Time to embrace tech, scholars tell Uganda during memorial lecture

Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, Vice Chancellor, Makerere University addressing the participants during the 2nd Fulbright Memorial Lecture held at the Yusuf Lule Teaching Facility, Makerere University, on November 7, 2023. PHOTO/Makerere University.
  • Technological advancements are crucial in transforming the mindset from a mere digital era to an information era. 
  • In bridging the digital divide, learning institutions access a crucial vantage point in equipping Ugandans with the tools to face the future with confidence and brevity. 
  • The US Ambassador to Uganda, William Popp, hailed Makerere University for its 100 years of excellence.

Institutions of higher learning in Uganda have been called upon to embrace technological advancements in order to respond to the most pressing needs in society. 

This call comes in the wake of new demand for integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in research and examinations. 

Speakers at the Yusuf Lule Teaching Facility, during Prof. Senteza Kajubi Fullbright Memorial Lecture dubbed Uganda’s Higher Education in the Digital Age: Navigating the future through technological advancements, reminded the audience that institutions of higher learning have no choice but to welcome technological transformation.

Dr. Jeannice Samani, the CEO at FSG, LLC, rallied a call to action to explore the uncharted territory in digital evolution toward expanding education and entrepreneurship in society. 

Embracing tech

Technological advancements, she says, are crucial in transforming the mindset from a mere digital era to an information era. 

Dr. Jeannice Samani, CEO at FSG, LLC, delivering her remarks. She says technology is crucial in transforming mindset from a mere digital era to an information era. PHOTO/Dr. Samani.

She told the audience, which included students from Makerere University and other invited students and guests, that it was time Africa empowered the future through navigating the digital world.

“It is time learning institutions in Uganda set the course for innovation, technology and continued growth. 

This model of learning speaks to a comprehensive education that would ultimately pave the way for meaningful empowerment and inclusive societal engagement. 

The management of the universities, in consultation with the central government, should support this initiative by coming up with friendly policies and regulations,” she said.

In referring to the information era as a global revolution, Dr. Jeannice maintained it was the only technology that had the muscle to wrestle illiteracy, disease and societal imbalances. 

She reminded the audience that in bridging the digital divide, the learning institutions access a crucial vantage point in equipping Ugandans with the tools to face the future with confidence and brevity. 

Role of tech

Samani, who is also the founder of Fifth Wave STEM Education Initiative, elaborated the role of technology as a promising venture in nurturing future innovators, aiding cross-sector collaboration among academia, industries and government.

“In embracing technological advancements in education, the country welcomes adoption and deployment of technology, digital analyses and tools for development, competitive approach to education, access to inclusion in the global learning environment and acknowledgement of the future as a journey and not a destiny,” she said.

Dr. Alister McLeod, Chair of the Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology department at Indiana State University, revealed that the largest resource of Uganda is those who live in the rural areas, which stand at 84%. 

How it is elsewhere

He said that Uganda needs technology deployment more than the United States of America, where less than 20% live in rural areas.

Dr. Alister McLeod, Chair, Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology department of Indiana State University, delivering his input. PHOTO/Dr. McLeod.

He praised Rwanda for the intended migration to the digital world through venturing into the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) field.

Dr. McLeod explained that such a move has made it easy to start and run businesses in Rwanda, access electricity, obtain credit and promote economic diversity.

He wonders about the reasons for Uganda’s lukewarm treatment of technology, terming it regrettable and unfortunate. 

He says technological advancements promise efficiency and accountability not only in the public service but also in the management of university operations.

“In Rwanda, where ICT has made inroads, it takes 5 steps in 4 days at no cost to start a business, whereas in Uganda, there are 13 steps undertaken in 25 days at UGSH. 457,200 to start a business. 

To get electricity, in Rwanda, one goes through 4 steps in 30 days, whereas in Uganda, there are 6 steps that take over 73 days. This is a letdown to youth empowerment and can only be addressed through embracing technology,” he said.

In welcoming the integration of technology in education and agriculture, he says, the country will be reaching out to the larger population in the rural areas for quality education and effective farming practices. 

Since the largest resource is in the rural areas, the country will have addressed hunger by integrating modern agricultural practices to enhance the food basket.

Dr. McLeod regretted that while 15.8% of Rwandans are covered by a credit bureau, only 6.9% are in the same bracket.

He said this is a blow to the country’s dream of economic transformation, which has remained elusive due to the absence of technology. 

He adds that Rwanda, which has great focus for technology, has since captured 10.4% of the registry for credit issuance, while Uganda has none.

“It is appalling that 83% of all African countries are highly dependent on commodities, according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2021 data. 

It is important to diversify the source of revenue since it would help absorb economic shock, increase the availability of inputs and services, create spillovers of technology and skill, and allow for the building of production networks. 

Uganda can’t afford to run away from this open reality,” he explained.

Taking part

He said Makerere University, with a long-standing history in research, must provide leadership to Uganda’s education and learning sector by fostering the adoption of innovative technologies applicable to East Africa. 

Students listening to keynote speakers during the 2nd Fulbright Memorial Lecture held at the Yusuf Lule Teaching Facility on November 7, 2023. PHOTO/Makerere University.

The university, he said, must provide the space for students to innovate low-cost energy technologies, sustainable technologies, modular technologies, intuitive technologies, and monetization of technologies. 

In doing so, Dr. McLeod says, Uganda will have come up with a service revolution.

“Public transport over land is 7 times more expensive than transport by sea to a coastal port or navigable river. It is also more likely for one to be ill from tropical infectious diseases in Uganda. 

Makerere University should come up with ways to enhance the use of boda boda as an industry since it is a common means of public transport. Through technology, the university can design improved safety measures and optimize traffic flow,” Dr. McLeod said.

He blames the central government for giving the adoption of technology a wide berth, stating that health care would be improved through embracing the same. 

Dr. McLeod noted there was an urgent need for more intuitive data entry systems, the use of electronic healthcare registries and the adoption of widespread access to electronic medical records.

Not replacing

In his opening remarks during the memorial lecture, Prof. Anthony Mugagga, Makerere University’s Principal of the College of Education and External Studies, said that a well-trained teacher will never be replaced by technological advancements. 

He noted that technology intends to enhance teaching and learning, hence lifting and upholding academic integrity. 

The scholar reiterated that it was time Africa reflected on the digital terrain and understood the best practices in using digital techniques in pursuit of meaningful research.

Continued support

The US Ambassador to Uganda, William Popp, hailed Makerere University for its 100 years of excellence, adding that the institutions in the United States will continue partnering with the university to diversify educational and research practices. 

Prof. Nawangwe, VC Makerere University, together with William Popp, US ambassador to Uganda, during the event. PHOTO/Makerere University.

He said the US will continue supporting the university as it has always done through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which promotes the expansion of research in public health and clinical research in resource-limited settings. 

Popp said the US government has in the past injected $30 million in Uganda’s public health programs, and will continue supporting the country’s digital migration.

“Last year, the US embassy launched the first Kajubi Fulbright Lecture as part of Makerere’s 100-year celebrations. 

We are pleased to continue with the same trend of bringing American and Ugandan experts together to discuss the future of higher education and to acknowledge the first Fulbrighter from Africa and Makerere’s former Vice Chancellor, Prof. Senteza Kajubi,” Popp added.  

Remembering Kajubi

Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, who hosted the memorial lecture, paid tribute to Prof. Senteza Kajubi as the father of the education sector in Uganda. 

He supported the technological shift in education, stressing that such a move will actualize holistic undertaking in training by improving e-learning content, enhancing staff’s skills and knowledge in public service, and reaching out to people with special needs, such as the visually impaired, who were seriously affected during COVID-19.

 “Makerere University continues to support policies that eliminate marginalization of the diverse population in Uganda. 

Today, there are more female students in our campus compared to male students, and we believe this is a good gesture in trying to bridge the gap of opportunities and placement in higher education,” he said.

Prof. Senteza Kajubi served as the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University in two different periods, 1977-1979 and 1990-1993. He was a member of the constitutional assembly that drafted Uganda’s constitution of 1995. 

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He selflessly devoted his entire professional life to academics and impacting communities positively until his demise in May 2012.

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Mr. Misori holds a Bachelor's degree in Education Arts, English and English literature from Mount Kenya University. He is the author of the book ''Village Under Siege'', a book reviewer, and a science journalist passionate about environment, health, climate change, education and agriculture. His email address is misori.village@gmail.com


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