By Hon Roland Ndyomugyenyi
Last Tuesday on the 14th of September the President ruled out any reopening of schools in October and Education minister Hon. Janet Museveni reaffirmed that the continued closure of schools is intended to safeguard the health and lives of the youngsters who are Uganda’s future.
Education is a key component for social growth, Economic development, and transformation.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic poses serious threats to access to Education in Uganda and innovative solutions are needed to support this sector.
The lockdowns that were instituted to contain the spread of the pandemic disrupted learning across all levels of education. Pre-primary institutions were completely closed while phased learning was undertaken in primary, secondary, vocational and tertiary institutions.
This has adversely affected the learning goals and progress of students. While some progressed and eventually sat for their national examinations, others have stalled in the same classes for two years. Consequently, many students are uncertain whether they are to remain in the same class when classes resume or will be promoted without completing the curriculum.
This has been a cause of anxiety amongst students and parents. If not properly addressed, it will result in a manpower or graduate shortage equivalent of the 2 years estimated at about 140,000 graduates.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education and Sports is silent on how the situation will be addressed and has failed to offer leadership on the same.
Kenya according to Reuters, has registered more than 242,284 cases and 4,864
deaths as her schools opened since January.
Kenya, just like Uganda, had shut down schools in March 2020 when the Covid-19 contagion had just started taking a foothold across the world.
Just like Uganda, eating, playing, studying together — social distancing in many Kenyan schools is almost impossible but schools have pressed on with studies, with many saying they are taking precautions such as wearing masks, getting school-goers temperatures checked and reminding the pupils and students to wash and sanitize their hands.
Both Kenya and Uganda have reported low vaccine uptake among their teachers and non-teaching staff despite the category being prioritized in the current vaccination drive.
For Rwanda, learning institutions were closed for 10 months from March 2020 and reopened in November 2020. World Bank data says this shut out at least 3.5
million students. Learners in nursery and lower primary schools were allowed back in mid-January and February 2021.
Rwanda again closed its schools on June 29 following a spike in coronavirus infections. But the government reopened the schools in August for the third term
after it lifted its two weeks of lockdown on the capital Kigali and eight other districts across the country.
Like in Kenya and Tanzania, Rwanda tasked its school administrators, teachers, learners and education partners to observe Covid-19 preventive measures, keep physical distancing, wear facemasks, hand wash with clean water and soaps or use of sanitizers, and keep windows open.
Back in Uganda, schools remain closed and many teachers especially in private schools have moved on into other sectors like bricklaying, charcoal burning, and dealing in general merchandise.
Unlike government schools that largely rely on public funding, private education institutions depend on revenue collected from fees and other charges. Due to the closure of schools, proprietors of private education institutions are no longer earning. Since the lockdown, some private schools have been liquidated, others are under auction by Banks and Money Lenders.
Many have been chocked by loans, forced to close business or convert their premises to other sources of income such as shops and rentals. This raises a concern of a looming deficit of education infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the government has failed to articulate how it will fill the infrastructure gaps and
sustain the teaching profession.
According to Education & Sports Sector basic statistics 2020-2021, a substantial number of educational institutions in Uganda are privately owned, their collapse will leave a huge dent in the education sector that is bound to last for years. For instance, out of 20,305 primary schools, 8,269 (41%) are privately owned. Out of 2,995 secondary schools, 1,937 (65%) are privately owned. Out of 275 post-primary institutions, 143 (52%) are privately owned. Out of the 53 universities, 44 (83%) are privately owned.
It is equally true that many parents incurred losses for paying uncompleted term one in 2020 and also some had paid school fees to schools before the July 2021 lockdown.
This money will not be recoverable or brought forward by schools considering their current state.
In light of the above, aware that it’s now not possible to re-open schools in September 2021, it’s no longer tenable to re-open for the full 3rd term for secondary and primary. The 3rd term should therefore be attended halfway if the schools get opened before the close of 2021.
Accordingly, I would like to recommend and propose that Primary and Secondary schools re-open on 25th October 2021 for a half-term up to 17th December 2021 with the following considerations in re-opening and after.
All learners are promoted to the next classes.
Government intensifies home-based learning in period between September and October,
When learners report in October, they should do assessment exams, Learners shall use one month after reporting to cover any uncompleted lessons of previous class since they won’t be sitting for promotional exams, Capitation grant for private schools.
Private Schools are very key in the education sector. If they are not given relief, they may not resurrect. It is my considered opinion that these schools are helped to restart by giving them cheap loans and grants if possible.
The ministry of education will need a period of a month, to validate the state of schools especially private schools to determine those that will re-open and those that have permanently closed because it's common news that many schools have been turned into lodges, rentals, and others have been sold out.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY.
The Writer is ROLAND NDYOMUGYENYI,
MP, RUKIGA COUNTY