As Ministry of Education officials embarked on a countrywide inspection of schools ahead of the reopening last week, schools are in a rush to fulfil the required Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
When I got to Gyavira Primary School, in Luwero, the headteacher, Mr Solomon Tebandeke had gathered a small group of volunteers who had come together to clean the school ready for the school term.
The grass in the school compound, aided by the frequent rains had grown to the knees. The classrooms, most of which had uncemented floors and everything therein, were covered in layers of dust, with spiders making a home of every space of the deserted classrooms. Other classes had already been cleaned to be used by the candidates and the difference was evident.
As one group of people dug and slashed the school compound, the others, together with the headteacher, were erecting a temporary fence around the school, using tree poles.
According to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education, schools should have a fence or a demarcated boundary that serves as a barrier from intruders.
At the entrance of the school, a tap has also been put in place to be used by learners accessing the school to wash their hands. Another tap has been placed in the middle of the school compound, and another one outside the school latrines.
“We have enough space to keep the social distance for our learners, we have the handwashing points as you can see, we have also ordered for a temperature gun from Kampala. We have not yet received the face masks promised by the government and the school will be having day scholars only,” Tebandeke says.
He also notes that the community has been very helpful in enabling them to put in place the SOPs. The only things still missing at the school are a quarantine room and a health worker to handle any health-related cases.
Ready to go
On the other hand, Juliet Muzoora Atuhairwe, the headteacher, Bweranyangi Girl’s Senior Secondary School in Bushenyi, says they are well prepared and ready to receive their candidates. Though they have not been able to hit 100 per cent, the school has been able to put in place some of the physical requirements for the SOPs.
“Since the rest of the school will be away, it has given us the opportunity to use the entire school for the candidates, so we will be able to social distance. We have already cleaned up the school, bought the temperature guns, and have handwashing points around the school. As you know, things are not very easy financially, but we have tried to have the most fundamental things,” she says.
Muzoora has also received a call that the inspectors will be coming to inspect the school (on Friday) to see what is on the ground, and she is optimistic that they will pass the test and be able to start. As for other things like the quarantine room that would require putting up a new block, the school is improvising with what they have, they also have a school health worker already and all candidates will be in boarding section as it originally was.
However, away from the SOPs and other requirements, schools are also facing some uncertainties as to whether parents will actually send their children back.
Will they or will they not?
“We have questions and some anxiety; are the students actually coming back? Will the parents send them in the first week or they will first wait and see what happens in the first few weeks before sending the children back?” She wonders.
This is a major cause for concern because a number of schools we talked to are waiting for the students to come back to school, get some fees payment which will be used to fund other requirements and things that are still lacking.
The ministry promised leniency to schools that have fulfilled 50-59 per cent of the requirements to operate on the condition that they put in place everything needed after the first week of the term.
Only schools that have fulfilled 60 per cent and above of the inspection guidelines will be allowed to reopen while those that score below 50 per cent will not be allowed to reopen.
“There is also need to do rehabilitation for everybody including the teachers, so we have already had a meeting with the Board of Governors, and we shall have one with the teachers this week, scientifically, so that we are all on the same page and ready to start,”
Whereas some schools are trying to have at least 50 per cent of the SOPs and guidelines in place, others are so financially constrained that they do not even know where to start. Ben Kamagezi, head teacher of a foreign aided school is one of those left stranded without donor funds.
“Our learners mainly come from disadvantaged communities and have been on bursaries. All our donors have withdrawn funding because of the pandemic that has affected their finances and the parents equally have no money, so we do not have money to put in place even 50 per cent of the SOPs and other requirements,” he sadly says.
Kamagezi shares that they have no funds to sustain the school even if they were allowed to reopen. They have no money to pay rent for the school premises, pay teachers’ salaries and meet other operational costs.
He notes that if nothing changes between now and October 15 when schools are set to open, the alternative will be to disband the candidates to other schools that are able and willing to receive them.
Dr Kedrace Turyagyenda, the Director, Directorate of Education Standards at the Ministry of Education overseeing the inspection noted that from the messages she has been receiving from the inspectors at local government, and the information and photos being shared on their group, the inspectors are in the field and the work is going on.
“Personally, I passed through four districts yesterday; Kiruhura, Ibanda, Kazo and Sheema and the inspectors are doing the work. Right now, I do not have solid results since the inspectors will be consolidating all their findings over the weekend but I will be able to give you solid answers around Monday,” she promised.
The cost of SOPs, requirements
Hajj Jamir Buwembo the headteacher; Kakungulu Memorial School, Kibuli agrees that it is a challenging moment for all stakeholders in education. He acknowledges that many parents have not been working, yet schools cannot function without money.
“It is also a burden for us to fulfil the SOPs and other requirements and we acknowledge that. We, however, want the learners to study and not lose their year. The solution is to have good payment plans with parents so that we do not strain them.”
He adds that it is going to require teamwork; parents and schools working together because the pandemic has caused big financial impacts on both parties.
As a school, they have so far bought some of the requirements;
Four handwashing facilities each at Shs3,500,000, 700 litres of sanitizers at 5000 per litre, 1400 face masks each at 500, five temperature guns each at 250,000, 20 jerrycans of liquid soap each at 20,000 and publication of COVID preventive messages (100pieces) costing Shs800,000. According to this, the school has so far spent a total of Shs20,925,000.
They have also formed a committee of teachers that will oversee the COVID situation at school and attended workshops on handling COVID19 cases and prevention of its spread, Buwembo added.
Other requirements by the ministry
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for school guards (who also need to be trained) at the school entrance(s) and other school staff should be in place.
The school facilities should be clean and COVID-19 preventive messages displayed around the school.
Good garbage and wastewater disosal facilities and adequate toilets/latrines for the learners (ratio of 1:56) should be available.
Schools will be required to operate either as boarding or day, but not both.
Schools should also have a qualified health worker in place, either permanently or part-time.
Some of the SOPs
Education institutions shall restrict entry to their premises by members of the public.
Each institution should re-arrange the sitting of learners using all available rooms within the school to ensure the required social distancing. This may include use of libraries, laboratories, dining halls, main halls where available.
Where classrooms have temporary partitions, institutions should remove the partitions to create larger rooms for ample sitting and aeration/ventilation.
Where available, main halls, dining halls and other large rooms should be prioritized for use as classrooms to ensure that available teachers cater for a sizeable number of learners per class. However, there should not be more than seventy (70) learners in a room/hall of any size for a lesson or other purposes.
A foot-operated hand washing facility shall be placed at strategic point of access to each block (and floor where applicable) used by learners and staff.
Safe temporary shelters, such as tents, may be used as classrooms. Open air spaces, such as tree shades may be improvised as temporary venues for some classes.
There shall be no group and close contact co-curricular activities in all education institutions until further notice. Nevertheless, learners should be guided to engage in physical activities while observing the social distancing of at least two metre.