When Mariam Muganga came up with her Academic Bridge application, she was only looking for something that could digitally link all the key education stakeholders – students, parents, teachers and school administrators -- to improve efficiency in the learning process.
Little did she know that her brainchild would actually help revolutionise the education sector.
The 27-year-old designed the programme in 2014 before it was subsequently rolled out in 2015.
Today, the system is used in 90 schools – 84 are in Rwanda and six in other regional countries, namely; Burundi, Kenya and Uganda.
Barely a year after its launch, Academic Bridge won the Thematic Award e-Education from International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – during an event held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2016 – for its role in improving education through ICT.
Muganga holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.Sc.) in Computer and Information Sciences from University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology.
“Usually, parents send children to school and it is the teacher who looks after them until a parent gets the child’s performance results at the end of the semester. It means that the parent is not effectively involved in the education of their child.
“What we are trying to do is to ensure that a parent is updated all the time, especially because when they are involved in the schooling of their child, as a result, the child succeeds in class and it reduces school dropout rate as in most cases dropout is attributed to lack of enough follow-up by parents, leaving all the responsibility to school managers or teachers alone,” she said.
But, with Academic Bridge, she said, the task has been eased because the parent gets timely information about the performance of their child.
“If the child is failing in grades, the school and the parent can look for ways to help them improve on time,” she said. “There is a high level of [school] dropout in Africa, approximately 12% of children leave school early often before they are able to read and write. Parents, teachers and administrators cannot communicate efficiently to follow up on students to support them to stay in school.”
“We develop an information management platform using web, SMS, email (for schools) as well as guidance to easily monitor the performance of students,” he added.
Academic Bridge (the enterprise) now has 15 fulltime staff “because we are growing”, according to Muganga.
Though the income from the system is largely invested in funding the progress of its activities, Muganga said that it generated over Rwf50 million in the last two years.
With the system, the behaviour of a child is recorded and parents are invited to discuss the behaviour of their child in a timely manner.
How the system works
Each child has an account which shows whether the teacher has recorded the correct marks and it helps create report cards.
It allows the teacher to do an attendance list and enter any data in the system installed in their Android phone whether at school or not. The information the teacher enters is directly accessed by the school administrators online.
The system also helps schools to conduct financial transactions, with invoices electronically, and parents are able to access this online, making such transactions paperless.
Muganga said the system currently uses three channels, including short messages via phone (SMS), email, and both students and parents’ accounts.
Asked about the impact of the system, she said: “the schools we work with report that schoolchildren have now adjusted and behave in school. They now tend to succeed in class because they know that their parents have timely access to information about their performance such as in a given test or quiz. And when a child does not perform well, the parent intervenes on time,” she said.
The Headmaster of Good Harvest School in Kicukiro District, John Nzayisenga, told The New Times that the system helps manage communication between the school and parents, which he said is helping improve the quality of education.
It is basically helping teachers to interact with parents directly and the parents are able to see how the school is running and how their children are performing, he said.
“We have used this system for a while now and we like it. Thanks to the system it no longer takes a lot of time to generate reports, it’s a matter of entering marks and all the details are generated automatically”, he added.
“Every teacher has their own account. They can enter marks from wherever they are, and we (administrators) can access the marks any time. The teacher does not need to come to school to bring us this information,’’ he said.
Nzayisenga said the application has helped them to better run their school, including in the area of financials.