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Plan-Supported Text Messaging Service in Uganda Helps Keep Teachers, Students in School

A girl from Uganda reading a card from her sponsor with friends. Sponsorship is one way to support Planís programs.
A girl from Uganda reading a card from her sponsor with friends. Sponsorship is one way to support Planís programs.
May 13, 2014

The gender gap between girls and boys attending primary school in Uganda is closing, and overall enrollment in primary education has grown in recent years. However, Plan International is working to ensure the trend continues.

In many instances, children are going to school, but they are not learning – largely due to teacher absenteeism. Along with Nokia, Plan developed an SMS-based text messaging system to tackle the problem.

In the country, 20-30 percent of teachers can be absent at any one time in each district. This, in turn, leads to irregular pupil attendance. There are no consequences if they are absent as they are simply following the lead of their teachers. 27 percent of children in Uganda are not in school at any given time.

Piloted in five schools in the Luwero district, the SMS system facilitates information getting to the management of schools in the area, resulting in consequences for teachers repeatedly missing or skipping classes.

Plan has given students mobile phones so they can send free SMS reports on their missing teachers. Pupils can send a text message to report when their teachers are absent, and this information reaches the district education officers. The teachers are then contacted to provide a reason for their absence. More than providing consequences for teacher absenteeism, this system also brings pupils into the heart of the governance of their school.

Results of the program, which has now been running for two and a half years, show it has greatly improved both pupil and teacher absence rates. Teacher absenteeism has been almost eliminated, and pupil absenteeism has drastically reduced by almost 80 percent. In turn, it has also improved pupil performance.

And, the program has not only been used to successfully reduce teacher absence rates. The text messaging technology is also used to inform parents of pupil absences, and to inform parents of important school messages, as well as meetings they need to attend.

The project has helped to bridge the gap between school stakeholders – pupils, teachers, parents, and education officials – by setting up a hearing and listening platform. It has also allowed Plan to monitor trends in absenteeism.

While there is still work to be done, the overall success of the program means Plan is looking at scaling up the project through partnership with government.

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