Investing in innovative education methods in Uganda

“We thank you for choosing Uganda, and in Uganda, Mugusu Primary School; this project has helped us in writing, vocabulary and speaking skills, which helped us in passing our exams.” – Primary Level 5 pupil.

Mugusu Primary School is located in the rural areas of Kabarole District, Western Uganda. The school was founded in 1936 and currently serves some 800 children in grades 1 to 7, about half of which are girls. Until 2013, the school did not have access to electricity. This is one of the three schools benefitting from an innovative project on digital storytelling for English language teaching funded by the Australia Awards Small Grants Scheme.

Wearing their neat uniforms, the children had prepared a warm celebration to welcome members of the Australia Awards team visiting their school on 16 July 2014. The team was greeted with sheer enthusiasm and festive traditional dances and songs.

Mugusu Primary School is a large structure, capable of accommodating the large number of children it serves, although it faces challenges, including a lack of adequate material for teaching and a high teacher:pupil ratio. In 2013, the school received a computer and, due to pressure put on the local authorities, electricity connection became a reality and transformed, to a certain extent, the way education was delivered at this school.

Computers for Schools Uganda (CfSU) has been working with primary and secondary schools, as well as Primary Teacher Colleges (PTCs) in the country on innovative methods of teaching and learning through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and creative teaching aids made of local materials.

Through Grace Baguma, a 2012 Australia Awards Fellowship recipient, CfSU received a grant to the amount of AUD9,255 to improve literacy levels in English language in primary schools through digital storytelling. Grace is a co-founder and board member of CfSU. The project benefited over 450 children from grades 4 to 6 (ages 9 to 11) in three schools, including Mugusu Primary School. Pupils produced the stories, with teacher supervision and parent involvement, and stories that were found suitable were digitised for the classroom teaching of English through the use of computers and innovative methods of teaching and learning.

English language teachers consulted by the Australia Awards team visiting Mugusu Primary School confirmed that the skills acquired and the ability to use digital stories in teaching have represented an important step forward in their ability to teach English more effectively.

“The digital storytelling methodology allows us to deliver an interactive lesson, where learners are never bored throughout the lesson. Even if it goes for an hour, you realise the learners will still be participating,” says a language teacher.

Teachers have also been able to facilitate the production and digitisation of stories on their own with the skills they have learned, and through the assistance of teacher champions whose capacity was built by the program to continue the effort post-funding.

Results have also been seen in the children. A cross-sectional evaluation conducted at project completion in December 2013 found that 75% of the pupils in the project schools had good writing skills compared to pupils in non-project schools (53%). Teachers spoke about improved attendance, attentiveness and overall better performance in English language reading, speaking, listening and comprehension among pupils.

Furthermore, the storytelling methodology was shared with two teachers’ training colleges in Uganda who were interested in incorporating it into the training of new teachers. This is a significant outcome that warrants further follow-up at a later stage.

Through the Small Grants Scheme, the Australian Government provides funding for initiatives led by Alumni with a clear development benefit. The Grant Scheme has funded 23 projects across Africa since 2012 to a total value of about AUD150,000 as of June 2014.

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