Over the coming years, more than 15 million schoolchildren in Uganda will play catch-up with their peers in the region after 18 months of isolation – and their numbers continue to grow – during which access to education has been minimal, if not at all.
Thus, the government is under pressure to reopen schools, primarily for academic reasons, but also in view of the economic impact of the prolonged closure on the sector, as private school owners are on the verge of auctioning off their property to pay off bank loans. …
Some forms of teaching and learning take place in elite private and public schools, where parents can afford the cost of equipment, infrastructure, and Wi-Fi so that their children can learn online.
But many public schools for poor children remain closed, and research on government efforts to distribute printed teaching materials for this category shows that only 20 percent of households received these provisions.
Experts now say the education sector is in crisis as players individually determine how to teach and access learning, which has created and widened inequalities, with most schoolchildren completely excluded from any form of education.
“Digital learning is fine, but we weren’t ready for it. In the private sector, we tend to be ahead of the government – albeit haphazardly. We took this as private schools as a means of bridging the learning gap, but how much is that possible? go? ”says Asadu Kirabira, chairman of the National Association of Private Educational Institutions.
Other education experts say the delay in reopening will plunge the sector into a deeper human resource crisis.
“The long closure is a crisis at different levels,” says Dr. Mary Goretti Nakabugo, CEO of Uwezo Uganda, a non-profit organization that works to promote equitable quality education.
“Teachers quit their jobs and moved to other professions. So when you open up again, you will face a faculty shortage crisis. And then you have a school dropout crisis, ”she adds.
Sufficient goal of vaccination
But the government, which has ordered the reopening of schools for all teachers and children aged 12 and over who have received the Covid-19 vaccine, remains adamant.
“Schools will be closed until sufficient vaccinations have been provided to the appropriate population and children aged 12 to 18,” President Yoweri Museveni said in his July 31 State of the Nation Address.
However, experts argue that these vaccination goals cannot be achieved anytime soon because children are dying.
“You are talking about the loss of a generation, the loss of the future of the country,” says Dr. Nakabugo. “We are losing a generation if we do nothing immediately. We are witnessing a crisis and we need to act with it now, ”she adds.
In March 2020, amid fear of the Covid-19 pandemic, which devastated much of the developed world and quickly spread to Africa, President Museveni imposed complete isolation, with the result that all educational institutions were immediately closed.
The decision sent 15.1 million schoolchildren of all levels home, and for the majority, 18 months later, the status quo remained in public schools; with students of preschool institutions and students from one to three grades of primary school, who during this period did not study in any form.
President Museveni then came up with an offer to buy radios and televisions to help teach during the isolation, but that failed because parliament was unable to fund these subjects, said Education Ministry’s Education Standards Director Dr. Kedras Turyagienda.
She acknowledged that the ministry is aware that some schools are offering lessons online, which not many parents can afford, but added that “these are all things we still struggle with” to see how to close the learning access gap in isolation conditions.
“In the beginning, only higher education institutions could study online to complete courses. But later we realized that education began in lower educational institutions as well, ”said Dr. Turyagienda.
Dr Turyagienda explains that the offer to teach / study on the radio was a “temporary measure” because the government did not expect the schools to close again.
Dr. Nakabugo argues that with limited online learning, no radio and television, and the discovery of discovery so far, Uganda is lost in the dark, rather than borrowing a leaflet from peers in the region, and Ugandan children will need some work. overtake.
Kenya reopened schools in January, while Tanzania has never closed for extended periods.
South Sudan also resumed operations in May after 14 months of isolation, while Burundi’s schools have been reopening since early 2021. In the East African Community region, the only country to close schools again was Rwanda after a spike in Covid-19 infections in June. …
“Let’s look at the neighbors,” Dr. Nakabugo said. “Kenya reopened, Tanzania did not close at all. Have there been tens of thousands of deaths due to Covid? No. We have to admit that when we open up again we will have cases, but that does not mean that we have shut down the entire system. Test, isolate. Here’s a way to do it. “
The effects of prolonged school closures are being felt everywhere, but especially among private school owners who have taken out bank loans to build educational infrastructure and are now facing financial straits.
Meanwhile, another kind of crisis ensues: in Uganda there are two enrollments for the first grade and five grades in the secondary school, and in Uganda there are no candidate classes.
In her draft plan for the education committee, First Lady and Education Minister Janet Museveni is proposing automatic promotions for these students. Educators consider this proposal untenable as it will create a generation with knowledge gaps.
“Automatic promotion in this case is not right for our table. These children must study, complete the program and be screened to make sure they have learned something, ”says Mr. Kirabira.
“We have to shrink the curriculum and refocus it on what we want these kids to know what competencies we want them to have in order to provide accelerated learning because this is not business as usual,” says Dr. Nakabugo.