As schools prepare to reopen for candidate classes and final year students, parents across the country have expressed concern over the readiness of the institutions to put in place Covid-19 safety measures.
Some parents also say they may not be in position to send their children back to school on October 15 due to lack of school fees, claiming they were put out of work by Covid-19 restrictions.
Last week, President Museveni allowed schools to reopen, starting with candidate classes of Primary Seven, Senior Four, Senior Six and finalist students in universities and other tertiary institutions on condition that they follow the set standard operating procedures (SOPs).
The schools are reopening after a seven-month closure, which came in effect on March 20 in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease.
Some the SOPs issued to the schools include ensuring a two metre distance between learners and teachers, compulsory wearing of masks, installation of handwashing facilities and routine screening of learners and staff.
The schools must also set up an isolation centre for Covid-19 suspects as well as recruit a health assistant and full time trained personnel to do temperature screening, among others.
In Gulu, Ms Jalia Amuge Okullu, says her son, who is in Senior Six at St Joseph College Layibi, may not return to school.
“My son had a sponsor from the USA. But since the pandemic outbreak, there has been no communication. I have a feeling that the sponsor could have died,” Ms Okullu said.
Ms Prossy Aloyo, a businesswoman dealing in secondhand clothes, said she will not be able to take her child back to school this year because her capital is no more.
“I have told my son, who is in Primary Seven, to wait until next year, because we spent all our money during the lockdown,” she said.
In Kitgum District, the district education officer (DEO), Mr Fred Owot, has advised school administrators to be lenient with parents over school fees.
In Lamwo District, the education working committee has met with the school head teachers and orientation plans are already underway.
“We thought it wise to orient the teachers since they are similarly worried on how they are going to deal with the situation,’’ Mr Barnabas Langoya, the DEO, said.
In Adjumani District, Mr Robert Dima, the DEO warned that schools that will defy Covid-19 guidelines may not open for finalists.
“We will meet school administrators early next week to ascertain if all their premises are ready to observe SOPs before they reopen,” Mr Dima said.
Mr Richard Otech, a student at Data Christian High School in Lira District, said he has ventured into poultry farming and that education is no longer his priority.
“I have already raised Shs750,000 as my capital. I am okay with my business of rearing local chicken, which is a profitable venture,” Mr Otech said.
In Mbale, Mr Robert Wanambwa, a resident of Busamaga Ward in Mbale City, wondered whether he will get money to take his children back to school.
Mr Wanambwa was forced to close his stationery shop in Nkoma Trading Centre over an accumulated rent of six months, last month. “I have four children and one is in Senior Four in a private school. Am not sure whether I will be in position to send him back,” he said.
However, Ms Doroth Nambozo, a vendor in Kikindu market, said the government is risking to reopen schools when cases of Covid-19 are on the increase.
She adds that some private schools in Mbale City operate in rented buildings with small classrooms, something she said may compromise the safety of their children.
“The actual implementation of SOPs in most private schools will be too impractical by all means,” Ms Nambozo, said.
Mr Paul Munialo, the headmaster of Mbale Progressive High School, said private schools are trying to put measures in place . “We are financially constrained but we are trying to put some measures in place,” he said.
Mr Munialo said although the school closed with about 400 finalists, they are likely to get less numbers because some of the students have dropped out of school.
Mr Musa Wanambwa, the headmaster of Lwasso Secondary School, said some parents will also not be able to bring back their children due to lack of fees. “We will also have a challenge of procuring masks for learners and our staff,” he said.
The head teacher of Mbale Secondary School, Mr Moses Buyera, said they have tried to put in place all required measures. “We have a dispensary and a qualified nurse. We have created an isolation room in case of Covid -19 suspect. We have trained security staff to screen students and teachers,” he said.
At the Islamic University In Uganda (IUIU), Mbale campus, where students started reporting on Monday, the institution has put in place safety measures such as hand sanitisers, handwashing facilities at the entrance and exit of the institution.
Ms Rehema Katono, the public relations officer, said students found flouting SOPs will face suspension or expulsion. “We have started receiving our students and we have put in place necessary requirements as per the guidelines by National Council for Higher Education and Ministry of Health,” she said.
When the Daily Monitor visited the university on Tuesday, students were found wearing masks and keeping social distance.
However, some of the students interviewed, said they are still very few.
“We are very few and doubt whether all of our colleagues will come back,” Ms Amina Longose, one of the students, said.
In Tororo, the district inspector of schools, Mr Francis Tabu, said some of the private schools will not reopen because they have limited space.
“We have found that most of the private schools operate in rented premises, so they may fail to implement the SOPs,” he said.
Mr Tabu said there will be a decline in the number of pupils, especially girls reporting back to school, adding that reports indicate that many of them have been married off by their parents.
Mr Yafisa Oketcho, a resident of Magola Sub–county in Tororo District, who has three Primary Seven candidates in private schools, said he may not get the money to take them back to school.
“As we speak, I don’t have money and am sure that I will be required to pay the Uneb registration fee for every child,” he said.
In Namutumba District, Mr Aggrey Kaiso, a resident of Bulange Sub-county, said he has a child in Primary Seven but he is not ready to take her back to school.
“Right now I do not have money to pay for registration and school fees for my child,” he said.
Mr Paul Kaluya, director of Rise and Shine Nursery and Primary School Kirerema in Bulange Sub-county, said he is selling off his school to get money to pay school fees for his two children, who are going to sit Senior Four.
“I have decided to quit the business of operating a school because I am longer, interested in this business,” he said.
In Soroti District, Mr Wasiswa Walujo, a taxi driver, said it would be better if this year was declared a dead year.
“I am grappling with what to feed my family, and now with the pronouncement on reopening of schools, I cannot certainly tell you where that money will come from,” he said.
However, Mr Julius Opaso, head teacher Teso College Aloet, said they are prepared to receive students.
The Kisoro District Education Officer, Mr Emmanuel Mwunvaneza, said an overwhelming number of candidates in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have opted for marriage.
“I am yet to convene a meeting with all the head teachers of schools and principals of tertiary institutions to know the exact number but many have dropped out of school,” Mr Mwunvaneza said.
The Kabale District senior probations officer, Ms Monica Muhumuza, released a report recently indicating that eight school girls have been married off and five impregnated in district during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“All the cases were registered between April and August this year and most of them are from Kaharo Sub-county,” he said.
She blamed the cases on laxity among parents who she said have failed to take care of their children.
“I urge parents to take on their parental responsibilities and stop blaming the government,” she said.
In Kasese District, Ms Rehema Aryema, the vice chairperson for Kanyangeya Primary School internally displaced camp, said more than 190 households including learners are still in the camps as the schools reopen.
“We are actually worried because of the situation we live in and our children cannot afford to go back to school,” she said.
• Seven-member committee to write daily report to the district taskforce.
•Each class to have a student leader specifically for Covid-19
•DEO to lead the taskforce.
•District Health Officer to train school staff and heath workers.
•School to recruit health worker.
•The district taskforce to disinfect all institutions.
•Compulsory wearing of masks and handwashing.
•Full time trained personnel to do temperature screening.
•Isolation room to accommodate suspected cases.
•Learners with flu like symptoms sent home.
•A foot operated handwashing facility with water provided and soap available.
•All learners to keep social distance of two metres. •Assembly discouraged.
•Restrict community access. •Supervise break periods and phased release of students for breaks, lunch and going home.
•Only 10 to 15 students can be accommodated in a standard classroom.
•Additional streams and new infrastructure requirements or modification may be required to accommodate the other students.
•Additional teachers may be required to teach the extra classes or adjust timetables to accommodate the increase in the number of streams and repurposing teachers may be required.
•Curriculum to be reviewed to address the shortened period of face to face lessons and provide materials that can be delivered online.
•Ensure good ventilation.
•Keep windows open.
•Disinfect at end of day.
•Confirmation of a case in a learning institution leads to closure.
•The institution will be cordoned off and secured until all the contacts to the confirmed case are identified and listed by health teams.
•The institution will then be disinfected and reopened after 21 days.
•Teachers and others who may not be residents in the school will be required to observe self-quarantine at home.
Compiled by Fred Wambede, Cissy Makumbi, Joseph Omollo,
Denis Opoka, Phoebe Masongole, Martin Okudi, Stephen Okello,
Ronald Seeba, Simon Peter Emwamu, Robert Muhereza,
Leonard Mbishinzimana, Emmanuel Arineitwe,Enid Ninsiima.