Advocates of a dead year for schools are similar to the advocates of a continuous lockdown of the economy to defeat COVID-19
OPEN LETTER | Ass. Prof Mesharch Katusiimeh Rwebiita | Your Excellency, as government is mulling over the fate of education institutions in this COVID-19 new normal, a group is exerting pressure and petitioning you against the move to consider gradual reopening of schools. In fact while officiating Heroes’ Day celebrations you talked of receiving pleas from parents requesting you not to open schools until the threat of Coronavirus is out, some advising you to declare a dead year.
Advocates of a dead year for schools are similar to the advocates of a continuous lockdown of the economy to defeat COVID-19. They seem not to think of trying other measures since no one is sure we will get a vaccine. Mr. President, I am not an expert and so I cannot claim to know what kind of decisions are realistically possible or appropriate. I can only offer suggestions based on what I read and observe.
Your Excellency, I have fairly followed the arguments for those against opening of schools. Their main argument is that the school environment is well suited to spread disease since students are often packed in small classrooms and for boarding schools in dormitories. Physical distancing guidelines are therefore impossible to implement and won’t work for the youngest children. In turn these children will spread it to the rest of the community.
Mr President, in your address to the nation on matters regarding COVID-19 on 18th May, 2020, you directed that schools can be opened but only for finalists. The MOES started planning how the learners can go to school but it seems they hit a dead end with stakeholders making it hard and coming up with what I may call outlandish and even outrageous demands as pre-conditions to reopening schools. This and the unfortunate increase in community infections for COVID-19 could have informed your decision to extend opening of schools by a month. At the moment the MOES seem not to be making further steps to come up with guidelines for reopening schools. Some analysts have poured cold water on your parental directive that finalists should return to school so they are not interrupted in this critical stage of their educational career.
Some people are saying that if schools are to open let all classes be considered instead of gradual opening in a staggering form and probably shifts. They forget COVID-19 demands sacrifices and in any case while other students may read on their own and be promoted to the next class, it is impossible for finalists because they will need to sit for a national exam to acquire a national certificate before they move to the next academic level.
Your Excellency, I have cared to find out those who are making the loudest noise against gradual re-opening of schools. Yes, they may be genuinely concerned about the safety of children but they are not proposing practical measures on how to handle teaching and learning in case a vaccine is not developed. We all know that online teaching and learning benefits a few in Uganda. This group advocating for schools being closed indefinitely comprises of urban elites with formal employment including those employed by government in public primary and secondary schools. They are earning a salary and have facilities at home. Their children are enjoying virtual platforms as they continue homeschooling.
Others are teaching their own children at home or hiring private teachers to teach children in their comfort of their homes. A good number of schools in Kampala and other urban areas have continued teaching online and those with TVs are learning. Even if schools close for a year or two, the children of these parents are unlikely to repeat classes. They will progress to the next class. Mr. President these could be the category of parents who call you not to re-open schools. They are the ones threatening not to send their children to schools until the government declares zero COVID-19 cases or till a vaccine is available.
This group has nothing to lose with schools staying closed. I can be classified in this group. Over the last 3 months, I have been in charge of my children’s education. I have even been thinking of opting‐out of formal schooling altogether because I have been inspired by the learning and growth of my children in all aspects during this time at home. This COVID-19 crisis, while terrible overall, has revealed to me that children can be educated without being formally being in our normal and expensive schools.
Mr. President, those who are like me in a privileged position to do home schooling or follow virtual classes or benefit from TV lessons and newspaper pull outs are very few probably less than 5% of parents in Uganda. We must think about other parents and children who are not schooling at all the moment schools closed. You are in a very privileged position and we are lucky to have a president who appreciates scientific information and makes use of intelligence information to make decisions for the common good. I am sure you are already doing more consultations and you will make the best decision to help a common man deep in villages with no access to internet, TVs and even radio.