Uganda: Makerere Gets Uganda’s First Smart Classroom

Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the vice chancellor of Makerere University has commissioned Uganda's first smart classroom. The CreateView classroom is located in Block A of the college of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS) at Makerere.

Nawangwe and partners in the project said this was the first in the country, and the second in East Africa after the one at University of Nairobi, Kenya. Nawangwe said Makerere had started the process of acquiring a smart classroom earlier than Nairobi, but Covid-19 restrictions made Makerere delay longer.

A smart classroom provides advanced interactive teaching recording and broadcasting systems for institutions; it's equipped with a specialized learning management system and an interaction system that supports multi-camera recording and post-production. It is a combination of ICT and higher education innovation.

CoCIS principal, Prof Tony Oyana said the facility is worth $100,000 (about Shs 360 million). The equipment – 50 standalone high-grade computers, one electronic (smart) blackboard, three supporting view screens, and a robot – worth $50,000 was donated by three strategic academic Chinese partners (Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), Shenzhen, China; International Centre for Higher Education Innovation under the auspices of Unesco (Unesco-Ichei), Shenzhen; and Guangzhou's CreateView Educational Technology Co. Ltd.). Makerere put in the remainder $50,000 for shipment and installation.

He said this was a result of a partnership agreement to collaborate in research, teaching, ICT industry and community engagement activities signed in 2018, by CoCIS, CreateView Education Technology, Unesco-Ichei, and Southern University of Science and Technology, China.

Oyana explained that the facility enables lecturers to engage with students, both physically at the site and online. Secondly, the facility can be used as a recording and broadcasting studio for classrooms anywhere in the country. A teacher can record a lecture alone or as part of a classroom lecture of students and the lecturer teaching.

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Therefore, it will be used to assist and teach students in other universities and institutions of higher learning. He, therefore, called upon educational institutions to make use of it.

Nawangwe chipped in saying whoever is left behind in technology is doomed. "The future belongs to those who embrace technology. It is time for us to wake up if Africa is not to be left behind again! This facility is for Makerere and the whole of Uganda. And Makerere will work hard to have more of such smart classrooms in its colleges and other institutions for the benefit of Ugandans, and larger Africa."

Oyana said the facility enables lecturers to have full control of and discipline over the students, by knowing what each student is doing with the computer. It also does assessments, and can show in concrete terms whether students are learning or not; it can also monitor examinations and quizzes. It is also highly automated.

With the assistance of the robot, the facility system is able to perform many functions such as recording classroom attendance, reading and concentration, language processing, speech recognition, photo taking, and checking room temperature, among others. The robot can also perform music, dance and other entertainment to create a lively learning environment.

Prof Lyu Feng of Unesco-Ichei said the donation was made as part of a Unesco project for universities in developing countries, adding that 20 smart classrooms have been set up in Africa and Asia since 2020.

Hassan Adeel Shehzad, also from Unesco-Ichei, said the equipment was funded by the Chinese taxpayers and education technology companies (the UNESCO International Centre for Higher Education Innovation (Ichei) and China's International Institute of Online

Education) under the auspices of Unesco.

Shehzad is a program specialist and project lead of the Smart Classroom System sent to set off the project at Makerere. He trained the local team that will man it. He said through the provision of the smart classroom facility, Unesco-Ichei and CreatView will work closely with Makerere University to encourage the development and integration of online courses into the university's curriculum to address challenges facing education in Uganda.

He said the facility will not only record the lectures but also broadcast them live on conference tools such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.

"The target audience of this smart classroom project in Uganda is universities, teachers, and students to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Once fully established, the rest of the country, including government ministries, departments and agencies will utilize it for meetings, training and workshops."

He added that the project helps share experiences of China's higher education massification and the technological advantage of Shenzhen – the leading technology city in China.

The commissioning was dedicated to Makerere University's centenary celebrations and acknowledgment of 60 years of diplomatic relations between Uganda and China.

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