In March, Education minister Janet Museveni ordered schools to stop opening as early as 6am and not close as late as 8pm. Almost a year on, the status quo remains, largely due to low commitment from relevant authorities and the parents adamancy to adapt to the new guidelines.
The assistant commissioner for Primary Education in the Education ministry, Dr Tony Mukasa Lusambu, said even before the minister issued the directive, they already had it in their policy, curriculum and in the Education Act.
“She just emphasised what we already had. We are dismayed that schools have continued to defy that. Some children have even lost sight in their infancy because they are put in classrooms that are dark or with different shades of light. However, we have made great strides in enforcing the law in Kampala,” Lusambu revealed.
According to Rose Margret Katengeke, a counselling psychologist at Pearl Africa School, forcing a child out of bed as early as 5am could cause them to hate school.
Katengeke says in most cases the child is deprived of enough sleep because millennial children go to bed earliest at 10pm yet they have to wake up early which leaves them with six to five hours of sleep depending on the time they are to report to school.
A child who is picked up at 6am is likely to sleep in class leading to poor concentration and poor class performance hence hating both school and the teacher,” she says.
The early opening of class hours has somehow caught up with the very tender children who are in the nursery section because some of them have parents with a busy schedule and there are those who are forced to travel early with their elder siblings. The school will eventually also fix provisional activities for such a child.
Aside from children who walk alone in the wee hours of the morning unattended to exposing them to unscrupulous people, some schools do not have teachers that early.
Caroline Achan, a parent, stopped the school shuttle from picking her son from home at 6am after she passed by his school at 7am one day and found the gate open and only one teacher present.
“The teacher told me his colleagues had gone with the shuttles to pick up other children. But the gate was wide open with no gateman yet there were some pupils around. This is risky for the children’s lives.” Achan reasons.
Braving the cold that comes in the wee hours of the morning poses health complications for children.
Stella Ahumuza’s 10-year-old daughter who suffers from sickle cell anaemia has to be at school by 6am yet she is sensitive to the cold.
Ahumuza has no option because the morning lessons are part of the syllabus so keeping her at home until 7am is not in her favour. She is picked up from home at 5:30am.
“If there was a way they could make the lessons optional for those who cannot make it at 7am, I would opt for that because the morning cold is not good for my daughter’s health. She ends up getting an attack every month,” says Ahumuza.
First come, first serve
Richard Abura, the Nakasero Primary School, deputy head teacher told Daily Monitor that they give early comers work to do as they wait for their colleagues.
“We drafted our time table to start at 8.30am because most of our pupils come from as far as Entebbe, Mukono and Wakiso districts. Because of the traffic jam, most reach even beyond that.
At St Francis Primary School in Mityana, pupils have no luxury of shuttles and have to trek miles from neighbouring areas such as Butega, Kiganda, Kiyinda and Kiganwa to attend school.
“We got a circular from the district to start school at 8am. Our pupils leave their homes at 6am from their respective villages to be on time but most of them arrive way past 8.30am. Those who come late always find time to catch up,” Ronald Kaweeri, the deputy head teacher, St Francis, revealed.
Parents not compliant
Sometimes the parent’s hands are tied because their children have to be at school and they also have jobs to do. Gida Atim, a parent at Nakasero Primary School who resides in Luzira, says she wakes up with her Primary Two daughter at 5.30am so that they leave at 6.30am for school.
“I want to drop her at school and then run to my UN job in the nearby Nakasero. I then return at 1pm to pick her and stays with her at my workplace until I head home at 5pm,” she says.
Similarly, Mike Kiberu, who lives in Bunga says he sets off from home with his daughter at 6am, to her school (Souvenior Primary School). Because many of her colleagues are yet to report by that time, he says he entrusts her with the askari. “We are used to that routine and it gives me time to rush to the site to go on with my building duties. She gets time to sleep longer at the weekend,” Kiberu says.
There are parents whose children go to different classes and have to be sent to school at the same time. Sarah Nabwire is one such parent.
She drops off her children to school at 6am. She says she cannot travel back and forth so she takes the child in nursery along because the schools are in the same locality.
“My little boy cries almost every morning because he still wants to sleep and sometimes, he wakes up with an excuse of stomach-ache,” she says.