Back in high school, Christian Ikuzwe, now an entrepreneur, used to watch his teachers spend a lot of time working on report cards, and writing notes whenever they had something to communicate to the parents.
This, he says, would consume a lot of time and energy that could instead be invested in academic work or activities.
Parents, too, on the other hand, found it hard to access information, or get results of their children’s performance on time, since they had to first wait for schools to be closed, Ikuzwe says.
Ikuzwe (right) explains to students the importance of Academic Bridge. Lydia Atieno.
“Being in a school with more than 1,000 students, it always took a lot of time to draft such letters for every student; it would take like two consecutive days. Occasionally, they would tell students to pass information to parents verbally, but some never delivered the information,” he says.
When he graduated from university, he decided to come up with a solution to help address this issue.
Ikuzwe developed an app known as ‘Academic Bridge’. It was meant to tackle this challenge by helping teachers focus on learning activities, as well as giving at least every parent easy access to information of the school.
The app serves schools and parents. It also helps students learn efficiently by managing their data in a proper way.
For schools, the app helps them manage their data and when it comes to handling some duties, for example, making and analysing reports, it helps with efficiency. Parents are, on the other hand, connected and always in the loop with what goes on at school.
For instance, the software provides frequent communication on the whereabouts of children, and also keeps parents updated on other school-related issues, Ikuzwe explains.
In 2015, he teamed up with two schools to assess the app’s applicability.
“It worked because we were able to understand schools’ needs and we were able to find out what was missing. The following year, the programme started operating officially, providing vital information to parents,” he says.
Today, the programme stretches to more than 100 schools within the country, as well as neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Burundi.
Why schools should embrace the app
For schools that have already subscribed to the system, the results are clear. They commend it for its ability to highly contribute to success in students’ academic life.
Students can check their results; see analysis on their assessment results, among other things.
Teachers can also mark examinations online using this system. The software is more like an auto system where teachers can set up assignments and students can respond. All of this can be done online.
Ikuzwe says this platform helps students stay acquainted with the internet because online learning platforms keep them updated, which is important in this digital era.
“This is helpful because even after one has graduated, they keep on learning and get the required skills,” he says.
Ronald Wandira, the head of humanities department at Riviera High School and year leader—advanced level—at Rwanda Educational Board (REB), says ‘Academic Bridge’ is very beneficial, especially in this modern world where people are embracing technology.
“For instance, we are moving to a paper-free economy to save the environment. Also, most of the communication is channelled electronically and it can instantly reach the intended person. If the child is misbehaving at school, it’s just a matter of typing an SMS or email, which goes directly to the parent,” he says.
Wandira says the system makes work very easy when it comes to reports and record-keeping because it has provision of tracking the performance of learners, which makes it easier to draft or assemble a transcript.
He adds that apart from that, the app is user-friendly because it doesn’t require too much exercise. And it can also work when there is no internet, such that when one is connected, they can just upload the information.
Wandira also notes that with the app, teachers can do rollcall using a phone when it comes to attendance of the students.
Its impact on the education system
Eric Buhigiro, the director of Kids Corner Nursery School in Kigali, says they have embraced the system and that it has simplified many things, especially when it comes to keeping records.
“Since we are promoting ICT familiarity, learners will be practicing and will be able to interact with ‘Academic Bridge’. Educators will be able to set quizzes which can be useful to learners, especially during the holidays, and this will keep them busy,” Buhigiro says.
Buhigiro also says that using this app makes it easy to follow-up on vital questions raised on the platform concerning academics.
The app also saves time when it comes to making reports, he says. Before, they used to print and file report cards—files of 12 to 15 pages. Apart from being time-consuming, it was also expensive, he adds.
“But now, a teacher can record students’ marks anywhere at any time and they don’t need to be necessarily at school to carry out such activities,” Buhigiro says.
Dr Christine Niyizamwiyitira, the head of department of ICT in Education at REB, says the Ministry has an app known as ‘E-learning’ which uploads different courses and training programmes for teachers, although they haven’t yet reached the level of parent interaction, though they are looking into it.
E-learning is network-based and it includes text, video, and audio, among others. It is self-placed and entails hands-on learning.
When it comes to software like ‘Academic Bridge’, Niyizamwiyitira says, they have plans to initiate such in the near future.
“When we start introducing this in schools, I think it will be better to start with the most vulnerable schools, especially those upcountry, then we will scale up to others,” says.
She says the knowledge of ICT is needed to regularly monitor schools.
“If this can be initiated in at least all the schools, it can help manage the quality of education at large,” she adds.
Wandira says it was about time for introduction of such initiatives because of their obvious relevance and advantage of being cost-friendly.
“This is something that helps the entire education system, it’s an initiative that should be given a platform because of its advantages. For example, with this software, it can be easy to monitor the attendance of teachers in schools because the software has a provision where you can use your sample print on arrival and departure of teachers,” he says.
“One can monitor this from anywhere and be able to know what is taking place in every department as the Ministry of Education,” he says.
This, he says, doesn’t only work for classrooms but can also be applied in the library, finance department, and laboratories, among others.
Donald Munyeshuri, ICT teacher, Lycée de Kigali
ICT is an important innovation for all sectors, especially education. It lengthens the learning experience. It also allows learners to engage in a variety of ways, therefore, it should be embraced in the education system.
Florence Mbabazi, Parent
Parents should let their students use the internet for learning purposes while at home. However, they should monitor them closely to ensure that they are not using it in the wrong way.
Protais Tuyishime, Educator
There is a need to train all teachers, especially regarding ICT. This will keep them conversant with everything, thus making it easy to pass to learners.
Rosaline Mutamuliza, ICT student
It’s important to integrate ICT knowledge in schools, most importantly, at an early stage, so that schools are able to produce computer literate and independent learners in the future.