What you need to know:
- School heads have asked government to give parents and schools time to mobilise learners for vaccination.
Unvaccinated learners won’t be allowed in classes when the government reopens schools in January next year, Daily Monitor has learnt.
The new policy will not affect learners below 18 years since the government has not rolled out vaccination for children.
School administrators and other authorities in the districts have also been ordered to block all unvaccinated teachers and non-teaching staff from accessing school premises.
On Friday, the Ministry of Education officials held a hybrid meeting with sector players and discussed the draft reopening plan. The purpose of the meeting according to sources was to thrash out the sticking issues before government announces the reopening date.
The meeting was chaired by the Ministry of Education director for basic education, Mr Ismail Mulindwa, in the presence of Kampala Capital City Authority’s education director Juliet Namuddu and officials from Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu). The rest participated via zoom link.
When asked to explain the new compulsory Covid-19 requirement for learners above 18 years and other key decisions made in the meeting, Mr Mulindwa confirmed the meeting but refused to provide details since he is not the spokesperson of the ministry.
During the meeting, the school heads and other stakeholders asked government to give parents and schools time to mobilise learners to go for vaccination. They didn’t get any answer. They were told that the final decision will be made by the Education Minister Janet Kataha Museveni this week when she announces the final school calendar.
The meeting also endorsed compulsory automatic promotion policy of all learners without tests or promotional exams. Under the new government policy, learners at all levels have been allowed to skip one class.
Individual schools have been allowed to come up with own catch-up plans for learners. The stakeholders have also agreed to drop the proposed use of condensed curriculum. Government school inspectors will continue to monitor schools and deal with any merging hitches in the government plan.
The government, school heads and other stakeholders in the sectors also resolved that learners who were in Senior Two at the time of closure of schools in June this year by the government will not pay school fees when they report next year.
Schools have been allowed to handle mild Covid-19 cases and only refer severe cases to hospitals. Each school is required to have an isolation facility and all learners with Covid-19 symptoms must be tested before being put on medication.
Whereas the meeting suggested that all schools be made vaccination centres to cater for learners who might have missed vaccination at the time of reopening schools, the government rejected the request and argued that there won’t be enough manpower to conduct the exercise in more than 3,000 schools.
The government advised school heads to mobilise learners, especially those in S5 and S6 to go for vaccination and connect them to nearby health centres. The parents have been advised to take compulsory vaccination seriously.
During the meeting, the government proposed that schools should either operate as day and boarding but not both, a position heads of schools protested.
Government first closed all education institutions in March 2020, two days before the country reported its first Covid-19 case and again closed schools for the second time this year in June after the spike in Covid-19 cases.
Although Mr Mulindwa confirmed the meeting, Denis Mugimba, the Education ministry spokesperson told Daily Monitor last evening that he was not aware of the new requirement.
“The requirement for vaccination of students above 18 years was earlier meant for students in Tertiary institutions. However, the Ministry of Health has now opened vaccination for all Ugandans above 18 years. All students can take advantage of this, but it does not mean it will be mandatory,” he said.
“I am sure that since the government relaxed mandatory vaccination for tertiary students, the same will apply to students in primary and secondary who will report when they are not vaccinated upon their return,” he added.
Mr Mulindwa told Daily Monitor last evening that after the Friday meeting, they briefed the ministry spokesperson on what transpired.
Government has since June pegged full reopening of economy on vaccination of seven million people. However, for schools, the focus was on all teachers and non-teaching staff in all schools.
A number of universities and other tertiary institutions turned away unvaccinated learners who reported on November 1 after getting the green light from the government. The government has since asked universities to set up vaccination centres at their respective institutions to take care of unvaccinated students.
According to Mugimba, at least 71 percent of teachers had by Friday taken their first dose of the jab while 28 percent had taken the required two doses.
Reaction from heads of schools
Mr Martin Okiria, the head teacher of Soroti SS and the national chairperson of Secondary Schools’ Head Teachers’ Association, said all heads of schools have been asked to ensure that their learners who are above 18 years get vaccinated. “If the government says that we should all get vaccinated and you refuse, that is insubordination. Parents should play their role and ensure that these learners are vaccinated,” Mr Okiria said.
On the issue of school fees, Mr Okiria said his board of directors had resolved that Senior Two students who had paid school fees should not pay again when they report. The chairperson of the National Private Educational Institutions Association, Mr Hasadu Kirabira, said they are scheduled to launch the back-to-schools campaign to push parents to prepare their learners for school and also to encourage them to get vaccinated.
Mr Hasadu, however, asked the Ministry of Education to come up with clear guidelines regarding the issue of school fees. “Some heads of schools are stubborn. They just want to exploit their parents. As private schools’ owners, we don’t want to compromise on this, because if a child has paid and did not study, why should you charge them again. Government should put in place a hotline for parents to report those schools,” he said.
The Secretary General of Uganda Teachers Union, Mr Filbert Baguma, said making the vaccination for students above 18 years compulsory will not work. He asked the government to vaccinate learners on arrival since some of them are from hard-to-reach areas. Meanwhile, he asked teachers who have not been vaccinated to use the remaining period to do so. The head teacher of Seeta High School, Mr Allan Obbo, said if the Ministry of education asks schools not to charge Senior Two students, they will obey.
“We understand that these students have spent about one or two weeks at school so they should not pay. But this will depend on guidance from the ministry, because they might come back in Senior Three, which becomes a different scenario,” Mr Obbo said.