Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Blackhole mentality of some of Uganda’s Leading Schools

They always feature among the top ten best schools in the country in terms of passing national exams. As a result they have created a brand for being schools that make students “pass exams.To them, the end justifies the means. How do they achieve this?

They cage up our children in four walled prisons called class for longer than they should be. Students or pupils arrive at school as early as 6:30 am and some leave as late as 7:00 pm. In between, they justify all sorts of activities like Morning Prep, Morning Test, Lunch Test, Afternoon Tests and finally Homework (of not less than 40 questions daily). I hope you realise I have not included the actual lessons that have to be taught.

Syllabuses are forcefully completed in a fraction of the time that they are meant to be. A Primary 7 syllabus is usually done in one and a half terms as opposed to the entire three terms. Reason advanced is to allow the students time to cram for the final National exams. Huh!!!

Others have taken it a step ahead, by identifying the national examiners (who happen to be teachers already), they are able to spot exams (an attempt at second guessing what will appear) for their students. In the process, they part with large sums of money to benefit from this privilege. Afterall, a good performance guarantees more parents bringing their children to their school hence more money earned.

However, one of the worst vices I have noticed is the tendency of some schools to jealously guard their academic content in form of notes, lectures and even internal exam papers. Without mentioning names, one of the most prominent primary schools in Kampala today will dismiss any staff member who is found sharing their exam papers with ‘outsiders.’ This is why I chose the term Black Hole Mentality.

A black hole is a place in space where the gravity pull is so strong that all matter and even light that gets into it’s vicinity is sucked in with no hope of ever getting out. As you may recall, gravity is the force that attracts one body towards another that has mass, akin to what makes us always naturally stay on the ground as opposed to floating all over the place. Due to the intense gravitational force that blackholes have, whatever criss crosses their path is always devoured, unless of course if it can travel at a speed faster than light. In other words, Blackholes are always consuming without giving anything out.

The schools that have the practices I just shared previously are basically Academic Blackholes. They specialise in cannibalising whatever academic content is out there for their own purpose and interest but fall way too short when it comes to sharing with others in the industry. This doesn’t bode well for Uganda’s education industry. As a one Meghan Blistinsky once said, Education these days is making youths suffer like mental patients, but no one has anything to say about it because there is no other option to be given.”

However, on the brighter side, earlier this week while attending the 7th IDLELO Free and Open Source Software conference that brought together participants from all over Africa to meet at Munyonyo in Kampala, Uganda, I was very impressed by what I uncovered in the area of Academic Open Content. An OB of mine Mr. Ronald Ddungu who happens to be the Deputy Head Teacher of Gayaza High School, one of the best performing schools in the country shared with me their efforts in Open Content and the vision they have for it.

Essentially, this senior of mine summarised the aim of this initiative as one that will ensure that teachers will eventually go beyond the confines of their schools and become national teachers that teach students all over the country through the use of technology. The Gayaza Open Education Portal is already populated with student and teacher generated content that is really impressive. It is this culture of sharing that shall enable the seepage of knowledge across the board leading to uniformity in academic standards nationally if encouraged. Gayaza High School may be pioneering in Uganda what the likes of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) did over a decade ago in the USA only to be followed by numerous other institutions, I believe it is just a matter of time before other schools worth their salt realise that there is always more to be achieved through sharing than hoarding.

Such content sharing can help students as far as Butaleja to access material that their ill prepared teachers are unlikely to ever avail them. Since some of it is student generated, it is presented in a manner that students understand best and who better than their very own to pass on such knowledge?

Join me in talking to your school about the need to start sharing content especially with the less fortunate (third world) schools. Only then can we guarantee uniformity in prosperity and hopefully live to see our dream of becoming a Middle Income country in the near future.

Do your part this time round.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

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Say NO to that customer

Lubanga (Name not real) wanted a machine to use on his small farm and he approached an engineer who came highly recommended by a friend. After making an assessment of the work, the Engineer quoted UGX 1,500,000/= (One and a half million shillings). However, Lubanga opted to bargain and eventually the two parties settled for a cost price of UGX 750,000/= (Seven hundred and fifty thousand shillings).

Having agreed on a time frame for the works to be executed, Lubanga fully paid up and waited for the delivery of his machine. It eventually arrived but failed to work. That is when the problems begun. One excuse after another was availed by the engineer eventually leading to a frustrated Lubanga. The cat and mouse game went on for more than six months until Lubanga decided to let the cat out of the bag and publicly shame the Engineer on a WhatsApp group.

Upon arbitration, the Engineer first gave the excuse of low electricity as the reason for the machine failing to work. When pinned further, he confessed that the low pay would not give him room to make adjustments on the machine design. Hence, he was stuck with a non functional client’s machine.

As Small Business owners, we are usually too desperate to get business and impress at the same time that we fail to make objective assessments. Since we never usually undertake thorough analysis of our cost structures, sometimes our pricing is temperamental and largely based upon the circumstances we are going through. I know of some artisans who will charge you twice the going rate for a particular job simply because they have to clear a LandLord’s debt.

basket_weaver

A Basket Weaver in Adjumani District – Northern Uganda

Since every service or product to be offered has overhead costs, it is always crucial to make a proper breakdown of the costs involved before committing oneself to a job. Sometimes the temporal smile you put on a customer due to the low price quoted could turn out to be the worst decision you ever made. Imagine the effect of an angry customer maligning you among your network of friends and associates who were considering the use of your services?

There is this tendency we have sometimes of trying to offer a product or service that fits within the budget of the customer. This isn’t such a bad idea but it shouldn’t be stretched too far. Often times, you can quickly sense a customer who wants to get a Mercedes Benz at the cost of a Toyota. Be very wary of such because if you accept their bait, the end result might bot be good for both parties. That is what must have happened to Lubanga. Bargaining is my favourite pass time but if someone is ready to discount a product by 50%, I would be very scared and most likely not partake of that transaction. It automatically means that there shall be some form of compromise which could affect the customer experience am looking for.

I know there are situations that arise, you have offie rent pending, multiple customers are yet to pay up for services already provided, you have a wage bill to sort out, your own livelihood is at stake and hardly have enough to transport yourself from home to work and back, your child has been sent away from school due to lack of school fees and so on and so forth. With all this baggage, you do not really want to let this money go. My brother/sister, I advise that you spend more time trying to convince the customer to embrace a payment structure that will enable you break even at worst. Alternatively, have then scale down their expectations and ensure that whatever is agreed upon is written down for the record.

In case no agreement can be reached, do not compromise. Say NO to that job. If it is the exposure you’re looking for, then probably offer a free service and make it clear to the customer.

Saying yes all the time and failing to live up to the promises made only serves the purpose of making you look greedy. Reputation is key.

Go say NO. You wont die.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

The Space Age is upon us. Don’t say I never told you so.

Friday is one of those days that many look forward to. From pupils/students to the employed. Programmes vary with the kids looking forward to watching their favourite TV shows, going out for a birthday party over the weekend or even heading to church for sunday school. The adults are probably looking forward to linking up with buddies at their favourite pub or restaurant, dancing away the night in the discotheque or even roasting a pig or goat in the open air. The more religious may be gearing up for an overnight service eventually culminating in a power filled sunday church service.

Enter the time machine with me and we fast forward to 2040. The proggies might be similar albeit with a difference in how they are executed. It is friday morning and through WhatsApp (I hope it will still exist) Dr. Onenkan sends a message on Wawa List inviting us for lunch. Jancobo quickly proposes a meet up at the SkyPort Restaurant. Departure time is set for noon. Using our flying cars, we link up at the Spaceport (No longer Airport) somewhere in Kajjansi (a suburb of Kampala) and take the vertical Space Elevator to space, covering a distance of 300Km in under 20 minutes (never mind the technology being used). On arrival at the Spaceport, we settle in comfortably and commence discussions in full view of the Earth miles away from us. We admire the moon that appears more vivid and while at it, Mars pops up too. Low Earth Orbiting satellites wheez past us and it all seems as normal as that bodaboda that races past you today.

Upon completion of lunch, Humble DB suggests that we go for a space race. We quickly board Alien Reproduction Vehicles (ARV) and embark on faster than light travel by bending space and time. The first target is to see who reaches Venus first. Our trail begins and Neri beats us to it by covering the 40 million Km distance in 2.5 seconds.planets_image

You think this is impossible? Imagine this, if the speed of light is 299.8 million metres per second and our ARVs are comfortably moving at the speed of light, in under three seconds we should be in the environs of Venus.

Yen then challenges us to a much longer race from Venus to Saturn a journey of 1,316,400,000Km. We all agree that this is one race that will test us better. Off we go, crisscrossing space, avoiding stray meteorites here and there, observing all sorts of alien activity going on in a vast sea of space. We by-pass Earth and Do-Blade is in the lead at this point. Zo seems to be hot on his heels having exceeded the speed of light. We are heading for Mars and it seems like all our ARVs are gaining speed. Dono takes the lead as we get into the environs of Jupiter. The pressure is mounting as we all want to win. Then suddenly out of the blue, Onenkan’s ARV makes a joke of ours by gracefully bypassing us traveling at almost Light2 (twice the speed of light). Before we know it, he’s hovering in the rings of Saturn, a sign he’s won the race. Time check, 80 Seconds and we are all admiring the beautiful rings of saturn, a giant gas planet.

t2iEBowxv24VqercCap3xwLoWe are in awe of the numerous moons that it has (official count is 150 moons and moonlets). Named after the Roman God of war, Galileo discovered Saturn in 1610. One year on Saturn equals 29.5 Earth Years. Had I been born there, I would now be close to 1.5 years old. While Galileo only saw it through the telescope, here we are chilling right in it’s environs because of technology.

At this point we agree that work is pending back home on earth. The fly back to Sky Port Restaurant takes us under 5 minutes where we descend with the Space elevator back to Kajjansi. Time check, 2:30pm and we are back in our offices after an exciting cosmic journey.

I bet you’re thinking these are insane thoughts. No they aren’t. Whilst most folks are focusing on making their existence better on earth, a section of mankind aided by technology is working on the possibility of colonising space. I envisage a future where we shall have floating cities, entire nations on Mars and possible military outposts on the Moon. Tourism currently being focused on Africa is likely to shift to space within 50 years from now. Elon Musk’s efforts at SpaceX are commendable in making space travel cheaper.

Without doubt, we shall soon have picnics, church services, discotheques, offices and other pass times in space while retreating occasionally to earth just to catch up with family and friends the way some buddies resident in Europe and America like traveling back home to re-connect with their families.

Before I die, I would love to see the first church service conducted in Space. I wonder how the spirit slayed christians will fall in the gravity-free floating environment of outer space.

Welcome back to 2016.

Follow @wirejames on twitter

Image Credits

Saturn – https://www.thinglink.com/scene/662855196417720322

Solar System – http://www.planetsforkids.org/images/planets_image.jpg

IDLELO 7 – Uganda’s Open Source Moment

The year was 1997 when as a student at Makerere University, I had the privilege of hobnobbing with a select group of ‘internet techies.’ One of them whom I later got to know was Kiggundu Mukasa had just returned from the USA after spending some time there studying and working. He was the first local advocate of Linux (an Open Source Operating System) and using the software CDs he had returned with, he very willingly shared with those who were already technically astute. Individuals like Paul Bagyenda and Terah Kaggwa are some of the very first I know of that toyed around with Linux in this country.

Our meet-ups used to be in Baghdad (Wandegeya) at the site of the current KCCA market and that is where the first unofficial Linux User Group (LUG) meetings took place. The inspiration that some of us got as a result of the open sharing that used to take place skewed our minds into embracing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) as the future for this nation and Africa at large.

Being convinced about a cause is one thing while having others buy into the same cause is another. The resistance faced while spreading the FOSS gospel then was so stiff that hadn’t it taken firm determination, Uganda would not be the Open Source beacon of hope that it is today. From Government to the private sector, IT professionals were sceptical of anything Open Source and while some of their reasons were valid, others bordered on mere fear for change of the status-quo.

Over the years, numerous developments have gradually altered local perceptions about FOSS and these include;

  • The increasing clout of FOSS products/companies like Fedora, SuSe, MySQL among others in the IT world.

  • Exposure by many IT professionals to FOSS systems starting with those that got a chance to pursue their studies out of the country.

  • Increasing grip that Proprietary Software companies were having on Software Licensing compliance.

  • The enactment of laws that rendered activities like software piracy illegal.

  • The growth of e-government

  • The limited operational budgets at the disposal of many Government organisations.

  • The Internet Service providers that majorly offered firewall and mail server systems based on FOSS.

  • The existence of a vibrant Linux User group that at one point used to carry out school outreach programmes.

  • Coordinated efforts of FOSS promotion with other African countries through the pan African FOSSFA organisation.

In November 2002, during an ICT Policy and Civil Society Workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it was agreed that a framework for Open Source Solutions be developed. This process later led to the formation of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) a year later. Come 2004, the first ever African Conference on the Digital Commons was held in South Africa where it was later dubbed IDLELO (meaning common grazing ground). This event is carried out every two years and attracts participants who are actively participating or interested in the FOSS world. IDLELO is to Africa what OSCON is to the USA.

Twelve years later, from the 22nd to 24th of August 2016, Uganda will proudly host IDLELO 7. What makes it even more interesting is the level of Government involvement. After shouting ourselves hoarse for nearly a decade, the local FOSS community had given up on ever seeing the Government of Uganda play an active role in promoting FOSS. However, over the last two years, the National IT Authority of Uganda has warmed up to the idea of integrating FOSS in the Government plans for e-government. A FOSS policy is in advanced stages of being approved thanks to this same organisation pursuing the matter. The financial and logistical support NITA-U has extended to the event clearly shows that this time round, the Government is serious about going in bed with Free Software.

It is therefore a very exciting and emotional moment for many that have seen the baby strides FOSS has taken to gain a foothold in Uganda. Hosting the Who is Who of Africa’s FOSS world is likely to alter our path for the better and for good.

To the delegates coming over, Ugandans are known for their hospitality and we are certain that you will leave a piece of your life in Kampala.

Hubasangaliye

Tubaaniriza

Twabashemererwa

Wajoli i Uganda 

Follow @wirejames on Twitter