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Teachers could soon be trading in traditional roll call sheets for mobile phones to take attendance in their classes.  At least two pilot projects have received the support of the Ministry of Education to test mobile phone technology to track students who do not show up for class. 

Teachers beinmg trained for the use of the new app
Teachers beinmg trained for the use of the new app

The Millennium Villages Project has partnered with the creators of the Kiguzo Attendance Tracking System to bring mobile technology to attendance roll call starting next year.

Teachers will be given tablet computers connected to the Kiguzo Attendance Tracking System. When they report a student missing, the tablet would send a mobile message to community education workers, who would be expected to visit the child’s home to find out why they are not in school.

After their home visit, the community education worker would send the information they have gathered back to the school through the Kiguzo mobile application.

If the child is sick, the Kiguzo system would automatically send a request for a community health worker to visit the home.

The Mayange community has been using community education workers since last year to track school absences on paper, said Donald Ndahiro, the country director for the Millennium Villages Project.

But the new digital system will allow teachers to share information more quickly and for it to be saved and analyzed over time to help school administrators understand why children aren’t coming regularly to school, he said.

“Every month, heads of the school meet with community workers and go through the major reasons for students’ failure to attend,” Ndahiro said.

Sharing information 

According to Unicef, Rwanda has the highest primary school enrollment rate in Africa. However, infrequent school attendance continues to be a problem.

Health problems are a common reason why primary students miss school, Ndahiro said.

In its first phase, the Kiguzo project will give special attention to tracking diarrhoeal illnesses that keep children out of school.

Some older primary students may also drop out because they need to work or, as is often the case with girls, they have obligations at home, he said.

Also, some families just don’t see the value in education.

“There’s also the ignorance of the parents,” Ndahiro said. “Community workers have to go and convince the parents to send their children to school.”

The web site for the Kiguzo Project says its creators hope to eventually expand the tracking system to other villages with low ICT development.

A similar project, Ndi Hano! (loosely translated as ‘I am here’), has been testing mobile attendance reporting in select primary schools in Kigali since 2013.

Mott Macdonald, which is managing the project on behalf of the UK government, said they are expecting results in March 2015.

Marc van der Stouwe, the country manager of Mott Macdonald, said the biggest challenge facing the project is creating the incentive for teachers to report absent students.

“This project can only really be successful if it’s embedded in the government,” Van der Stouwe said. “There needs to be a systemic push from government.”

‘Government interested’

Sharon Haba, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, said government is interested in adopting mobile attendance reporting in Rwanda’s schools if the Ndi Hano! pilot project is successful.

Haba said they would be looking for success in reducing student absenteeism, as well as technological ease and affordability.

Ndahiro said they are also in discussions the Ministry of Education, as well as other schools in Bugesera District, about the possibility of expanding their digital attendance-tracking programme.

Digital attendance tracking has been in widespread use in Western economies such as the US for years. They are available as computer, tablet and mobile applications and use student cards, GPS, fingerprinting, and other identifying and location-tracking technologies.

In Uganda, CU@School was introduced as a pilot project in 2010 to track student and teacher absenteeism across 100 primary schools on a weekly basis.

Teachers use their mobile phone to input the number of teachers and students at school and the information is entered into a database.

The pilot only lasted two school terms but it demonstrated how simple SMS-based system could be used to track school absences.

The New Times