Digital Education Hindered by Limited Internet Reach

Challenges in Internet Access Impede ICT Education Efforts
PHOTO - Courtesy - Challenges in Internet Access Impede ICT Education Efforts
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In a recent event named the Uganda Internet Governance Forum 2023, representatives from Enabel, the Ministry of ICT, and the Internet Society Uganda Chapter came together to launch the Digital Rights for Girls and Women project. This initiative aims to empower individuals to utilize the opportunities offered by the internet. The event took place on August 24 at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. The rapid advancement of technology and the far-reaching impact of the internet on various aspects of life were discussed during the forum.

The global influence of the internet has brought about significant changes in how we live, communicate, and conduct business. Its seamless connectivity transcends geographical boundaries, fostering connections between people, ideas, and cultures around the world. As technological progress continues to shape economies, societies, and nations, the digital realm plays a pivotal role in driving transformative changes.

During the Uganda Internet Governance Forum 2023, Mr. Tom Vanneste, the resident representative of Enabel Uganda, shed light on a noteworthy challenge. He pointed out that despite generous computer donations to schools, the limited penetration of internet connectivity has hindered their effective utilization. These donated computers have often ended up as mere showcases rather than learning tools due to the absence of adequate internet access.

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Mr. Vanneste stressed the importance of not only providing devices but also focusing on raising awareness, providing access to internet-enabled devices, and facilitating internet connectivity. He emphasized the need to equip learners, educators, and administrators with the necessary skills to make optimal use of these resources. Furthermore, he highlighted the issues of inadequate instructional content, lack of instructors, and the financial burden associated with device maintenance and internet connectivity.

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A significant announcement during the event was the launch of the Digital Rights for Girls and Women project by Enabel. This project targets various regions of Uganda, including North, Eastern Uganda, Karamoja, Central, the Rwenzori, and Albertine regions. The project aims to empower individuals, particularly girls and women, to harness the potential of the internet for their personal and professional growth.

Shirley Gladys Nakyejwe, the senior ICT officer and intellectual property management specialist at the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, emphasized the importance of empowering the younger generation with digital skills. She highlighted how digital skills not only enhance their potential but also provide avenues to address youth unemployment.

Ms. Nakyejwe noted that ICT’s contribution to Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) exceeds nine percent, underscoring its economic significance. She attributed this growth to government and private sector initiatives aimed at expanding infrastructure coverage and developing electronic services.

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The National Planning Authority (NPA) reported a steady growth rate of 14.8 percent in information and communication services. However, there is room for further growth, particularly in computer programming and the ICT trade and manufacturing sectors.

Gloria Katuuku, the manager of planning strategy and performance at NITA-U, shared the government’s efforts to enhance digital inclusion. She mentioned the National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) project that focuses on bridging the digital divide through affordable internet connectivity. She highlighted the availability of online government services through the UG-Hub and the government’s commitment to extending internet access to remote areas.

Legislation regarding online privacy and security was also discussed during the event. Joshua Mpairwe, the president of the Internet Society Uganda Chapter, highlighted the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019 and the Computer Misuse Act 2022 as regulatory measures to ensure online security. He stressed the importance of educating young people about cybersecurity threats and the responsible use of technology.

Innocent Adriko, the coordinator of the Uganda Youth Internet Governance Forum, expressed concerns about the slow integration of artificial intelligence (AI) education in learning institutions. He also noted the challenges universities face in fully adopting online teaching methods.

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In times of crisis, digital technologies have proven to be essential for maintaining business continuity and community interactions. The internet’s role as a lifeline, especially evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, underscores the necessity of affordable and accessible internet connectivity. It is crucial to address cybersecurity challenges and shape the future of the internet for sustained growth.

Recently, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance introduced the Digital Transformation Roadmap of Uganda. This comprehensive roadmap spans five years and aligns with the Digital Uganda Vision 2040. The plan encompasses five key pillars: digital infrastructure and connectivity, transformative government-citizen interactions through digital services, cybersecurity and data protection, equipping citizens with digital skills, and fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.

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