Three weeks in Uganda
On July 25, Gerry and I travelled to Uganda to facilitate workshops for 40 Ugandan educators on integrating technology into their curriculum and instruction. The workshops are part of the Curriculumnet project at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) in Uganda. The International Development Research Centre, the Open Learning and Information Network and the School of Continuing Education provided support for the initiative. The experience was humbling yet exhilarating, leaving us with a great appreciation for our hosts and the challenges they have set for themselves.
Our first stop was London where we were to stay 36 hours before departing for Niarobi. Friday night (July 27) found us at Heathrow once again to catch our flight. By 8 a.m. the next day we had crossed the equator and were preparing to land at Nairobi. Then a quick flight to Entebbe where we met our Ugandan hosts and left for the Kampala Sheraton, our home for the next three weeks.
By Tuesday, July 31, our workshop was well underway, having completed the first two days of training. Communication proved more difficult than I had imagined. I had not considered the potency of our accents, both theirs and ours. But, we worked on it diligently and made considerable headway as the week progressed.
The workshop was held at the NCDC in Kampala. The centres computer facility housed 12 computers of mixed vintage. The 40 participants working with us for the first week had to sit on occasion, four and five to a computer. Despite the crowded surroundings we covered basic computer skills, such as file management, word processing, presentation software and spreadsheets. We also discussed learning theory, integrating information and communication technology into their instruction, school wide technology planning, and creating and maintaining online learning communities.
For many of the participants, it was the first time they had sat in front of a computer and they impressed both Gerry and I with their approach to the work. We have rarely dealt with a group who took on a new computing experience with such zeal. We had a difficult time getting them to leave the computers for breaks. They were persistent, focused, and eager to explore the potential of the software.
Friday of our first week marked the end of the workshop for 24 of the participants. Sixteen others remained for the next two weeks to work on curriculum development projects in four areas: primary social studies and mathematics, and secondary geography and mathematics. Our hosts were anxious to mark the occasion and planned a brief ceremony on Friday afternoon to signal the end of the first session and open the next.
Week two of the workshop found us back at the NCDC working with 16 participants on instructional design and media production. I covered the basic components of the instructional design process, dealing specifically with how the process related to their context. Gerry took them through a grueling course in HTML. Again, the participants took to their work with impressive enthusiasm.
By the third week, the participants were ready to start creating content to share with their colleagues via a Web site that is to be one of the products of the project. On Monday morning we worked out a plan for the site and started creating content for it that afternoon. By Friday, we had a site that we could demonstrate for the Secretary of State for Education and Sport who attended the closing ceremonies that afternoon.
Our weekends were also well planned.
On the Saturday morning between week one and two, we met with the
staff of the project to discuss the sessions of the first week and
plan the next. On Sunday we were taken to the source of the Nile,
which is in Jinja, a city of 500,000 about 80 kilometres east of Kampala.
The Ugandan countryside that we saw along the way was an impressive
array of things that grow. The second most important natural resource
in Uganda, after the people, is the ground they walk on. The soil
is good and the variety of crops grown in this country is amazing.
I have never seen so many versions of green. But the lush rolling
hills hide some difficult living conditions. Many of the people in
rural Uganda are poor, surviving on subsistence farming. But progress
is being made and the prognosis is hopeful.
The next weekend found us at the
Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe. The centre is home to a number
of indigenous species that have been rescued from poachers and traffickers
Ugandans have had difficult times since they gained their independence from Britain in 1962. They are currently working diligently to build their society and create a viable economy. The complexity of the task that they face is staggering and universal education for its citizens is only one part of the solution, but a very important part and a very good place to start. I could not help but be impressed by the courage and determination of the educators that we met, and humbled by their energy and diligence as they worked to improve their school system. I hope that in some small way, we were able to help them along their journey.