By Raymond Baguma
AN international Netherlands-based non-governmental organisation (SNV) is to pilot the monitoring of teacher absenteeism in primary schools using an SMS-based service. The purpose is to improve management and accountability in primary schools.
The project dubbed, â€œcu@schoolâ€ will be piloted in Kiboga and Mbale districts.
The SNV Uganda senior education adviser, Kees de Graaf, recently said majority of schools in the country have teacher absenteeism rates of between 20% and 30%, which is one of the highest in the world.
Graaf said Nokia phones with java software enables the mobile phone to download information. Electronic forms designed in form of questionnaires will be filled by a person responsible within the selected schools such as a head teacher.
The questionnaire with a number of issues such as lessons taught will be filled and sent from the mobile phone to a computer database at the district headquarters, and a report immediately generated.
However, Graaf said the system requires a steady supply of electricity to function well. He said the project was not intended to witch hunt absent teachers but to gather data on teacher attendance and the causes of absenteeism which is vital in assisting policy makers to address problems affecting education in Uganda.
With the teacher wage bill taking up over 70% of the national primary school budget, teacher absenteeism is the largest financial drain in the primary education system.
The Uganda National Teachers Union recently blamed teacher absenteeism on failure to pay back loans from commercial banks and money lenders. James Tweheyo said teachers hide after failing to pay back the money they borrowed.
A 2008 UNESCO report on Uganda, published by the International Institute for Education Planning, says teachers affected by HIV/AIDS are likely to take increasing period of time off work, while others also absent themselves in order to look after sick family members.
A 2007 survey by International Development Consultants of 401 schools in Uganda showed a decline in teacher absenteeism from 25% in 2001 to 21% in 2005 and 2006.
However, there is no specific data available on the prevalence of teacher absenteeism in Kiboga and Mbale.
Pupils who attend school receive less teacher-learning time, which has led to low quality of education.
According to SNV, teacher absenteeism also drains the funding to Ugandaâ€™s education budget. A countrywide 20% reduction in teacher absenteeism would be the equivalent of hiring 5,000 more teachers thus saving public funds.
The scheme is to be implemented in partnership with Makerere Universityâ€™s Computer and IT department which has developed a platform called EpiHandy, which supports SMS-based data collection.
Data on teacher and pupil absenteeism will be captured from 100 schools in two districts that are to be enrolled under the pilot scheme.
â€œThe information will make the dynamics around teacher absenteeism transparent and inform district and sub-district government officials for appropriate short, medium and long term action,â€ said Graaf.
The project will be implemented in phases, following the primary school academic calendar. Feasibility and planning took place between January and April this year.
Between November and December 2009, the ICT system for data collection will be tested for efficacy in order to carry out any necessary modifications.
The actual pilot phase will be implemented between February and September, to cover the first and second terms in the forthcoming academic year for primary schools.