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I just came across some news on MobiStation in Uganda and the first thought I had was that is a good example of another good appropriate technology initiative destined to fail.

Every year, UNICEF sends out millions of School-in-a-Box kits for children affected by emergencies. Exercise books, slates, pencils, rulers, and other learning materials enable a teacher and up to 80 students, taught in double shifts of 40, to create an instant classroom – no matter where they are. Originally designed for refugees following the Rwanda crisis of 1994, School-in-a-Box has become the hallmark of UNICEF response in disasters. Twenty years later, in the era of Information Technology, UNICEF is pioneering a new type of digital School-in-a-Box.

Mobistation UG

MobiStation, developed by UNICEF Uganda, is a solar-powered multimedia kit complete with a laptop, projector, scanner, and speakers, all contained in a portable suitcase. Detailed content in this article. It works by projecting e-books, teaching videos, and other multimedia content in rural schools and health centers, bringing quality learning to marginalized groups. The educational content for MobiStation is developed and recorded by the country’s top teachers in subjects like English, math, social studies and science.

Although a great tool – a 21st century answer to the School-in-the-Box – has been developed, implementation will head for failure in Uganda. According to the information in the news flash MobiStation will address “…some of the biggest challenges of the education system: teacher absenteeism, poor-quality instruction, and lack of textbooks.”

A classical mistake!

Technology is not going to solve political and social problems. Teacher absenteeism will not disappear with the MobiStation. Instruction will not be …………….. better! Alright? (all people in Uganda know what I mean here). Lack of textbooks?  How is MobiStation going to provide textbooks for classes of 100 students that have hardly pen and paper?

The educational system in Uganda – like many African countries – is sick to the bone. Teachers stay home because they are not being paid in spite of all promises. Schools are run like prisons, corporal punishment and humiliation are rampant and a situation is created where neither staff nor students are motivated. There is no drive to innovate teaching methods in this environment. Government is looking away when it comes to individual schools. They rather like to impress donors with hollow phrases like “to provide for, support, guide, coordinate, regulate and promote quality education and sports to all persons in Uganda for national integration, individual and national development”.

If these basic conditions are not improved, MobiStation is not going to change anything in Uganda. The MobiStation is just going to end up as the private home cinema center for the headmaster.

Technologists are sometimes remarkably poor thinkers when it comes to social change. They forget that technology may support change but it will never bring about change. Change comes from individuals, social systems, governments, not from technology. So if they believe that MobiStation will change Uganda, I am certain that this will become a great story for the next ICT4D Failures conference.

Is MobiStation a good tool? YES, it is marvelous tool but to be used in emergency situations where schools have collapsed, libraries burned, but motivated teachers are on the ground. MobiStation will support these teachers to keep their students in ‘school’, to assure that the lives of the young school kids remains a bit ‘normal’ and it will bridge the gap until schools are being rebuilt. So, let’s forget about Uganda and see what the MobiStation can do in Gaza, the Central African Republic, Syria etc.

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