Gov’t Advised to Roll Out Digital Learning Programme to Address Literacy, Numeracy Skills

The Ministry of Education and Sports has been advised to roll out the “Can’t-Wait to Learn” initiative across the country to address the inadequate literacy and numeracy skills prevalent among learners, particularly in lower primary classes.

“Can’t-Wait to Learn’ is a digital learning program where educational content is customized into games and uploaded onto tablets that are given to learners to develop their competencies. The initiative launched by War Child Holland was first piloted at Nalongo Primary School in Luwero district in 2020 and was subsequently extended to support learners in the refugee hosting districts of Arua, Moyo, Yumbe, Kyegegwa, and Kikuube.

The initiative was later introduced to over 30 schools in Isingiro district where it has attracted widespread attention from various stakeholders, including education authorities, teachers, and students, who are all speaking highly of its positive impact.

Joveline Nashamire, a teacher at Kaberebere Primary School in Isingiro, says that previously many learners in her primary three class struggled with reading, writing, and fundamental math concepts. However, the outcomes have since changed significantly.

Fifteen-year-old Mariam Katushabe, a pupil at Kaberere Primary School, is among those who have benefited from the initiative. Katushabe, a primary three pupil, had challenges in acquiring fundamental skills like reading, writing, and basic counting. Nonetheless, her story has taken a remarkable turn since the implementation of the interactive digital learning approach in her school.

Katushabe herself acknowledges that this method of learning has not only facilitated her education but has also reignited her enthusiasm for remaining in school, as she now believes in her ability to learn.

Doreen Nakato, education officer at War Child, says, the tablets come with preinstalled content designed based on the Ugandan curriculum and can be used without an internet connection. She emphasizes that these tablets are exclusively intended for educational use and cannot serve any other function.

Nakato further explains that the initiative is not intended to substitute teachers but rather to complement their role. The tablets have the capability to adapt to each learner’s level, aiding teachers in swiftly identifying individual learning requirements.

In 2022 the Global Partnership in Education through the Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) program embarked on a research endeavor aimed at assessing the efficacy of the “Can’t-Wait” program. This research was conducted across 30 public schools in Isingiro District, involving a total of 1500 learners.

During the research, the ‘Can’t-Wait to Learn’ program was introduced in half of the schools, replacing a quarter of teacher-led English and math lessons, and adding an extra 1-2 hours per week to the intervention group’s schedule. In the remaining half of the schools, children received standard teacher-led education.

Jasmine Turner, a researcher, says that during their study they found out that prior to the Can’t-Wait initiative, there was a prevalent issue of foundational learning gaps for numeracy and literacy children, ultimately impacting the learning outcomes.

Their observation is not far away from the finding of the national wide survey carried out by Uwezo Uganda, in its ninth national Learning Assessment Report dubbed Are our children learning.

The survey carried out before covid19 indicated that a staggering 50.7 percent of children who were in primary three could not identify letters of the alphabet and therefore are categorized as non-readers, while 31.3 percent of the same group of learners could not attempt simple numeracy tasks.

However, Turner says that after the introduction of the “Can’t-Wait”, imitative learners who were part of the intervention groups showed significantly greater improvements in reading skills compared to those who received standard education.

“Additionally, we found that ‘Can’t-Wait to Learn’ learners made larger gains in fundamental numeracy, especially in terms of number identification, quantity and discrimination, operations, and word problems. The gains in numeracy are larger than the average found in a systematic review of technology-based programs in low and middle-income countries,” she says.

Nashamire says that in addition to the quantifiable improvements in learning outcomes, the initiative has also significantly diminished student absenteeism and bolstered school retention rates. She underscores that prior to the implementation of the program in their school, nearly half of the students were frequently absent on various days, with Mondays being particularly problematic due to the local market day.

However, this situation has transformed. The utilization of tablet-based gamified learning has resulted in a noticeable shift, as students now consistently display eagerness to attend school.

The enthusiasm surrounding learning through tablets remains undeniable. Our reporter had the opportunity to directly observe students engaged in using these devices, which featured educational content presented in a gamified format. These students were actively applying tablet-based tools to tackle subjects such as reading, including phonetics, and mathematics.

Anis Parwez, the Country Director of War Child Holland, recommends that given the observed outcomes and benefits of the initiative, it would be beneficial for the Ministry of Education to consider adopting and rolling out the program.

Parwez emphasizes that since the content is already developed and accessible, the government could initiate a gradual approach by introducing the initiative in crucial regions marked by inadequate educational progress. These areas include communities hosting refugees and geographically isolated, hard-to-reach locations.

In Isingiro, War Child Holland has successfully transferred the project to the district, involving 30 schools. The primary concern now centers on sustainability, given the common trend of such initiatives discontinuing when external funding ceases.

Alone Turahi, the Isingiro LCV Chairperson, affirms their dedication to ensuring the tablets remain operational in the recipient schools. They aim to initiate a gradual expansion, starting with schools that have access to essential electricity for charging.

Dr Joyce Kaducu, the minister in charge of primary education, says that to uphold the progress achieved the ministry has taken steps to ensure the continuity of the “Can’t Wait to Learn” initiative in Isingiro schools including allocation of grants to the benefiting schools.

“We shall maintain the investment in these schools through the annual school grants to cover costs of wear and tear, support supervision by the district education department, safeguard the solar charging systems, tablet, and its accessories, and maintain the trained teachers in the intervention schools for sustainability,” Kaducu adds.

Ismael Mulindwa, the acting Permanent Secretary, also says that the ministry is actively striving to incorporate ICT into education. He mentioned that they have formulated a digital agenda, which is currently awaiting approval.

He further stated that the ministry has initiated a pilot project where the “Can’t-Wait to Learn” initiative has been introduced into teacher training institutions, specifically at Arua Core PTC and Bishop Stuart Core PTC.  The aim is to equip teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively support learners.

“In order to bring the relevant actors together to propel the digital agenda in education, a task team has been initiated. The task team is working towards harmonization of digital innovations for integration into the education policy framework,” Mulindwa said.

This progress unfolds amidst the backdrop of the United Nations report titled “Technology in Education: A Tool On Whose Terms,” which includes recommendations such as the prohibition of devices like smartphones and tablets in schools across the world.

The report underscores the importance of adopting a “human-centered vision,” in which digital technology functions as a supplementary tool rather than overshadowing core educational elements. It urges nations to exercise caution in their implementation of technology in educational settings.

The report further contends that while the potential for technology to enhance learning outcomes and economic efficiency exist, such benefits may sometimes be exaggerated and that new is not always better.

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