Makerere University has launched the first Smart Classroom Facility in Uganda worth over $100,000 USD. The facility accommodating 50 computers will be used for recording, broadcasting, and automation in the classroom including monitoring the examination, quizzes, and any other form of assessment.

The University has also received and assembled a technological Robot (UBTECH Robot) to undertake Artificial intelligence functionalities for the teaching and learning environments. The robot has functionalities of speech recognition, identification of an individual, photo taking, and management of attendance within the class. Still, it accepts all kinds of programming depending on the user’s needs.

And Robot has a simple interface. The commands can be sent to a Robot through a mobile phone, computer or laptop and it works according to other commands, for example, walk, dance, what day is today, etc.

Video of the robot singing

The Smart Classroom system and Robotics technology establishment at Makerere University have been funded by the Chinese taxpayer and education technology companies under the auspices of UNESCO.

The Smart Classroom and the Robot were commissioned by Vice Chancellor Makerere University Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe on 9th September 2022 at the College of Computing and Information Sciences.

The function was also graced by online guests from China including Prof. Lyu Feng, Assistant Director and Chief of IIOE Management Centre UNESCO-ICHEI Shenzen China, and Prof. Jeff Lee, General Manager, Guangzhou CreateView International Data information. Ltd Guangzhou China. Principals and their deputies, Deans Heads of departments, and staff across the university also attended.

While launching the facility, the Vice-chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe said, Robots are one of the new tools being utilized in higher education digital transformation in the developed world and Makerere cannot lag behind.

“Any country which does not embrace the digital era is in serious problems. The future lies with those who embrace technology. It is time for us to wake up if Africa is not to be left behind again”, Nawangwe said adding that:

“Online is the future and as Makerere, we have embraced the future and we shall not be left behind again. We need more so that we can show the rest of the country that we need these innovations,”, The Vice Chancellor asserted.

The launch of the Smart Classroom and the Robot according to Prof. Nawangwe was in line with the university strategy to be research-led and part of the activities to celebrate 100 years of Makerere University’s service to humanity.

“We are going to devise means and ensure that this initiative is extended to university units and the rest of the institutions countrywide,” The professor pledged.

Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe cuts the tape to launch the Smart Classroom

The Principal College of Computing and Information Sciences Prof. Tonny Oyana said, in 2018, Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences together with Create View Education Technology, UNESCO-ICHEI, and Southern University of Science and Technology, China signed a partnership agreement to collaborate in research, teaching, ICT industry, and community engagement activities.

“As a result of this partnership, the university has received a highly valued donation of Smart Classroom educational equipment. The core three strategic academic Chinese partners are Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, China; International Centre for Higher Education Innovation under the auspices of UNSECO (ICHEI), Shenzhen; and Guangzhou’s CreateView Educational Technology Co., Ltd.)”

Prof. Tonny Oyana delivering the welcome remarks

Speaking online, the Assistant Director and Chief of IIOE Management Centre UNESCO-ICHEI Shenzen China, Prof. Lyu Feng pledged more support to the university and Uganda.

We have embarked on capacity building for quality teaching and learning and we have so far launched the smart classrooms in ten countries in Africa and Asia with priority for higher education,” Prof. Lyu Feng said.

The representative of the UNESCO International Centre for Higher Education Innovation (ICHEI) and China’s International Institute of Online Education, who is also the program specialist and project lead of the Smart Classroom System Hassan Adeel Shehzad said, they are trying to make teachers and leaders of Makerere University be familiar with the latest trends and technologies happening in the rest of the world.

“Robot as ICT is a tool to serve the teacher. The robot is going to assist lecturers in their daily teaching for example from classroom attendance to narrating chapters loud and looking for questions and answers back and forth.

As intellectuals, Robot is going to assist teachers not that the robot is going to teach as a teacher in the classroom. These are the latest trends including Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things and therefore, Robots complement deep learning and all these are trends to make teachers and students and university leadership catch up with what is happening with the rest of the world”, Adeel stressed.

Hassan Adeel speeaking during the function

Adeel further explained how the Robot will be utilized by instructors at Makerere University.

“As a teacher, when you come into the classroom, the first thing to do is to check classroom attendance. As a repetitive task, this assignment can be delegated to the Robot with components such as sensing cameras and detection instead of the teacher calling out the names of all students present.

Another purpose is that when a teacher has a chapter, he or she wants a student to read aloud, that specific scenario can be given to a Robot. So, a Robot can read the whole chapter in front of the whole class”, He said.

A Robot according to Adeel has a simple interface. The commands can be sent to a Robot through a mobile phone, computer or laptop and it works according to other commands, for example, walk, dance, what day is today, etc.

A Robot, Adeel explained has a wise recognition function, text recognition function, and motion recognition function therefore a teacher can speak and the Robot can answer. It’s programmable and depends on how the teacher wants to use it.

Over 40 Makerere staff undergo induction training on the Smart Classroom

Prior to the launch over 40 university staff across colleges undertook induction training on the use of the Smart Classroom System.

The training was conducted by Makerere University IT experts from the College of Computing and Information Sciences supervised by Hassan Adeel on the 6th and 7th of September 2022. Adeel was at Makerere for two weeks to ensure the last connectivity of the Smart Classroom and also capacitate the technical team at Makerere for sustainability purposes.

Adeel was optimistic that the university was set to embrace digital transformation for quality education.

“In the two days sessions, we saw very passionate attendees coming here to the smart classroom and were very excited knowing that in Makerere we have a Robot that has been watched in videos and movies.

During my stay with the technical team and staff here at Makerere, I feel they have high enthusiasm to use the Robot., they have a passion to learn and I think Makerere university is all set towards the digital transformation of integrating the different trends of technology in the higher education system just as what is happening in the developed world”. Adeel narrated.

In countries like Pakistan, Cambodia, Mongolia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Gambia, 11 robots are being used for different simple purposes like attendance recording, reading, checking the temperature, photo taking of the entire classroom, and speaking back and forth.

“On behalf of UNESCO ICHEI, China, and Shenzhen, we would like to convey the message that we are here to assist Uganda and Makerere University in whatever capacity we can. We will be working more closely with Makerere university and other institutions in Uganda so that we can have quality education which is leveraged by ICT and Technical components”, Adeel assured

Nicholas Betungye an ICT expert at Makerere University and one of the teams behind the set up of the smart classroom at the College of Computing and Information Sciences said one of the devices received and assembled is the Robot.

“This robot does Artificial intelligence functionalities for teaching and learning environment such as speech recognition, individual identification, and management of the attendance within the class but it accepts all kinds of programming called coding or configuration.

Still, people who handle robotics technology can utilize it in configuring and programming and is basically used in the management of the classroom teaching and learning environment and it enhances the interest of the learner” Betungye explained.

Makerere staff speak out on the smart classroom training.

“Dr. Leah Sikoyo from the School of Education who attended the induction training of the Smart Classroom said, she was curious to see what the smart classroom can do to support her teaching and learning”.

And I have looked at a lot of possibilities that we can integrate into our blended learning because COVID-19 ushered us into it.  We have been introduced to a number of possibilities but we shall need continuous learning and support to be able to integrate this into our teaching and learning sustainably.

Dr. Sikoyo thanked the donors and university for providing this facility and the CoCIS management for the training adding that there are many possibilities.

“For sustainability, my advice is that individual lecturers should take interest in learning how to use this facility and the only way is to try to do it and get support. But the university has to put in place technical support mechanism because taking up an innovation you need continuous learning and support”, Dr. Sikoyo observed.

Mathew Wangusi from the College of Computing and Information Sciences appreciated the induction training.

“It was very good. I never imagined the smart classroom; I am now seeing the pedagogy as it unfolds.  It was really very motivating and I believe it will be a very nice motivation to the learners and they will love it because this blended learning, we picked interest after the COVID.

We have seen that it is now a reality in that before we did not imagine having a one-to-one interaction but now, we can see that with these new pedagogies coming on board as they unfold and this pedagogy brings it out and it is going to be very key to the learning and inspire many students and teachers to deliver. I love it and I have embraced it wholeheartedly”, Mathew appreciated.

Compiled by:

Jane Anyango

Principal Communication Officer, CoCIS