Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) is to equip about 200 schools with computer laboratories as part of an effort to improve learning facilities for science subjects in rural schools.The project is funded by UCC’s Rural Communication Development Fund (RCDF). RCDF aims at making basic communications services accessible to Ugandans in the whole country.
The Ministry of Education and Sports has previously blamed lack of laboratories for the poor performance of students in science subjects during national examinations.
With standard laboratories for schools powered by grid power and solar energy, UCC hopes that rural schools can finally match their counterparts in urban areas, at least in the ICT area.
The first phase of the RCDF saw 106 government secondary schools get computer labs in 2008. Another 100 will benefit from the project soon.
The labs offer general-purpose packages such as Ms Office and Internet connection. The lab servers are also capable of offering resource portals (gateway) to past papers, science virtual laboratories, and e-learning.
Virtual labs are equivalent to the physical ones, a true redeemer for the rural schools. However, education experts warn that the virtual labs should only be used to supplement physical ones.
“These virtual science labs should only be supplementary to the physical labs and we don’t advise any school to rely on them entirely,” says Daniel Kakinda, a training director with SchoolNet, an education information resource firm. However, he is quick to add: “Mind you, young people love technology, so these virtual labs can actually boost their interest in science subjects.”
Alintuma Nsambu, the minister of state for ICT, said during a stakeholders’ workshop held at Nile Resort, Jinja, last week that “this is just to wake you up and show you that you can use ICT as an important tool in education. It is the time to invest in technology and assimilate everything you teach into these labs.”
He advised that private schools should realise that if they do not invest in ICT, the government rural schools could overtake them.
Each beneficiary school is to receive 10 computers and UCC intends to roll out the programme to all schools by 2014. Schools that benefited from phase I include among others Abim S.S (Abim district), Kamonkole College (Budaka district), San Giovanni S.S (Kanungu).
Those under phase II include Otumbari S.S (Maracha), Akokoro S.S (Apac), and Kasana S.S & Voc. School (Mukono) among others. They were selected under the criterion basing on high girl-boy ratio, schools with the most disabilities, and schools with the biggest enrolments among others.
RCDF has also set up 2,420 public pay phones at parish levels, 16 multipurpose community tele-centres, 102 ICT training centres, and 43 healthcare ICT facilities to improve doctors’ diagnosis. The Fund, which started in 2001, has telecommunication companies as its leading contributors—remitting 1% of their gross revenue to UCC annually.