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COVID and schools

A pupil listens to lesson on radio after schools were closed. There is a plan to supply homes with radios to improve reach.

Radio lessons resume

In one of the hints that the government is determined not to reopen schools anytime soon, the Ministry of Education and Sports issued a circular on Aug.12 showing a schedule of how learners would access lessons via radio across the country.

“The parents or guardians are, therefore, requested to support learners with radio sets and to also allow them time to tune into various radio stations in order to attend the lessons,” said Ketty Lamaro, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Sports.

In a statement on Aug.12, Lamaro said up to 16 radio stations located in selected sub-regions across the country will be airing the lessons. The radios were selected based on their wider reach in the sub-regions of Acholi, Lango, West Nile, Karamoja, Teso, Bugisu, Busoga, Buganda, Bunyoro, Tooro, Ankole and Kigezi.

Patrick Muinda, the assistant commissioner in charge of communication told The New Vision that the move is intended to ensure that learning does not start from zero when schools eventually reopen.

“The radio lessons have been tested and we had good feedback after the first lockdown. Therefore, as the government continues to discuss plans on reopening, the ministry has decided to rollout radio so that when schools reopen, they can only concentrate on the syllabus ahead.”

‘We are killing our country’

Locally, some experts disagree with the government’s insistence on vaccination as a prerequisite for the resumption of physical learning in schools.

Dr. Nakabugo of Uwezo-Uganda told The Independent that the government proposal can only work in an ideal situation.

“If we could afford to buy these vaccines, this would be the surest thing to do but under the circumstances where we are resource-constrained and given the current pace of vaccination, this is mere lip service,” she told The Independent.

“We are killing our country and we are destroying a whole generation,” Dr. Nakabugo.

Filbert Baguma, the Secretary General of the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) spoke more plainly.

“Vaccinating all learners is completely impossible,” he told The Independent on Aug.19.

Baguma said he blames the current crisis in education on the multiplicity of advisors to President Museveni. He also doubts officials in the Ministry of Health Ministry have “the touch and feel” of what takes place in a school setting.

“Talk is on health, health, and health but the learners see no future and are almost giving up, the parents are at home confused while teachers are just looking on and waiting for whatever the government comes up with. This is making the whole situation worse.”

Baguma says it is unclear what exactly the government is protecting the learners from.

“Right now, if you go to the streets, markets and shopping centres, the learners are there mixing with the general population,” he said.  He insists the children are safer in schools.

Bernard Sabiti, a policy analyst says he is worried about millions of Ugandan children falling far behind if the current situation continues.

“The Ministry of Health officials are only obsessed about health but they don’t know that health goes hand in hand with other sectors of the economy. So you cannot keep prioritizing one sector over the other.

“The lockdowns have left a devastating impact on school-going children. The gap between the rich and the poor in this country was already wide (before the COVID-19) and we now know that so many kids have been left behind due these school closures,” he said.

Sabiti told The Independent that it is time to examine the end game of the government’s stance on reopening of schools. He says he is disturbed by the fact that what the government is doing is not based on any robust research.

“Let the government carry out a comprehensive cost benefit analysis study of keeping these children at home.”

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