How mobile technology helps keep track of school children

By Moses Gum Degur

When South Sudan gained independence in 2011, it inherited an education level without a basic infrastructure, with one of the worst indicators for education in the world. Girls mostly are not only less likely to enter school; they are also more likely to drop out compared to boys.

The five year civil war has aggravated an already difficult education situation in South Sudan, with low rates of enrolment, and poor school infrastructure.

Access to education is also being limited by the combined impacts of the conflict and economic crisis: Schools have been closed or destroyed, teachers have been displaced or discouraged by low and irregular pay, and students are afraid to travel to school or unable to cover the rising costs of school fees, transport and scholastic materials.

To help keep girls in school, the Ministry of General Education and Instructions and UKAID is implementing a Girls Education South Sudan (GESS) project by providing cash money to the school attending girls to motivate them continue with education.

Cash money of South Sudanese Pounds 2,900 is given to girls in upper primary and secondary once every year.

Last Month, Minister of General Education and Instructions, Deng Deng Hoc Yai announced that School enrolment recorded on the School Attendance Monitoring System (SAMS) has risen to   about 1.6 million children this year.

However, educational challenges ranging from poverty to cultural practices contribute to the problems which remain a big task for the government to overcome. According a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report released this week, more than two million school going age children are out of school in South Sudan.

Based on an analysis of enrolment patterns and number of admission registers and school budgets received, the Ministry expected that Academic Year 2018 enrolment will reach 1.7m pupils, reporting from 3,800 schools across the country.

The enrolment record has been made possible by the introduction of a mobile data system to track the learners’ data and send it to the monitoring system known as Schools Attendance Monitoring System (SAMS).

This system is tracking children’s data from all primary and secondary schools by using mobile phones. It is aimed at monitoring the enrolment and registration of all the school children in South Sudan.

The use of Mobile Data Kit Technology (MDKT) is the best system for gathering data from schools despite unfavorable learning conditions,” according to Michael Tiondi, a GESS support officer.

“With spread of mobile phones we are able to reach schools operating in remote areas and in places where there are no network connectivity in South Sudan,” Tiondi said.  “We have invested in training the teachers on mobile phone reporting and they are required to send daily reports directly from the field.”

The system tracks the record of students who skip school classes and those who attend lessons regularly.

“GESS uses SAMS to monitor pupils who drop out of school or has a long period of absence. This has eased the work of education officers who get to know details of their school communities at the press of a button,” Tiondi noted.

The GESS support officer said the use of mobile phone has reduced the high volume of school files collected for annual reporting purposes.

“Our data base is big and it has   significantly helped in contributing to increasing teacher’s expertise in technology,” he added.

Moriku Rose Solomon, a trained teacher on MDTK, and Deputy Head teacher at Dr. John Garang Bilpham School, described the use of mobile phones as a viable and cheapest means of data collection in South Sudan.

Mrs. Mariku, a GESS trained teacher on Mobile data demonstrates sending learners’ report to SSAMS from Dr. Garang Bilpham School (photo by Moses Gum Degur):

“It is simple to use the mobile phone to send data. We just take the pupil’s register attendance book which contains the pupils’ first, second and third names, age and gender. We then enter the data of each learner using short codes,” Moriku explains.

She said each pupil is identified by a short code like; A1, B, A2, B2.

Moriku said it is the work of the teacher in charge to send data to SSAMS pupils’ name and short code.

“When I want to report the school data, I had to use the school code for example DRQ is our school code. I first enter ‘DRQ’ and the pupil short code as like ‘DRQ1’ for leaner number one in primary one,” Moriku explains.

She said all the school information containing learners’ details are tracked directly from attendance register book and that through the pupil form, one can be able to know those present and absent.

Moriku said the use of mobile phones significantly improved the time and quality of data collected from the field.

“The use of mobile phones in school has become a much quicker and more accurate tool for rapid analysis of data and data cleaning,” she said.

According to Moriku, through the SSAMS, education authorities are able to trace out the number of learners who drop out of school and their gender.

“A teacher goes to each class and carries out roll call. If a pupil is not in the class, he or she is marked absent for that day. If a learner is absent for two to four weeks then the alarm is raised. Its either the student has dropped out of school or has joined a different school,” she narrated.

The use the mobile phone technology in schools also helps in reducing keeping large box files of documents in schools.

Moriku said the introduction of Mobile phones in school have interestingly increase teachers’ chances of exploring new ideas in technology.

This tendency increase chances for most teachers to learn more about mobile technology. It has strengthened home-school studies, support safeguarding and gives teachers greater freedom and flexibility in how they manage administrative tasks, she said.

Jamesco Deng Deng, GESS State Anchor for Aweil in Northern Bahr-el-Ghzal said the use of mobile phone technology in school as has helped build on the experience of many young teachers in South Sudan.

Mr. Jamesco Deng Deng, Northern Bhar-el-Ghzal GESS Team Leader demonstrates how the technology works (photo by Moses Gum Degur):

He said the introduced GESS Mobile Phone technology  is empowering young people not only in problem solving  (learning-to-code and coding-to-learn), but also showing young people that computing power can be used for directly addressing personal challenges and the problems faced by their local school communities.

Deng said as a trained teacher, some of his colleagues who own smart phones attempted to incorporate various technology devices in their lessons.

“The GESS programme has not only been for recording and sending messages but also many teachers with smart mobile use the opportunity for lesson plan,” Deng said.

“I sometimes use my iPhone to document learners’ work, mark attendance as well as keeping marks for tests, quizzes and assignments,” Deng revealed.

He reiterated that the new technology has helped in keeping large records in phones making easy to access information compared to keeping information on files.

According to Deng, education officials use phones to conduct formal and informal parent-teacher seminars, surveys and also scanning documents.

The team leader said since the use of mobile phone in schools involved personal research and exploration, there is need to consider integrating mobile devices into lesson plans since most teachers rely mostly on mobile phones to keep themselves updated.

“I usually use it to check calendar, set alarm, take photos and keep other important documents using my phone. This makes many phone users feel flexible in their daily routines,” Deng expressed.

He said the digital revolution has shaped a whole new world of work; with the existence of mobile technology, work becomes faster, effective and often more creative.

‘It is apparent that many people are deriving educational benefit from the use of their mobile phones. They often find it easy to use phones for schoolwork. We have found that mobile devices have become a suitable learning tool for teachers,” he added.

Deng noted that teachers do not only use mobile phones to send messages but also call authorities concerned on pressing matters taking place at their respective school communities.

“When something unexpected happens to a learner or a pupil is waiting to be picked up a staff member can look up the family’s contact details and call them,” he said.

The instant communication with parents is vital when dealing with emergencies in the schools.



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