Community leaders have a role to play in schools reopening

Benon Kyome

What you need to know:

...a government announcement is not enough especially for those in the rural setting.

I work with a non-governmental organisation that has projects in Buikwe, Sironko, Masaka, Abim, Kaberamaido, and Mbale. As a child centred organisation, education is one of the focus areas.

Therefore, when the Ministry of Education pronounced itself on the reopening of schools towards the end of 2021, as an organisation, we embarked on the task of encouraging parents and children within our partner communities to go back to school and take the learners back to school.

However, during my visit to the above mentioned project areas in November and December 2021, I realised that there is need to look beyond the government announcement and get hands-on to ensure that children go back to school.

This is true because a report by the National Planning Authority (NPA) on the safe reopening of schools points to the fact that some children have “forgotten” how to learn.

“Whereas government committed to support the continuation of learning during school lockdown, through various remote learning options, evidence shows that majority (51 per cent) of learners across the entire education system stopped learning with the closure of their schools.”

The report adds that due to prolonged school closures: “It is projected that 30 percent of the learners are likely not to return to school forever; many teachers are likely not to return particularly after engaging in more lucrative commercial activities.”

So, for such categories of children and parents, a government announcement is not enough especially for those in the rural setting. This is where community leaders should come on board. To pick from one approach, our entry point into a community are the local structures. These include community groups such as Self Help Groups (SHGs), local council leaders, religious leaders and chiefs, among others.

The reason we use these structures as the entry point is because in the rural setting, local leaders are respected. Research has also proved so. A research on the role of community leadership in the development of grassroots innovations by Mari Martiskainen indicates: “Community leadership can aid the development of grassroots innovations, which operate in niches and require nurturing.”

The research adds: “Community leadership are embedded into social networks, shared vision and decision making, but pre-existing skills and tacit knowledge also play a role. Community leaders can also assist niche building by working closely with intermediary actors.”        

Therefore, religious and cultural leaders should use their platforms to request parents and caregivers to take children under their care back to school but also encourage learners to go back to school.

Development partners such as non-governmental organisations in different communities can also serve as leaders and in this case they can bridge the financial gap.

This can be done by first ensuring that schools are safe for the learners. This requires that they provide schools with safety gears such as hand sanitisation items like jerrycans and soap and while in school, learners can be equipped with skills of making facemasks.

In addition, development partners can either hold community meetings where they encourage learners to go back to school and parents to take their children back to school or support local leaders to do the same.

Therefore, in the face of the effects that came with Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, there is need for everyone to get on board and ensure that learners go back to school now that schools have been reopened.

Mr  Benon Kyome is the National Director of Share An Opportunity Uganda

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