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More learners allowed back to school in March

 

COVID-19 Vaccine

The government expects to get 3,552,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine via the COVAX facility managed by the Global Fund Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. Museveni said the government has also placed a direct order for 18,000,000 doses of the same vaccine from the India-based Serum Institute.

Once the vaccines are here, the government will give priority to health workers, personnel in the security forces, teachers and the elderly population.

Filbert Baguma, the Secretary General of the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) told The Independent on Feb.04 that he agrees with the government’s cautious approach of reopening the schools.

Baguma told The Independent that the phased reopening of school has helped the school administrators not collapse under pressure considering the fact that there is an infrastructure deficit in most schools.

“Remember before the reopening in October, the school infrastructure had remained the same from the time when the government imposed the lockdown in March; meaning it was going to be difficult for a class which had 100 learners to continue as so.”

“We would have seen an upsurge of infections but cases were reported in only five schools. It was also reported that on average, those who contracted COVID-19 were 21 years and above, meaning that those below 21 were relatively less in danger.”

But not everyone is impressed.

Joseph Gonzaga Ssewungu, the MP for Kalungu County West who is also a professional teacher told The Independent on Feb.04 that he does not see any logic in the government’s insistence on opening schools in a phased manner.

Ssewungu said the government has not handled the education sector with the urgency it deserves.

“We thought when the government decided to open up for candidate classes last October, they would use the partial reopening to study how COVID-19 is behaving in schools so they come up with a report on how best to ease in the other learners who were still at home,” he said.

“Parents work far away from home, they travel by public means. Have the same parents brought back the Coronavirus to the kids at home? It is as if all the children are all under the custody of the government and they are not interacting with other people in their homes and the communities.”

Among the decisions taken during the Cabinet meeting held on Feb.01 at State House, Entebbe, the government said pre-primary schools or kindergarten schools will remain closed because learners cannot observe the SOPs and are prone to respiratory infections including COVID-19.

In addition, most of the pre-primary schools are day meaning there is a lot of interface between the learners, teachers and parents which raises the risk of infection.

Meanwhile, the technical vocational education and training (TVET) institutions, primary teachers’ colleges (PTCs) and national teachers’ colleges (NTCs) should also be able to open in the short term provided they are able to observe the SOPs.

Primary teachers’ colleges and national teachers’ colleges have the infrastructure capacity for the number of students enrolled to observe the social distancing requirement, Education ministry officials say.

Before re-opening of education institutions, the Ministry of Education and Sports, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Local Government and other key ministries in conjunction with local governments will carry out a massive awareness campaign to enable parents and learners prepare for the re-opening.

The Ministry of Health will also have to constitute a team of doctors to visit schools affected by COVID-19 in support of schools and district COVID-19 taskforces. Routine school health information systems for surveillance purposes shall also be developed and these will be used for day-to-day reporting on absenteeism, illness, symptoms and disease surveillance efforts to detect and respond to the outbreak.

Online and distance schooling

Bernard Sabiti, a researcher and public policy analyst at Development Initiatives told The Independent on Feb.04 that as a country, the government has to accept that Uganda is not yet there to deliver online and distance schooling. Sabiti’s own experience with his children has not been a good one thanks to poor internet.

He says his and many other children in Kampala have been able to study via the internet but he says this cannot continue because it raises some moral questions. It is not right that over 80% of the country’s children are not able to access education, Sabiti told The Independent, in reference to rural-based learners.

“There are two societies emerging in one country. What kind of country would we be creating if this were allowed to continue?”

Sabiti says he understands why the government has struggled to have all the learners go back to school. Sabiti says even when the government took extreme measures to control the spread of COVID-19; the country’s weak health system was on the verge of collapse the moment infections spread into the communities.

“What would have happened had the schools remained open?” However, Sabiti insists it is high time the government faced the reality.

“The situation is delicate and needs to be handled in a careful and responsible manner but it is impossible to continue keeping students at home. The bottom line is that the government has to let the children return to school,” Sabiti said.

Mary Goretti Nakabugo, the executive director of Uwezo-Uganda, a citizen-led non-profit organisation that tracks education trends in the country also told The Independent on Feb.05 that although she wants all the learners to eventually return to school, she understands President Museveni’s cautious approach to reopening of the schools.

“Any responsible leader would do what the president is doing,” Nakabugo said. “The government has invested a lot of resources in training teachers and professors and you would not want to see them dead,” she said, “But I have divided opinion on the continued closure of the schools for the majority of the learners.”

Just like many scientists have suggested, Nakabugo says young learners are not so much affected by COVID-19 compared to the older people but they easily shed the virus to them and yet the lives of the country’s workforce are extremely important.

Going forward, Museveni said, the 2020 academic year will end in July this year so that the learners can get to the next academic year immediately.

Nakabugo told The Independent that squeezing the 2021 academic year into the last six months of 2021 is “actually doable.”

“What is important is for the ministry to sit down and review the curriculum and see which topics are more important than others and concentrate on those issues that are crucial when it comes to giving the learner a firm foundation,” she told The Independent.

“Concentrate on reading skills; skills which are important for the learner to think on their own.  There should also be robust measures to support learners who learn at a slower pace than the rest.”

Nakabugo suggests the reintroduction of remedial teaching and learning at every level. “You should have moments where learners learn together but also have moments where you attend to those who are struggling so they catch up,” she told The Independent.

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