At least 1.2 million learners will return to class rooms in Uganda next month after President Museveni on Sunday said his government had decided to further relax Covid-19 restrictions.
“We have decided to reopen schools for candidate classes for S4, S6, finalists in tertiary institutions and finalists in Universities on October 15, 2020,” Mr Museveni said in a National Address.
If schools follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), President Museveni said, they will be safe.
But as the institutions plan to re-open, a pool of challenges appear to overwhelm the solutions.
For instance, one wonders if the health of learners isn’t at stake.
Filbert Baguma who is the General Secretary of the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU), was recently quoted in the media saying that UNATU’s position is that before schools reopen the wellbeing of teachers, the learners and support staff must be guaranteed.
“You cannot open schools when you don’t know whether these schools can afford temperature guns, water access points and whether social distancing would be implemented.”
“Remember the government promised to give out face masks but up to now they are nowhere to be seen.” Mr. Baguma said.
A number of education institutions in the country operate on both boarding and day basis. Hence, there’s a looming danger as those coming from outside daily may help in the transmission of Covid-19.
Relatedly, many schools do not have staff quarters leaving teachers at liberty to move in and out of the institutions at will. This also could act as a catalyst in the spread of the disease.
Another puzzle for the Ministry of Education and Sports will be the formula for determining the 2021 finalists.
In his speech, President Museveni said the fate of other classes would be determined in January next year.
This therefore, implies that a full academic year has been declared null and void. Then, will the Ministry change the education calendar? Or the learners be allowed automatic promotion?
Another disturbing challenge lies onto the directors and owners of private institutions. It posses a question on how the teachers will be renumerated while teaching just a single class.
And after over six months while out of business, will these institutions and schools be able to meet the requirements for a conducive learning environment?
President Yoweri Museveni had in June ordered the Education and Gender ministries to compile a list of education institutions from primary to tertiary that had been affected by the lockdown. And in July, he advised the Uganda Development Bank (UDB) to take on the loans of some of the private schools struggling due to the lockdown. Mr. Museveni also offered Shs2 billion towards the private Sacco of about 350,000 teachers in private schools. But he ruled out paying off their salaries.
However, recently news of how the money had mysteriously disappeared filtered through and it is not clear how many schools or teachers have so far benefited from the initiative.
What is the fate of the candidates whose ‘former’ schools may have closed business?
Buildings of some schools around Kampala have already been repurposed for other businesses. In July, media reported how the proprietors of Najjeera Progressive School with 500 students along the Kiwatule-Najjeera road in Kira Municipality, Wakiso District, had decided to close it after 32 years of existence.
“After comprehensive analysis of the business viability, we are certain the school cannot survive the shutdown measures alongside other pre-existing pressures,” said Andrew Timothy Nsamba, the school director who inherited the management from his mother Kezia Matovu told the Independent Magazine.
And probably, such other but un documented institutions countrywide may have wound up. Now, the big question is whether authorities have the appetite to save the future of the innocent young souls in such schools.
International students; The President was silent on the future of International students who are finalists in Ugandan institutions of learning whereas these contribute hugely to financial muscles of such institutions.
So, if they are to return too, what will be the moderities of testing and quarantining them? If they are not allowed in, won’t there be both financial and legal implications on the side of the schools?
The preparedness of parents/ guardians; It’s important to note that many of the candidates and finalists whom the government has allowed to return to school on October 15 have parents whose sources of income are still shut down.
Take for example bar owners and operators whose businesses are still under lock and key. Will such parents afford to pay the school dues and provide the necessary requirements to the learners? Your guess is as good as mine.
How about teachers and non teaching staff working in private institutions and have received any salary since March 2020? Will they be able to facilitate their finalists to return to class if they have any?
You can generate as much questions about the government and her scientists’ decision but it remains to be seen how institutions and the Ministries of Health and Education will maneuver through as time goes on.