ICT for Teacher Professional Development in Uganda – Findings from an Impact and Scalability Assessment

At the request of the Ministry of Education and Sports of Uganda, USAID funded an impact and scalability assessment of ICT for teacher professional development” under the dot-EDU Leader Award managed by the Education Development Center (EDC).

This assessment, which took place in June 2006 and was conducted by Barbara Fillip of AED, covered two key questions:
  • Does information and communication technology (ICT) make a difference in terms of the quality of education provided at the PTCs? In other words, what is the impact of ICT on the quality of teacher professional development?

  • What lessons have been learned that would be relevant in the context of a potential scaling up of the ICT activities?
To understand the relevance of these two questions, one must look at the current status of primary education in Uganda and the extent to which the Ministry of Education and Sport and donors have experimented with and tested the use of information and communication technologies as a means to strengthen teacher education.

Primary Education in Uganda
Almost ten years ago, Uganda launched the Universal Primary Education Policy that resulted in a doubling of enrollment rates and provided critical access to basic education for all in Uganda. This influx of schoolchildren has put enormous pressures on the education system. In order for all Ugandan children to achieve proficiency in numeracy, literacy, and basic life skills – the key components of basic education – the quality of teaching and capacity of teachers plays a significant role. Primary school teachers are trained in 47 Primary Teachers’ Colleges (PTCs) spread throughout the country. They are trained by tutors who have themselves received their training from Kyambogo University in Kampala. In addition to its responsibility for training tutors, Kyambogo University is responsible for the development of the primary school curriculum.

ICT in Support of Teacher Education
To complement large scale educational reform projects such as TDMS, UPHOLD and BEPs, the Ministry of Education and Sports of Uganda and several donors began exploring new means of supporting teacher training by using information and communication technologies (ICT). Specific initiatives to use ICT in support of teacher professional development have included USAID’s Connect-ED I and Connect-ED II projects, Irish Aid’s support for the Canon Apolo Primary Teachers’ College (PTC), and the Rockefeller Foundation’s support to two other PTCs. These initiatives have targeted tutors, future teachers, and Kyambogo University itself.

Assessment Methodology
The assessment covered a sample of 16 PTCs – out of the 47 PTCs spread across the country. The initial approach called for a sample of PTCs that would 1) represent all four regions of the country; and 2) cover both PTCs with computer labs and PTCs without computer labs; and 3) cover a range of PTCs with labs that used different approaches – and had been supported by different donors.

The assessment team met with key stakeholders at the Ministry of Education and Sports, USAID and Kyambogo University. In addition, the assessment team visited the 16 selected PTCs to conduct surveys of tutors and students, to interview principals and/or deputy principals; and to visit the computer labs and interview the lab managers – where there are labs.

Findings Regarding Impacts
Computer labs are making a difference….
There are very clear differences across PTCs between those PTCs with a computer lab and those PTCs without a lab. More specifically, the computer labs have had a positive impact in terms of (i) awareness of ICT and their potential in teaching and learning; (ii) access to ICT for both tutors and students; (iii) basic ICT skills among tutors and students. All these are critical proxy variables that would indicate progress towards the goal of using ICT to improve the quality of teacher professional development.

… yet, the assessment team was not able to document the impact of ICT on student performance.
On the other hand, the assessment team was not able to detect the impact of ICT on student performance. Readily available measures of student performance such as the percentage pass rate at the PTC level, and the ranking of PTCs based on student performance did not yield the answers the team was looking for. The analysis does not imply that ICT have not had ANY impact on the quality of teacher education but rather that 1) other – non-ICT-related factors may have had a greater impact on student performance – at least in the past few years; and 2) there is a need to improve methodologies for assessing the impact of ICT on the quality of teacher education.

Still, the principals, tutors, and students are quite convinced of the benefits of ICT….
Notwithstanding the absence of conclusive data on the impact of ICT on the quality of teacher education, there is a strong perception, even a strong conviction among principals that computer labs have a positive impact on student performance and learning. PTCs without labs have been complaining that they are at an unfair disadvantage and that they are not being given the necessary tools to properly train the teachers of the future.

… and quite aware of the challenges they face in transforming potential impact into demonstrable impact on the quality of teacher education.
Even with improved methodologies for measuring the impact of ICTs on the quality of teaching, it would not be surprising to find limited impacts – at this point in time. The assessment documented five core constraints facing PTCs with computer labs:
  • High student per computer ratio (resulting in ½ to 1 hour at the computer for each student per week);
  • Power failures limiting the lab’s availability for both training and free access;
  • Limited “ICT integration skills” of both tutors and students;
  • Lack of full-time staff to manage the computer labs and provide ICT training;
  • Short timeframe for impacts to occur: most of the computer labs have been operational for a couple of years, at best, and eight of them have had to graduate from their donor-funded project status when the Connect-ED II project ended in 2005.

In order to maximize impact, the constraints mentioned just above need to be addressed. In particular, to maximize impacts on student performance, it is essential that the impacts reach the classroom. While a significant percentage of students and tutors have acquired basic ICT skills, these are insufficient for either to have a significant impact on teaching practice and on learning. The tutors’ role, in particular, is critical in ensuring this classroom level impact. A lot remains to be done to better integrate ICT within the curriculum and within the teaching practice of tutors and future students.

Findings Regarding Scalability
A key element of scaling up is to moving forward with increased access…
As of the current academic term (June 2006), PTCs are allowed to charge students an ICT fee. The student fee policy, allowing all PTCs to charge a 30,000 Ug.Sh. (Ugandan Shillings) ICT fee per student per term is a big step forward towards ensuring the sustainability of existing computer labs and a prerequisite for expansion.

Without such a policy, the PTCs with labs had been exploring strategies to collect revenues by selling services to the community. While these strategies may still have some value, especially in terms of providing ICT training to the community – during holidays --, it is unlikely that they would have been sufficient to allow PTCs to cover their computer lab expenses.

For PTCs without labs, the ability to charge a student fee (beginning with the current academic term) is providing incentives for the principals to purchase computer equipment and start setting up computer labs on their own. However, the fee was calculated based on what would be needed to sustain an existing lab. PTCs without will face a long struggle to build their labs by relying entirely on student fees.

… yet access will not do much without appropriate organizational structures at the national level…
The key challenge in scaling up is not necessarily the most obvious. Yes, scaling up involves providing more computers to more PTCs. As importantly, however, scaling up involves setting up an organizational infrastructure to support such an increase in the number of PTCs with labs. The “pilot” phase, supported by donors, was project-based. This type of structure will not be appropriate for a scale up initiative. This is not to say that donors cannot or should not support a scale up initiative but rather that a unit within Kyambogo University’s Department of Teacher Education needs to be established so that donor support can be channeled to the PTCs within the framework of a coherent, national scale up.

… and positive impacts will not materialize without skills building and the integration of ICT in the PTCs’ curriculum.
The PTCs with labs have been facing the challenge of building up the ICT skills of students and tutors for the past few years. Training manuals were developed, workshops were held. A lot was learned that will be useful in scaling up ICT skills building to all the PTCs as they start establishing their labs. A key lesson is that while basic ICT skills are a prerequisite for meaningful access to ICT, going beyond “basic ICT skills” and towards “ICT integration skills” is critical to ensure an impact on the quality of learning and teaching. Looking at the total number of tutors across the country and the total number of PTC students to be trained, the challenges ahead are not to be underestimated.

The data collected through this assessment suggests that both the quality and quantity of training provided deserve increased attention.

Currently, there is no standard ICT curriculum for use by all the PTCs and ICT is not an examinable subject. If ICT is to be fully integrated within the PTCs, a standard curriculum – for tutors and for students alike – will need to be developed. To ensure that ICT is fully integrated into the PTCs’ timetable, it also needs to become an examinable subject.

The assessment team started its work expecting to analyze differences between PTCs with labs and PTCs without labs and based on that analysis, to be able to make a recommendation regarding scaling up. In simplistic terms, either the labs have no impact and a scale up is not to be recommended or the labs have a positive impact and a scale up is to be recommended.

The situation encountered by the assessment team, however, changed the nature of the analysis to some extent. There is no turning back. Scaling up is happening. It is happening because of the Government’s decision to allow ALL the PTCs – not just PTCs with existing labs - to charge students an ICT fee.

The challenge for the Ministry of Education and Sports and donors is not whether to scale up or not – as the decision to move forward was implied in the decision to allow PTCs to charge a student fee – but HOW to best move forward with the integration of ICT within PTCs. Such integration should look not only at issues related to scaling up and increasing impact by increasing the reach of ICT to include all PTCs, but also at maximizing impact by improving the depth of such impacts on educational outcomes.

For additional information, read the full report.

For More Information, Contact:
Barbara Fillip
Evaluation & Communication Specialist, DOT-COM
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884-8003

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