With only two terms physically attended by candidates due to the lockdown on schools that was imposed in March last year to curb spread of the deadly coronavirus, there is an urgency for the students to finish the year and for the rest of the learners to return to their normal routine. Meanwhile, the candidates race to catch up with what is left before the final exams due to start in March.
By day two of the term, when I visit Greenhill Academy Secondary Kibuli School, the situation is still a gentle and slow one with 50 percent of candidates back to school as the school head later shared.
The moment I step into the school at the main gate, I am welcomed by a police guard who asks where I am heading to. I explain my errand, and that I was being expected by the school. Just in front of the gate is a hand washing point which I am directly asked to go to and have my hands washed before registering my details in the visitor’s book. “
No mask, no entry”, a post had announced when I entered. I obey. After my details are taken, I proceed into the school. I can observe a number of hand washing points at several points in the school as I move around. In the compound, there is no sight of students save for one or two who I see disappearing into their classes. Generally, the school is quiet.
“We have 125 candidates in Senior Four and 127 in Senior Six. We have received 50 percent of the total candidates and are keeping track of the remaining 50 who are not yet in and we hope that by next week, they will be in,” Wilberforce Kamengo, the head of school shares.
The school runs a boarding section.
At their sister school; Greenhill Academy Primary School, the turn up is better, with 95 percent of learners back to school, Moses Kirinya, the Head teacher tells us. All learners here are day scholars with a total of 239 candidates registered to sit for PLE come March.
At Mirembe Junior School Namuwongo, 77 pupils are slated to sit for their Primary Leaving Exams.
According to Mrs Jolly Kamishani the school director, the pupils are just trickling in with about 40 percent of them back.
“Some parents were very afraid of the elections and say that they will bring their children after the elections. Others even took their children up country and they are struggling to come back to Kampala, so we have really started poorly this term,” she attributes this poor turn up.
She further explains that following the internet shut down, some parents have also not been able to access their money, “So we get pupils coming in without school fees and parents are asking us to wait. But also, many people have been on Christmas holidays and are waiting for their salaries at the end of the month,” Kamishani says.
Echoing the same concern is Sister Regina Nabawanuka, Head teacher Mt. St. Mary’s College Namagunga who notes that some of their parents have not been able to pay school fees because of the internet shutdown that couldn’t allow for payment using School Pay, one of the modes of payment.
She also shared that though 95 percent of the candidates are back to school, some of the teachers who are not on government payroll have been financially affected and thus, are demotivated, giving them a rough patch as they begin the term.
At Muni Girls Secondary School, Arua, 80 percent of learners are back, but mostly without school fees. “Many parents don’t have money to send their children back to school and those that have sent them didn’t give us money. But we accept them anyway, the way they are,” Grace Manasseh Draru the head teacher explained over the phone. The school has 103 girls in Senior Four and 17 in Senior Six.
When asked what Standard Operating Procedures the schools had in place, several of the schools were well equipped.
At Greenhill Academy Secondary School, the head teacher shares that they have improved on what the government allows for and have them supplied in abundance. This includes hand washing points, temperature guns manned by trained personnel, enforcing proper wearing of face masks and an isolation room managed by a nurse for covid suspects.
Equally, its sister primary section also has SOPs in place; with learner and teacher temperatures taken every morning when they report to school, since they are running a day section.
“We have encouraged our learners to wear masks and we have introduced a fine for people who don’t wear masks well. We also encourage learners and staff to social distance and to further limit interaction, parents are not allowed to access the school when they bring their children in the morning. So far, we are doing well, but sensitization continues every day,” says Kirinya.
“We sanitise the classes every time learners go out as well as keep social distance. We used to have 30-40 students per class but now, we have 10 pupils per class. During breaks, we don’t allow them to come out at once but in sessions. We have some cases of asthma but we seat them in a well aerated place and once in a while, they are allowed to remove their masks,” Kamishani says.
Readiness for national exams
Beyond preparing against COVID attacks, schools have to have learners ready for the national exam and considering the current state of affairs, we sought to know how well they are prepared.
At Mirembe Junior School, when school opened for candidates, they embarked on finishing first term’s work as well as handling second term’s work and thus taught for the biggest time in the previous term. They also didn’t have Mocks or any other exams, which helped them to focus.
“This term, we have programmed ourselves to prepare them for PLE. We are focusing on question approaches, going through past papers and doing more revision in lower class work,” Kamishani says.
At Greenhill Academy Primary School, Kirinya explains that after receiving learners back from lockdown, they embarked on having the syllabus finished. Though some of this is pending, the plan this term is to have the syllabus for every lesson covered before they switch to assessments, practising, finding out learners’ challenges and giving remedials where necessary.
“When I interact with the learners though, I see readiness to receive what we have prepared for them and what we want to guarantee is an excellent performance,” Kirinya confidently says.
As for Greenhill Academy Secondary School, students have had online lessons since lockdown in March, which were attended by about 65 percent of the candidates.
“When they reported to school in October for the term, we grouped them into those who had attended online classes and those that had not. As the others did revision, those who had not attended online lessons were brought up to speed to be on the same tagline with others. When they caught up, we continued teaching them and so far, we have covered the entire syllabus,” Kamengo explains.
At Muni Girls Secondary School, the head teacher admits that progress has been slow. Last term when schools opened, teachers tried catching up but there was a lot to be covered. “Though we had put work online for our learners, there was little impact because they needed teacher’s help and guidance and the school environment to study.
Generally, they came back so raw!” Draru shares.
As a school, however, they are now trying to have the syllabus covered through having extra classes in the night and early morning. The target is to finish the syllabus and get time to do final touches before students sit their national exam.
However, beyond the academic challenges posed by the lockdown on schools are psychosocial challenges on learners who have spent a long time home so much that some had given up all hopes of ever getting back to school.
In addition to this are challenges they met at home and in their communities like domestic violence, among others that have diversely affected them.
“We learnt about these when we hired a group of counsellors who came in and interacted with our students when they got back to school, though our school counsellor had also observed it,” Kamengo says.
To act on these challenges, the students were clustered in groups based on challenges they faced and a recovery program was rolled out for about three weeks. These included general and private sessions counsellors had with students and gradually, their energy was revitalized. “As we are beginning this term, the same exercise is being carried out to have these challenges addressed to have learners level with the fact that they now have to study,” says Kamengo.
Mirembe Junior School has also observed the same challenge. Their course of action has been having a time of prayer and counselling sessions for pupils. “They have been home for a long time and their minds have been on social media and other media. Through talking to them, we are trying to refocus them on PLE and bring their minds back to school,” Kamishani concludes.