Digitizing Uganda’s Education Sector with Mobile Payment Platform

A new payment platform launched by Mastercard, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education in Uganda is gaining traction, reaching over 130,000 registered students in just one year. The mobile app enables parents and caregivers to pay school fees and other school expenses with their mobile phones securely, easily and on time. Kupaa, meaning ‘to fly very high’ in Swahili also ensures schools are able to efficiently manage incoming payments, directing funds to where they can be best utilized.

Students are registered on the app using a unique identifier, which is then linked to their parents or caregiver, who can make payments directly to the school and interact with the system via USSD via their feature phones. Payments are made in real-time, empowering schools to budget. Parents in Uganda previously were forced to carry large sums of money to schools and banks, in many cases great distances away from their home. This put them at risk, but also forced schools to keep funds on hand before making physical deposits.

“According to research approximately 70 percent of Uganda’s parents and caregivers have erratic incomes, and find it difficult to make the lump payments required to keep their children in school,” says Salah Goss, Vice President Mastercard Labs for Financial Inclusion. “These caregivers also usually have to travel long distances with cash to make these payments, which is inconvenient, costly and often unsafe. We have created a solution that overcomes these challenges and give parents back some control over providing a better future for their children.”

The World Bank’s World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realise Education’s Promise found fees and costs related to going to school to be the strongest financial barriers to schooling. The growth of mobile technology in Africa has presented an opportunity to create smarter, safer and more convenient ways for parents, schools and governments to efficiently pay and accept school related expenses.

“We have seen a remarkable uptake with regards to the number of students, parents and caregivers who have registered to use Kupaa since the pilot started in March 2017. We now have over 130,000 students registered across 270 schools impacting near to 94,000 guardians in four districts in Uganda. Our belief is that by using the platform we will be able to help curb dropout rates in the country, empower young people to continue their education and, ultimately, improve their current economic circumstances,” says Salah.

Salah noted that one of the key reasons for the success since the launch of the pilot was due to the support from the Ministry of Education in Uganda, and their willingness to collaborate with the private sector. “Uganda has shown that cross sector collaboration works, and that digitizing vital sectors in emerging markets can be a game changer for vulnerable populations.”

“Digitizing vital sectors, such as education, is shifting the continent’s dependency on cash. Inclusive growth is only possible if these sectors are modernized and able to help citizens more securely pay for goods and services,” added Raghav Prasad, Division President, Sub-Saharan Africa, Mastercard. “Our work in Uganda is just one example of how locally relevant technology innovation is helping consumers more conveniently and securely gain access to vital services. Additionally we are helping the Ugandan government to introduce efficiencies that will ensure funds are more accurately accounted for, thus strengthening the sector. We are working with our partners to modernize and strengthen key sectors in order for them to be engines of growth for emerging markets.”

In addition to the benefits that Kupaa provides for children and parents, the solution supports schools and local government. By using tablets to access Kupaa, schools can track incoming funds and outgoing expenses in real-time. Kupaa is also able to manage teachers’ attendance, and other school performance indicators. It further assists government to track grants and subsidies assigned to schools, ensuring they are delivered quickly and efficiently.

Kupaa was developed by the Mastercard Labs for Financial Inclusion and implemented in partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports, UNICEF Uganda and Yo Uganda. The technology will be made available as an API on the Mastercard Developers platform in the coming months to make it easier and faster for partners to plug it in to their solutions.

Salah concluded by saying that currently payments are linked to a mobile money platform, but the system will include multiple financial services in the future. She further noted that Mastercard has also signed a Memorandums of Understanding with FSD Uganda and Centenary Bank to achieve future growth and scale of the solution in Uganda, positively impacting more districts.