Education

eLearning Africa, 2014. Welcome to Uganda!

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This week, #ela14 takes place at the fancied Munyonyo Resort, 12km south east of downtown Kampala. eLearning Africa is the largest gathering of elearning and ICT supported education professionals on the continent. And it happens annually. I attended Cotonou 2 years ago and Dar es Salaam prior to that. I can confirm that if elearning, online learning and ICTs for education interest you, this is a great place to be. So lets examine a little what kind of Ugandans would attend elearning africa – Teachers of ICTs, University ICT departments, elearning Service Providers, Policy makers from the Ministry of Education, and a ton of exhibitionists – software vendors, technology vendors and as always, a number of schools looking to attract support from represented donor agencies. The potential to network gainfully is enormous, as this conference averages 1400 professionals over 3 days!

 

Last year in Windhoek, Namibia, 86% of the participants came from African countries. It is not clear how many came from within Namibia. That would be an interesting statistic, because as the ICT Association of Uganda has already lamented, the conference fees for the category ‘African Nationals based in Africa’, stands at €380 (an equivalent of Ushs 1,350,000 – One Million Three Hundred Fifty Thousand Shillings.) To get the context right, this figure represents about 4 times the net salary of a primary school teacher, and about the gross salary of a university teaching assistant! 

I have had the honor of serving in a senior management position at a university, and facing the National Council of Higher Education. Particularly, my interest was tweaked when an NCHE representative asked the University to guarantee that elearning students would access their courses – either by providing internet access to the hosted learning materials and/or providing the means (read gadgets) for the students. Access to the internet remains a critical factor in any online and elearning venture. 3 years later, I am happy to note that overall access to the internet in Uganda has increased – but that is to the outside. It is still not clear what the national policy for elearning is – I hope this conference will bring us to the table.

Within Uganda, one of the hugest drivers for elearning will be the Research and Education Network for Uganda – RENU. Over the last 8 years, RENU has gone from a concept on paper to become a driving force in promoting research collaboration between institutions of higher learning in Uganda and beyond. Through its mission, RENU hopes to promote knowledge creation and sharing amongst scholars and researchers through the provision of advanced network services. The realisation of RENU’s vision and mission is closely intertwined with elearning and online learning. RENU seeks not to create superstars, but a network of like minded centres of excellence in research and education. 

Online learning (and indeed, some aspects of  elearning) present a new problem for our age-old standards. MIT, Harvard and Berkeley have Free Online Courses -the question is, and appropriately for this day and age,if i covered 15 online courses, from various providers, totaling enough credits for a degree, would I be awarded?

Is the Uganda National Examinations Board (as well as the National Council for Higher Education) ready to accredit and honor hours spent learning online?

I have also scoured the Uganda Ministry of Education website for any policy documentation on elearning and i did not find any. Does that explain why the chief hosts are the ministry of ICT and the Uganda Communications Commission? I appreciate, the role of technology in elearning but i also sense that the leading policy body for education, at an event hosted by the ‘Government of Uganda’ – the Ministry of Education is on a long leash.

This year’s theme, ‘Opening Frontiers to the Future’, is one that calls to mind, what we would like elearning and online learning to be like – when our children’s children go to school. Uganda – what is your frontier to the future of elearning?

I (could) Own You

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Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan once said, “…health will finally be seen not as a blessing to be wished for, but as a human right to be fought for ”

The United States Supreme Court has started hearing a case that highlights the role of Intellectual Property Rights for Health and Human Rights. The big issue?  Can human genes – yours and mine – be patented? In lay man’s language, can and should an individual be permitted to own the right to 1,or 2 or even 3 of the building blocks of the human gene? Or can an innovative doctor or lab researcher be given permission to own the right, say, to test whether you have a set of genes that imply a higher than 50% probability of developing breast cancer?
If you are new to the world of Intellectual Properties, perhaps its as clear a NO as the noon-day sun. I cannot own your genes…right?

A Medical Research company might own, at most, the intellectual property underlying its genetic test; and, because the research and development needed to develop the test may have cost a considerable amount, the firm might rightly charge for administering it. That seems fair, right?

Intellectual Property Rights are rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her inventive creation (literary and artistic works, Symbols, Names, Images, Designs) for a certain period of time, usually as a bargain that the outcomes of the rights will benefit society.

But a Utah-based company, Myriad Genetics,  now intends to claim more than just the tests they helped to discover – they now claim to own the rights to any test for the presence of the two critical genes associated with breast cancer – and have every intention of ruthlessly enforcing these rights. A similar, and more advanced test for Breast Cancer genes was developed by Yale University, who are also willing to share this at a  much lower cost.

We need to appreciate advances in Medicine, and the fact that these come from men and women who spend hundreds of hours in research labs, testing and pivoting their results, to perfection. We need them to be thorough, so that when their inventions are out of the test-tube, they can save life! Companies like Myriad wish to block advances in testing by other researchers  in a bid to protect their rights to the tests, and as such with every passing day, another life will be lost for lack of a perfected, cheaper test for Breast Cancer, HIV, Malaria, you name it. The desire to protect rights is now the cause of the very lives it intended to enrich when Myriad first went into the Lab.

How did we end up here? Well, Uganda has been a member of the WTO since 1 Jan 1995, See our FootPrint. In effect this means that we comply with the rules of the World Trade Organization, part of which are Intellectual Property Rights, and most recently, Trade Related Aspects of IPRs (a.k.a The TRIPS Agreement – Full Text for the legalese, and FAQs)

So why the fuss about your genes? Well, you see, its important and only fair to reward innovation – and Patents, Industrial designs, Trademarks, Geographical Indications, Trade Secrets, Copyrights (For works of Art), Sui Generis Systems (for Electronics like Integrated Circuits) and Plant Breeders’ rights – are all valid and proper ways to recognize and reward such innovation. But there must be a line between your innovation and how it can actually be used by the society.

The reason India remains a supplier of most medicines is that in their Patents Act, 1970 (For pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals): You can not receive Patent Protection for a product – only the process! And the maximum term? 7 years – that’s why their prices are the lowest in the world and they continue to supply generic drugs to a lot of nations. To this day, they protect the social benefits ahead of anything else – See Recent Supreme Court Ruling

That is an example of a trade off that is instituted by the law – such a trade off appears to make for weaker Intellectual Property Rights,  BUT, ensures better social benefits for the billions of earthlings able to access Indian manufactured drugs. In the Myriad case, there is already a globally funded Human Genome Project, and Researchers like Myriad benefit from the knowledge arising out of such “public good” only to run around and arm-twist us into awarding them more protection in patents.

Perhaps a worse problem is that in developing countries and LDCs, most patent holders are foreigners which means what is being protected is foreign owned property. For example, 91% of patents granted in Malaysia in 2008 were to foreigners and this trend has been constant. Between 1991 and 2004 only 20 patents were granted to applicants from LDCs (compared to 1.8 million patents granted to developed countries).

So is the current patent system good? Bad? Terrible? Does it actually encourage or stifle innovation? In Flash of Genius, 2008, the professor who sues FORD for infringing on his Intellectual Properties in the design of that all important car wiper, defended himself using this analogy: That whereas Shakespeare did not invent the English language, nor the words of the English language, not even the alphabet, his works cannot be claimed by anyone in the world – its to his credit that he arranged the letters of words, in some of the world’s most famous prose!

So why does Myriad want to patent my genes? Am almost certain Myriad did not invent the technologies used to analyze the genes, and even doubly sure, that had these technologies been patented themselves, Myriad might not have made its discoveries. But most importantly, if Myriad wins this case, how else will other researchers be able to use the “public knowledge” therein to develop better and more accurate tests? What future does such a landmark case secure? Moreover, what future does it guarantee for Least Developing Countries?

All research is based on prior research. A poorly designed patent system – like the one we have now – can inhibit follow-on research. That is why we do not allow patents for basic insights in mathematics. And it is why research shows that patenting genes actually reduces the production of new knowledge about genes: the most important input in the production of new knowledge is prior knowledge, to which patents inhibit access.

Fortunately, what motivates most significant advances in knowledge is not profit, but the pursuit of knowledge itself. This has been true of all of the trans-formative discoveries and innovations – DNA, transistors, lasers, the Internet, and so on. And knowledge, and the access to it, are and should remain Human Rights!

Sadly, the US and other advanced countries have been pressing for stronger intellectual-property regimes around the world. Such regimes would limit poor countries’ access to the knowledge that they need for their development – and would deny life-saving generic drugs to the hundreds of millions of people who cannot afford the drug companies’ monopoly prices.

Intellectual-property rights are rules that we create – and that are supposed to improve social well-being. But unbalanced intellectual-property regimes result in inefficiencies – including monopoly profits and a failure to maximize the use of knowledge – that impede the pace of innovation. And, as the Myriad case shows, they can even result in unnecessary loss of life. 

To Copy or not to Copy?

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In Flash of Genius (See Review), a biographical film story of FORD’s 1953 war on infringement, in the adoption of the Intermittent Wiper (your car wiper), an american jury ruled in the favour of a retired Physics professor, because he swayed them with the argument that Shakespeare’s works despite picking from words common to the English language, were actually inherently private and inventive because he was the first to arrange them in the order in which we revel today. He argued, that he too needed to be compensated by FORD, for “stealing” his idea of the Wiper, despite writing down the constituent parts of the Wiper, and their functionality and handing these over to the FORD Motor Company.

In high school, the current Makerere University Chancellor was made a god of economics based on works that he placed in pamphlets and these went about as near gospel truth in the study and revision for Economics, both at Advanced Level, as well as for some First Year Economics Courses. Whereas Dr. Sentamu has a right to these works as derivative works, and as such deserves, and reserves the right to the Intellectual Property therein, the actual knowledge contained in these books cannot be wholly attributed to him. Alas, Dr, Sentamu cannot claim to be the originator of this knowledge. Or can he?

In Ugandan Universities, a large amount of student pocket money is spent on photocopying lecture notes. Many an office printer in the average work place does some photocopying for one or 2 students, at least once a week. Frankly, one could say the University, as we know it, could not exist without photocopying as we know it. But have you ever actually wondered what it would be like to study without Photocopying?

You see, in the 16th Century, the battle lines around copying were drawn – and 3000 people died. So lets not take it lightly at all. Read the amazing Story Here

In the eyes of every author, it is their solemn hope that they will retain moral rights to the content in their written works, BUT also, that they will acquire economic rights when we buy the book. So When we copy the book, not only do we infringe on their rights – as we often don’t ask for permission, we also directly affect their income, because we then wont go out to buy an original copy of the book. YET, when the author rights that book, he cannot then stand in the way of our right to enjoy the access to the information contained therein. In fact, one can argue that if he didn’t want us to know about it, he might not have written the book in the first place.

Ugandan Copyright & Neighboring Rights Act of 2006, awards copyright to such an author, for the rest of their lifetime (or the lifetime of the last surviving co-author) plus 50 years. As it stands, even the works of Okot B’itek are not yet public domain works. So every copy you have made has in fact been illegal, and you should be in jail, fined, or both! Thankfully, that’s the Penal Code.

So when can you copy, and do so rightly? You need permission from the author. Simple as eating matooke. Yes, even when the author took their works from Shakespeare’s the law protects them as Derivative works, so you still need permission. Alternatively, the author could make copying of their works allowed. So we should in fact consider the moral obligation to CEASE, immediately, ANY and ALL unauthorized copying of literary works.

I could end here, but then you will ask what about the inherent right to knowledge – and the fact that access to that knowledge should be an implied right. And some would argue at this stage, that if the Right to Education is a gazetted Human Right, then the right to access to Educational Materials is implied. Well, does that take away the Intellectual Right that the author had on this content? Certainly not. So how do we cater for both sides?

At the CEHURD Media Training on Intellectual Property Rights, I am learning how to navigate the vast legal ocean to be able to answer this question in a way that would satisfy both parties. But if the world’s Least Developing Countries do not succeed in getting an extension to the TRIPS Agreement (part of the laws under the World Trade Organization, for which Uganda is a member), then in fact this law will come into play, and very soon, as soon as 1st July 2013, it could be completely illegal to photocopy!

 

Web Resources:

TRIPS Agreement – http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/t_agm1_e.htm

CEHURD – http://www.cehurd.org/

FOSSFA – http://www.fossfa.net

 

 

UACE Results – Dont Write me Off!

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The moments are ecstatic,  and there will be all sorts of prizes, from goats, to chicken to i-pads and am sure St. Lawrence will throw in a car. Every year, 3 times a year, we celebrate our aces, when the National Examination results are released by UNEB. Every year, its the same cry, what exactly do these results imply?

A little under 13years ago,  yours truly was covered in The Daily Monitor, a Christian boy had beaten the odds at a moslem school, and excelled, 10 in 8. The odds were many, for anyone who has gone through Kibuli SS. The drama that ensued was not just celebratory, what was I going to study at A-Level? My dear late mom was convinced i should go for medicine, my headmaster agreed. Me? Computer Science. Its funny how at O’ level you hear youngsters talk of these big career paths, yet the subjects they will sit one month away for the next 18-20 months are so detached from reality. Anyway, to swallow my won words, do not underestimate them – i keep telling people, as early as S.2, i knew i wanted to work with computers.

So the battle begins, PCBM or PCM or PEM? I wanted PEM, the world wanted me to study PCBM – and all this was based on my o’level marks. The irony is that my marks represented more Distinctions in Arts subjects (Ain’t they that easy – English, History, Geography, Maths, CRE, i even studied Political Education) and minor distictions and credits in sciences (Physics, Biology and Chemistry). So on the basis of my marks alone, there was nothing i should have been doing near PCBM and Economics.

As it happened, I had my first term in the PEM Class and my second in the PCBM Class, and 12 months later, i failed. That is, according to the standard that was expected of me, that i had so ably displayed. At Kibuli SS, there was (i hope still is) a cardinal rule – passing A’ level was about getting Government Sponsorship to your first (or second) choice course at the University. Anything short of that was a fail. According to this rule, i did not fail. But there was one more rule – it was simple, it was mine – to study computer science! In 2006, i graduated with a BSc in Computer Science.

My experience taught me a thing or 2 – first that you never ever write off someone based on their marks, the reverse of course is that you should not let the high scores get to your head, as so regularly said, pride comes before a fall. But secondly, and most importantly, is that you (educators and parents) should craft an environment that nurtures desire and talent and dreams at an early stage, and not try to funnel this generation’s high fliers into courses (and indeed careers) based on their marks.

A Side Note

The Monitor  (page 2) today carries a picture of one, Micheal Mubiru who scored 1AAA in PCB/M. Micheal, Congratulations! BUT what are you doing in a class? Is this  in St. Mary’s Kitende? Are you a qualified Teacher? Do you have a Certificate in Education? Or anything close? Aint you supposed to be in Vacation? True, you are probably very much needed in that position, but what happened to the systems? Were you formally recruited? Do you have an appointment letter? Which grade are you? Teaching Assistant? Look am not against you, am against the blatant misuse of your brains and resource, based on a flimsy excuse that you would have sat at home anyway, and so this is a good way to spend your time – doing good!

Guess what, you are cheap labor. That’s what you are to your employer. Am willing to bet your boss has not given you a proper appointment letter. You know why? Because you will get onto the payroll, and there will be NSSF and PAYE to pay. I doubt these are in place, against your name.

Of course i could be wrong… as a friend suggested, you could be paying your student loan, as a Lab Assistant (this school would need a lab, as i still don’t think that makes you a qualified Teacher, let alone Teaching Assistant). But what the heck, do we even have qualifications for these positions?

I wish the Government had a plan where bright students like you can get internship jobs in Schools where you are needed the most, by filling out your vacation with a Certificate in Education, or something, that not only makes you a great personal resource (read: brain matter), but also a great resource to your area of influence (your former school) by instilling pedagogy and other such skills that make you into a great teacher. People like you often get victimized – that great brains don’t always make great teachers – i disagree totally.

You see Micheal, people who were not like you , who failed O’ level are the ones going to become Kindergarten Teachers, they are going to handle the most critical years of the children you will give birth to. And the ones who are on the opposite end of your A’s, they are (some of them) going to become primary and secondary school teachers. Some of your teachers, who guided you to your A’s were a product of such a cruel system. People like your employer have been long in this system, enough to know what to change, and yet the system has stayed the same.

And now we celebrate the likes of you – and sadly, the story we have been told before, makes it feel strange to have you in a Class. Far from it, I would prefer more of you in the classrooms across this country, after all, a system that nurtures you would have put you up in an Education course, on the promise of a job, so you might not even go to University for a conventional degree (medicine, pharmacy, engineering – and the one you might have put as your 1st choice), but would be helped and in 3yrs, you would be doing what you love (teaching), in the subjects yo knowledgeable (AAAA in PCBM) with the right enabling skills (an appropriate course in Education).

Right now, am concerned, that you are a great brain, in a terrible system, and a worse labor machinery, that is out to exploit you! Again, congratulations on your excellent results.

E-learning, my new old passion?

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Looking at Blackboard, July 2006, i was indeed fascinated. But sitting in the same class as my mom had its issues. I was glad it was a certificate, i was impressed at her tenacity, and she doesn’t know how much that week long certificate has grown into a full fledged career path. Blackboard has since grown by leaps and bounds – See Here

So when one of my classes in FOSSFA’s FBT Training had an online module, 3 years later, i was more than happy to ‘study online’. Online learning is not necessarily the same as e-learning – with the advent of Flip classrooms, anything is possible with e-learning, but perhaps the most common form of electronic enabled/supported learning is Online Learning – we are happy to call it E-Learning.

Online education is education that is delivered via the internet. Throughout the world, e-learning is fast becoming an important mode of education delivery, not only for online students, but also for full-time students at many of the larger universities. However, online learning and the provision of learning materials via the internet necessitates a change of paradigm – a recasting of the traditional conception of a university. Classrooms, lecturer’s offices, sports facilities, and student residences are largely made redundant, while servers (whether local or in the cloud) become the centre of the university’s education provision. – source

FOSSFA’s elearning happened on a platform called DOKEOS. Beautiful, but somewhat tacky, but that was 2009! Dokeos has beautiful features – See Here. On here, i was able to quickly transform from a Student, to hosting an entire class, successfully.

You can say this transition freshened up my desire, and suddenly, i was ready to reunite with a lost passion. In all this time, i had carried out numerous trainings, and i had even used my laptop in most of them. But you see, that is not quite it.

In 2010 when i started out at IHSU, i found Moodle! I had heard about it, had even used it on a few online courses, but now i had the honor to administer it. IHSU runs Moodle 1.98, but that was only until a few months ago, as Moodle’s upgrades are much of a temptation!

Moodle is an Open Source Course Management System (CMS), also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It has become very popular among educators around the world as a tool for creating online dynamic web sites for their students. To work, it needs to be installed on a web server somewhere, either on one of your own computers or one at a web hosting company.

Moodle is perhaps one of the more popular Online Learning Environments – Check Stats Here – and has served at IHSU, faithfully, for over 4 years and 2 graduation classes now.  As you can imagine, being a Moodle administrator is alot of fun. My work is technical, some tasks daunting, and others, well, simply magical – like the smile of a successfully logged in first timer! Now we are in the middle of upgrading to 2.2, then to 2.4 the latest!

Loiusa is from Malawi, she is a Lecturer, speaks lovely french (not that i know better); and Sabina is a recent graduate from a Beninese University – she understands Louisa, and all i can do is look on! In 2012, this small West African nation was the host to the annual e-learning Africa Conference – website – and my second time in attendance. Dubbed as Africa’s premier networking event for educators pursuing e-learning, and service providers of the same,  i have to say, I have met more than my match for passion, excellence and practical e-learning across the African continent. Its addictive, and this year in may, i hope to be in Namibia.

Only last year, Hospice Africa Uganda approached me and asked to be helped with setting up their online learning platform – Now Up – and i could not believe my excitement. Hardly quarter and the list is growing. But that’s not it, its the happiness with which i approach everything e-learning! Its exciting, installing servers, training staff, via a platform they are new to, I have even submitted (my first ever) a session proposal to e-learning Africa, because i feel there is something about e-learning missing from my google searches.

The Uganda Centre for Open Source Software is now running Linux Certification and Training via http://coss.ug/elearn.

At IHSU, we have our firsts cut out for us – the first ever e-learners pre-course survey; the first ever IHSU e-learning survey (hope to become annual). And for once, i have alot to learn, but it feels so good, i feel like a wall onto which you can throw anything, and it will be transformed into something about e-learning.

I guess when ICT and Training are your life passions, Training Online, using ICT should come natural, and for me, the timing couldn’t be better.

Some Definitions

Learning Management SystemHere

Virtual Learning Environment – Here

Distance Education ( or distance learning) is a mode of delivering education and instruction, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional setting such as a classroom. Distance learning provides “access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both.”[1] Distance education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason (including taking examinations) have been referred to as hybrid[2] or blended[3] courses of study. [Source: Wikipedia]

Are we so corrupt, even as Parents?

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So this morning i went over to Lohana Academy to try and get Gabriella into school for next year. It lasted 3 minutes, and the admission letter will be ready on Friday! Nothing like sign here, sign there, village, et al.

Co-incidentally, the conversation at work over lunch was about a frustration of the fees in schools, which have to be supplemented by those weekend classes, or else your child “will find it hard in the exams.” This colleagues goes on to say how this is the new way for teachers “to survive.” I think its the ONLY way, for over 10 years ago, i went through the same. I hated it, because i was sure of my grades, and i thought it was unnecessary for my mom to squeeze our meager resources further.

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