President Museveni in his address to the nation on matters regarding Covid-19 on September 20 directed that schools be reopened to finalists and candidates.
The President’s speech was excellent. He highlighted different alternative financing strategies to alleviate the challenges private school teachers and school entrepreneurs are facing, an indication that he is aware of their plight.
The President also gave at least three weeks for schools to prepare for reopening. But given Covid-19 disruptions, it will not be an easy task, especially for private schools to reopen. However, this should not an excuse for continued closure of schools. In any case, the President advised that if some of the private schools are not able to reopen, their students could be absorbed in neighbouring government schools.
This is the second time the President is suggesting reopening of schools to finalists and candidates at all educational institutions. The first time was on May 18. The Ministry of Education started planning how learners could go to school, but they hit a dead end, partly because other stakeholders made it hard by coming up with outlandish demands as pre-conditions to reopen schools. The President then decided to extend reopening of schools to the chagrin of many.
Already, there are some groups of people, who are opposed to the gradual reopening of schools. Some people are even calling for a declaration of a dead year. These people are similar to those advocating continued lockdown of the economy to defeat Covid-19. They also seem to suggest that the President is hasty in making decisions.
Yet during the Covid-19 pandemic, the President has proved that he listens, reads widely and respects scientific and well researched information.
The President has been categorical on reopening of the economy, and he is right. In his own words, the President said “yet, we cannot and should not remain in lockdown indefinitely. Why? It is because the economy must grow; otherwise, bigger problems may show up. Besides, in many cases, lockdown is not necessary. Why not? It is because we have already shown you how to be safe.”
The Ministry of Education should take further steps and come up with guidelines for reopening schools. The directive that finalists should return to school means that candidates will not be interrupted at their critical stage of their educational career.
While other students may read on their own and be promoted to the next class next year, it is impossible for finalists because they will need to sit for a national exam to acquire a national certificate before they move to the next academic level.
If the President announces a dead year, it will mainly affect the candidate classes. The non-candidate classes will become candidates next year creating two batches of candidates in a single year. While the majority may not be learning, a good number of students are attending virtual classes and others are home schooling with the assistance of teachers. They will be ready for the next class and you can’t make them repeat.
Homes are not safe for children anymore, especially with political campaigns taking centre stage. You can no longer talk about social distancing in many areas. It will be easier to conduct social distancing in an organised environment such as schools.
There are always worries and questions, but even so we should not push school to one side in this current difficult period, because there will be terrible damage if we lose a generation of children who have been stopped from going to school for several months or even years. The return to school as has been directed by the President, will happen progressively. But taking a step for at least one class to start, is a very important leap forward.
Prof Mesharch Katusiimeh is lecturer at Kabale University.