Gov’t Rolls Out New Inspection Tool to Curb Teacher Absenteeism

The Ministry of Education in Uganda has announced the rollout of a new smartphone-based inspection tool to curb the systematic absenteeism of headteachers and teachers in public schools.

Ketty Lamaro, the Permanent Secretary of the education ministry says that leveraging technology, the new tool named “Teachers Effectiveness and Learner Achievement,” TELA, is expected to provide real-time information and a clear picture of what is happening at schools.

The time-on-task Performance Management System is designed to monitor the real-time attendance of teachers and headteachers using a smartphone with Global Positioning System and Biometric features.

Lamaro says that in addition to tracking absenteeism at school, the system will also be used to track timetable implementation as it will be sharing information on which lesson is being taught at every particular school.

Teacher absenteeism continues to pose a significant challenge to the education sector. For instance, several studies have attributed this factor as one of the highest contributors to lower learning outcomes in public schools in Uganda.

According to established standards, teachers are required to be present at school from 8 to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays, whether they have a lesson scheduled or not. However, many teachers don’t heed to this with some appearing as and when they have lessons to teach while others don’t show up completely.  

The current inspection system, which relies on the School Management Committee and head teacher as the primary inspectors, has been deemed ineffective by experts. This is due to the fact that even head teachers have been known to have poor attendance at schools.

To Frances Atima, the Director in Charge of Education Standards and Quality Assurance at the education ministry, the new system will be a game changer since it is geared towards awakening the school-based inspector layers which is more critical than the external inspection.

“Before we talk about the Inspectors of Schools, there should be a strong school-based inspection. We have seen this system working in private schools. why not public schools,” the director notes, adding that every public school will have received a smartphone for this purpose before the end of March, this year.

How Does TELA Work? 

Atima explains that on getting the TELA-powered smartphone, head teachers will be required to enrol the facial features and fingerprints of the confirmed teachers and also upload the school’s timetables in the system.  According to her, every morning each teacher is expected to register his presence and the system will use the face recognition system to clock him in. The same will be done at the time of exit.

The explanation means the system will be replacing the attendance book. It is said that the book has been abused as many teachers have beenmanipulating attendance records to reflect a higher attendance rate or to cover up their own absences.

Atima adds that after signing in, the system will be displaying the specific teacher’s lesson for the day. She adds that when the teaching time begins, the head teacher as the first supervisor would be required to visit each class to upload on the system which lessons are in progress in the classes.

“The system is based on GPS. We can determine that someone is physically visiting classrooms or inputting information from a stationary location. This serves to prompt the head teachers to fulfil their responsibilities,” she states.

As lessons typically last an average of 40 minutes, this means that the system will be updated every 40 minutes.

Education specialists are sceptical

Education consultant Patrick Kaboyo says that while the new tool is appreciated, it will not solve the issues and gaps caused by the absence of inspections in schools. According to him, there is a need to first empower learners, parents, and the community to become part of the initial inspection process before incorporating technology.

Kaboyo also reminds the government that many schools are not connected to electricity, which could be a challenge for smartphones, not to mention the poor internet coverage in rural areas which poses a significant problem.

However, Atima notes that the ministry is in discussions with telecom companies to find solutions for areas that are not connected. She states that this will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Filbert Baguma, the General Secretary of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union expresses scepticism towards the tool. Baguma says that unless the government addresses the root causes of teacher absenteeism, all other interventions might end up as another failed project. He believes that the government is misaligned in its priorities.

Baguma also notes that while the new intervention may result in having teachers at school, it could be equally problematic as they may appear to be teaching while they are not actually doing so.

William Bwambale, the Chairperson of Headteachers in Wakiso District, believes that the ministry may be rushing the implementation of the new technology. According to him, given the limited finances, the government should focus on strengthening physical inspections instead.

Atima reiterates that the new tool is not intended to replace physical inspections and that the data it generates will not be used as the sole basis for decisions. Instead, it will serve as a guide for inspectors and if a teacher is found to be absent, they will be required to provide an explanation before any action is taken.

The system in question was pilot tested in 2019 in approximately ten districts in eastern Uganda, covering over 920 primary schools in the region. The ministry had planned to roll out the system but it was put on hold as one of the unfunded priorities as the 5.2 billion required was not allocated at that time.    

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