Schools in a fix over Covid-19

 A woman receives a Covid-19 jab  during a mass vaccination exercise at Kololo Airstrip in Kampala yesterday.  Hundreds  of people turned up to receive the jab as  government also  started vaccinating pregnant and breast feeding mothers. PHOTO / ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

What you need to know:

  •  Prof Katunguka said  if students are scared of Internet charges, they can always go to campus to get free Wi-Fi.
  • Mr Fibert Baguma, the general secretary for Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU), appealed to school leaders to adhere to Covid-19 SOPs despite challenges they face in adherence, especially due to limited infrastructure which affects social distancing.

The outbreak of the second wave of coronavirus has put schools and institutions of higher learning between a rock and a hard place.
Whereas some educational institutions have taken the deep dive and sent home students or shifted teaching to online, others are still studying the situation as they buy time with students sitting examinations.
The new variants, according to the Ministry of Health, are very severe and rough on youthful populations and have spread at a time many thought the country was out of the woods.

 Kyambogo University in Kampala yesterday announced that all learning programmes would shift online following snowballing Covid-19 cases. 
The university Vice Chancellor, Prof Eli Katungunka, directed lecturers to start online classes after more than 50 students and 8 staff tested positive for Covid-19.
Addressing a news conference at the university, Prof Katunguka said reports from the Kyambogo Medical Centre indicated the figures could climb if they did not lock up the institution.

 “Many students have cough and flu and a number of them have refused to be tested, hence the situation may be worse than is reported,” Prof Katunguka said.
 He expressed concern that even those that had been found with the virus were reluctant to isolate at their hostels and in halls of residence.

 “Before reopening of the university, we had planned for blended learning involving both physical and online learning. The existence of Covid-19 at the university coincided with our earlier plan of going online,” Prof Katunguka said.
 However, the university was last week thrown into turmoil after a section of students protested the decision to roll back to online teaching that was largely introduced during the Covid-19 induced lockdown last year, citing inequality in access to learning tools.

 Prof Katunguka maintained they had enough infrastructure and capacity for online studies.  
Greenhill Academy Secondary School in Kampala yesterday sent home students for two weeks after some tested positive for the virus.
Mr Wilberforce Kamengo, the school headmaster, in a circular to parents, said the closure would give them time to disinfect the school environment.

“We have registered a few confirmed cases and as a result, we are sending students home for two weeks to curb the contagious nature of the variant and as well disinfect the school environment,” the circular reads.
The headteacher said learning would continue online for Senior One and Senior Two. 
The new developments come after top government technocrats last week sent a raft of recommendations to President Museveni on the way forward. One of them was that teachers who have not taken Covid-19 vaccines should be locked out of the classroom while children in lower primary classes stay home longer as the virus whips the globe again.

Another recommendation was tightening enforcement of curfew and standard operating procedures as well as shifting higher education teaching from in-person to virtual.
Wakiso and Kampala, according to Mr Museveni’s weekend address, are the epicentre of the new wave, accounting for more than half of the renewed national infections.
 At the weekend,  the country had registered 690 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number of infections to 46,623. A total of 362 cumulative deaths had been recorded with 43,401 recoveries.

 However, at the time of President Museveni’s swearing-in on May 12, the country had  registered 42,674 cases.
Dr Kedrace Turyagyenda, the director of Education Standards Agency (ESA) at Ministry of Education and Sports, last evening said they were increasing monitoring of schools.
 “Whenever possible, we do monitoring in schools for adherence to SOPs, but the regular one is supposed to be done by Local Governments led by the District Task Forces (DTF),” she said.

 “Sometimes we hear about Covid-19 cases, link with DTF and they handle. My message to all stakeholders is that Covid-19 is still here, getting more complicated, so compliance and vaccination should be taken very seriously,” she added.
Studying the situation
The Makerere University Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Prof Umar Kakumba, said they had not yet confirmed any case because they had not conducted tests on either staff or students.

He, however, said the university was slated to sample some lecturers in order to know if the virus had reached the hill. “We are trying to manage by tightening on SOPs while we are arranging to have a full staff testing with our facilities. The bulk of Makerere staff were vaccinated and we have also been advising our students to go and get [the jab]. That has been an advantage to us as far as prevention is concerned,” Prof Kakumba said, adding that only finalists were at the institution doing exams.

 The Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Prof Celestino Obua, said they had only one suspected case of Covid-19 but the tests returned negative. 
He, however, said even when they get some cases, there will be no need of closing the university because most of their students are medical workers who are at the forefront in the pandemic fight.

“We are training soldiers so we cannot keep them home. Whereas the pandemic is a serious problem in most institutions of learning, it is providing our students opportunity to learn about various pandemic,” Prof Obua said.
“We are still surviving because our school has very few students compared to Kyambogo and we are doing everything possible to ensure that we maintain SOPs. We have an isolation centre and those who show signs of the virus are isolated,” he added.
The contagious virus has already hit 29 schools in 17 districts with 803 cases confirmed and one death, according to the government information issued last week.

The affected institutions include 10 nursing schools, 11 secondary schools, seven primary schools, one Primary Teachers College (PTC) and one tertiary institution.
President Museveni in his address to the nation said he will sit with the National taskforce on Covid-19 tomorrow to determine how the country shall proceed and would then address the nation on the matter.
Up to 47,147 people have so far been infected with the coronavirus and 362 died since the onset of the pandemic last year. A total of 595,924 had been vaccinated as of yesterday in an exercise that started on March 10 with 964,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
Kyambogo University
 Prof Katunguka said  if students are scared of Internet charges, they can always go to campus to get free Wi-Fi.
 He also asked the government to open Namboole stadium so that students who test positive are isolated there since the university does not have isolation facilities.
 The students insist that online learning is not favourable for all learners since many cannot afford data.
The university minister of Justice and constitutional affairs, Dickens Arinda said  they do not support online teaching.

Meanwhile, Prof Katunguka cautioned staff who shunned Covid-19 vaccination to ensure that they take up the jab.
The university last month organised a three-day vaccination for all its staff but only 400 of the 1,000 staff took the Covid-19 jab.
“The government prolonged reopening of schools to ensure that all teachers are tested, hence interacting with learners when you are not vaccinated is not right. The university is slated to organise another three days of vaccination starting from Friday this week, and I urge staff to ensure that they take advantage of this,” Prof Katunguka said.

Mr Fibert Baguma, the general secretary for Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU), appealed to school leaders to adhere to Covid-19 SOPs despite challenges they face in adherence, especially due to limited infrastructure which affects social distancing.
“The school leaders should understand that Covid-19 is still around and it can hit a school anytime and this can be a disaster. So we should observe Covid-19 preventive measures. We have to continuously see that we invest in standard operating procedures,” he said.
Mr Baguma asked the government to increase testing in schools. 

“Testing in school is not yet to the required level even amid the rising infections and government is saying it doesn’t have the capacity to test all teachers,” he added.
Greenhill Secondary School
Mr Wilberforce Kamengo, the headmaster of Greenhill Secondary School said headmasters should act quickly and avoid concealing Covid-19 cases. “Many schools are facing the same problem [of Covid-19 infection] and the longer they stay without a decision, the more danger they will pose to the children,” he said.


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