Following last week’s extension of the COVID-19 lockdown, Education and Sports Minister, Janet Kataaha Museveni announced a framework that her ministry had developed to enable the continuity of learning during the lockdown.
The new framework required that learners in primary and secondary schools be taught on radio and TV while those in tertiary institutions and universities do own reading and research during this time.
This was after Mrs. Museveni realized that her earlier program of reopening schools on April 27 would not be possible now that her husband, President Yoweri Museveni, had extended the lockdown period by another 21 days.
Several broadcasters have since taken up the initiative, hosting different teachers, especially in the morning, to teach the learners using their airwaves.
But there are mixed reactions among parents and educationists on the efficacy of teaching using digitally-based distance learning tools, as well as radio and television platforms, as encouraged under the Education ministry’s COVID-19 response plan.
Up to 15 million Ugandan learners are now seated at home. But nearly 90 percent of them do not have household computers or mobile phones and 82 percent are unable to get online. Several households, especially in rural areas do not have television sets or even electricity to power the gadgets, which leaves them with no options for learning outside the school set up.
Dr. Ahmed Kaweesa Sengendo, rector, Islamic University In Uganda (IUIU) but also an expert on instructional technology and pedagogy observes that radio and television teaching is a special mode of instruction that needs to have both the teachers and learners trained. However, in this case, none of the two has been trained and in end, they might misuse the technology and make it unproductive.
Joseph Kibirige, a resident of Kiwatule in Kampala, says his children are currently using the radio and television to study. However, Kibirige’s main worry has been on the effectiveness of television and radio in passing on the content to his primary seven pupils.
“I don’t know whether they are learning. Watching and listening is another thing but there is grasping the content. My main role is to ensure that they are watching as soon as the program starts and this has become a routine,” Kibirige said.
A check on several TV stations shows that the broadcasters are not following a similar script. Some stations are using whiteboards which make learners struggle to view the writings on the board. The camera angles are also not favourable because often, some content is outside the frame yet the teacher keeps making reference to them.
More critical is that most of the lessons conducted lack the feedback component, yet, according to Dr. Sengendo, feedback is so important in the teaching-learning process because it helps the teacher to assess whether learners are attentive and following.
“The kind of TV, radio teaching we have in Uganda is one way; it is from the teacher to the audience. There is no feedback and feedforward. Where you don’t have feedback and teach forward, the effectiveness is greatly compromised. Feedback and feedforward are critical in effective learning,” Dr. Ssengendo said.
Dr. Sengendo further observes that although educators, policymakers, and researchers all seem to agree on the potential of technology to have a significant and positive impact on education, the debate shifts to the precise role technology should play in education reform and how best to ensure that the potential is fulfilled.
Elizabeth Kisakye, a child psychologist, cites that attention is a key aspect that needs to be addressed. She notes that radio and television teachers and producers need to look for means of interesting the learners in the lesson so that they can follow through.
“The time in which these lessons are broadcasted matter a lot. Since learners are at home, morning hours are better for the lessons. Long narrations can be boring too. Among others but these are things which must be trained,” said Kisakye.
Parents, Kisakye says, need to create a conducive environment for the learners to concentrate, even within the home setting. She, however, advises that producers should not put much focus on academic work but also try to develop content for the affective domain.
The Commissioner for Basic Education, Dr. Tony Mukasa Lusambu notes that the idea was good, but questions the content that is being taught on some radio and television stations.
“Not everything in the syllabus can be taught using this means. Teachers need to select the content that is fitting for this specific method of teaching so that the rest can be handled during face to face sessions when the schools reopen,” Dr. Lusambu said.
This is not the first time television and radio stations are broadcasting lessons in Uganda, back in the 60s, Radio Uganda (now UBC) used to have teaching radio for a number of lessons more so for English language, civic education, and basic science. Many students at that time benefitted from the arrangement and learnt a lot.
However, Dr. Sengendo notes that the setting then was organized and learners had been availed with materials which they could use to follow.