"The bank gave us a building loan because of our digital records"
Stories of how a digital school management system is improving community fortunes in rural Uganda
In 2017, UNICEF, in partnership with Mastercard, launched a digital school management system for less privileged schools, the primary objective of which was financial inclusion. Kupaa, as the digital application was called, greatly boosted school management processes by digitizing and enabling school payments of as low as UGX2,000 (US$0.51), biometrically tracking teacher attendance and enhancing transparent school records. Other unintended positive results soon followed suit.
School loan application meets instant approval
New Grace Nursery and Primary School in Buniokano Village, Nawandala Sub County, was one of the first schools to start using Kupaa in Iganga District. The Head Teacher Ronald Kirya downloaded the application onto his personal smartphone and immediately saw the benefits: “I realised I could manage the school remotely by logging onto the app, viewing teacher attendance and tracking any school fees payments, from anywhere.”
He instantly mobilized parents and staff for an induction meeting and taught them how to pay school fees using Kupaa. “The parents realised that this is something that could work and on the same day, we collected over UGX50,000 (US$13) in school fees.”
Due to improved record keeping and planned expenditure, the school realised a surplus within the first month of utilizing Kupaa and consequently decided to embark on a building project in line with the school improvement plan. The head teacher downloaded a statement of the school finances from Kupaa and approached a commercial bank for a building loan. The statement indicated all the income flows from school fees and other sources, fees payments made for each child, respective balances, school expenditure, including salary per teacher, costs of feeding, and the resultant profit or loss.
Kirya, recollects with a big smile that “the bank officials were so impressed that we had a digital financial management software with clearly stated income, expenditure and reconciliations, that they immediately approved the loan.” The school now has a new four-classroom block permanent structure in place of the wooden-walled, mud floor classrooms that previously housed Primary Three, Four, Five and Six. The head teacher, too, has a new brick-walled office under the same structure.
“When we started using Kupaa all we wanted was an easier way of managing the school records and finances. We never anticipated that we would be able to access much needed credit because of the immaculate records,” the head teacher marvelled.
In spite of the frequent network connectivity challenges, the app has enabled the school to eliminate the use of paper for school financial transactions. “We stopped buying cash and ledger books and launched Kupaa as the singular channel for all school payments,” reports the headteacher.
When the Kupaa app was disabled in June 2022, the school quickly redirected parents to mobile payments for all school fees. The administration has also adopted the use of Microsoft Excel to reconcile payments and keep school records, as the headteacher has determined that “we are not going back to paper.”
Kupaa App boosts grocery business income
All the shopkeepers at Karuguza Trading Centre, Kibaale Town Council in Kibaale District refer any person who enquires about digital school fees payments to Bernard Ategeka’s shop.
“Go to musomesa; he will help you,” one says, referring to Bernard by the local language moniker for teacher.
It all began with Kupaa
While working as a part-time teacher at St. Kirigwajjo Secondary School in Kibaale Town Council, Bernard learnt about the app and became adept at using it. He also taught his wife, who manages their grocery shop. Very soon, parents started flocking the shop at the trading centre to pay fees using Kupaa.
“Though I freely taught many parents how to use the app using the school and student codes, they still preferred that I make the payments, while they kept a close watch.” Bernard would deposit the money on the parents’ mobile money accounts then use Kupaa, which he had downloaded on his android phone, to make the payments. The app was a favourite as its costs were nearly 20 per cent lower than the nearest alternative.
Bernard‘s shop is busiest at the opening of the school term, as parents flock to make digital school fees deposits. In lieu of Bernard’s voluntary services, parents often purchase their children’s school supplies at his grocery shop, averaging 30 parents daily during peak periods.
Bernard has since become an agent for other digital school fees payment platforms, including two banking institutions.
“Digital payments save the parents time and transport they otherwise would have used to line up in banking halls,” Bernard says.
By the close of the Kupaa project in June 2022, a total of 218,162 parents were reported to be using the platform to make fees payments in 913 schools in seven districts across Uganda. Schools also were using the platform to track teacher attendance, learner enrolment and manage school records.
Mastercard Uganda’s Manager Deployments Racheal Kadama, notes that following the achievements resulting from the UNICEF partnership, Kupaa’s features have been integrated into a new more comprehensive application that will enhance and integrate community access to the agricultural, finance, education and health sectors. End users ranging from head teachers such as Ronald Kirya to parents using Bernard’s shop are eagerly awaiting the increased ease of accessibility which digitization promises.