaching with ICT and Sharebility is doing trainings and awareness workshops about digital teaching and content to teachers through the ICT Teachers Association of Uganda which so far has over 900 members where many of them are contributors to Sharebility.
The platform has also included a Sharebility shop where teachers who do not want to share freely can put their digital e-books for people to buy and they earn some income. Sharebility takes 10 per cent of the purchase and the author takes 90 per cent.
Advice to teachers
Mukalele says teachers should explore more avenues aside from classroom teaching that can help them raise side income.
“In this Covid-19 period, the easiest one is by leveraging the use of technology: smartphones, laptops and internet to digitize knowledge and create content that can be commercialized. Digital local content is on high demand especially during the current era of homeschooling and e-learning, and can be sold through several platforms online. Teachers can also venture into making booklets and text books which they can later on sell to students, first in their own schools and then later to other schools,” he says.
“There are also other low-capital ventures which only require vocational skills, such as offering website design services, which teachers do (especially fellow ICT teachers this is part of the topics we teach to students). I advise the teachers to pursue new skills which can add value to them and help this earn.”
Case for creativity
He adds that whereas it is not to diversify, there is no shortcut to innovation.
“I know some creative teachers that have started teaching children for a fee via tools like Zoom, WhatsApp, Google Classroom, YouTube and other platforms. For those with connectivity challenges, you can also use voice calls. For instance you can get three parents paying you some money to engage their children via phone calls.
The children already have notes and your job is to guide them into a deeper understanding of concepts, reviewing research, etc. If you do this at least thrice a week for each of the three students, that is Shs 90,000. This can help you raise some money off pocket.”