Plugging two bleeding wounds in Uganda's education sector with the click of a button
Kupaa’s digital school management system tackles teacher absenteeism and record keeping in schools
Of the challenges besetting Uganda’s education system, two are counted among the top; teacher absenteeism and poor record keeping.
At Canon Ibula Primary School, a government-aided school in Buwabo Parish, Bulamagi Sub County, Iganga District, rows upon rows of files rest on the shelf in the head teacher’s office. They are marked with varying years from 2016 and below. There is also a handwritten chart of teacher attendance that showed 18 teachers out of 20 attended school that day. When I inquire about the lack of more recent files, Margaret Mabangi, the head teacher, points at a black handheld tablet three times smaller than the black folder on her desk. “From 2017, all the information is here,” she informs me. “Teacher attendance, financial records and learner enrolment, all on this one device.”
In 2016, in partnership with Mastercard Foundation, UNICEF launched Kupaa as a digital school management system that enabled digital fee payments and school contributions, tracking of teacher attendance and management of school records. While Mastercard was responsible for developing and running the app, UNICEF focused on training trainees and users, system and ground support, partner coordination, and programme documentation.
The Manager of Deployments at Mastercard, Racheal Kadama, notes that the programme additionally sought to establish an evidence-based calculation of the cost of education to determine adequate financial allocations for the education of children under the universal primary and secondary education programme.
Combating teacher absenteeism
Through an administrative interface accessible by the district education office, Kupaa was a critical information management tool not only for school enrolment against which the government capitation grant to schools would be determined but also for teacher attendance.
In the first month of Kupaa, the headteacher at New Grace Primary School in Buniokano Village, Nawandala Sub County in Iganga District used the teacher attendance feature to determine how much to pay each teacher, and in the following month, attendance increased. The District Education Officer Baker Kasadha notes a 90% usage of the teacher attendance feature from the launch of Kupaa.
“We started tagging payment to the number of days worked, which really improved teacher attendance,” he says.
The results are similar across all implementing districts. Within the first three years of utilizing Kupaa, learner performance at Bulopa Senior Secondary School in Kamuli District improved, and the school registered a record seven students in division one in 2021, its best performance yet.
“Now, even though we no longer use the app to record teacher attendance, teachers still stay in school out of habit,” the District Education Officer reveals.
Improved records management
Whenever auditors visited the district office at Mubende, lack of records would always be a key query. However, with Kupaa, one glance at the dashboard reveals how schools received and expended funds which eased accountability and reporting for government and other grants.
At the start of Kupaa, each head teacher in Mubende District was tasked to have a smartphone, and requests for information were made via WhatsApp and email.
“We don’t drive for data anymore,” Balinda Kassim, the Deputy District Education Officer of Mubende, says, adding that over 85 per cent of data requests are compiled within a day. This sharply contrasts with the pre-Kupaa period when the district inspectors physically visited each school to collect data. This process would sometimes take up to one year, but now the information is made within a day at the click of a button.
By the time the programme closed and the Kupaa App was disabled in June 2022, 913 schools in seven districts were using it for financial and administrative records management, tracking attendance of 7,718 teachers and facilitating payment of school contributions in both government and private schools.
According to the Kupaa focal person at the Ministry of Education, Musa Birungi, the ripple effects of the programme will continue to run through the Ministry’s digital agenda aimed at the adoption and harmonization of information and communication technology in the education sector.
Keeping the digital fire burning
At St. Joseph’s Kibalinga School in Mubende, upon the closure of Kupaa, the school management committee approved the purchase of a computer to facilitate continued digital record keeping. The headteacher plans to use his smartphone to transfer records from the laptop to his phone and then email them to the district, right from his office. His remarks echo many similar users who have seen significant positive change due to this innovation: “we were nowhere when it came to technology, but with Kupaa, we are now somewhere good.”