Big challenges as schools reopen

Saturday October 02 2021

Pupils of Stella Maris Boarding Primary School Nsuube in Buikwe District attend class before lockdown in March last year. PHOTO / GABRIEL BUULE

By Damali Mukhaye

Even before Uganda recorded its first Covid-19 case, President Museveni on March 20 ordered the closure of all institutions of learning on grounds that he was removing all likely hotspots to prevent any super spread of the pandemic. 

The schools were to be closed for one month, but after the country recorded its first case two days later, on March 22, many more cases were soon reported as government extended its closure of schools for more five months.

In September, government reopened schools in a phased manner, starting with candidate classes and final year students in higher institutions of learning. Government later reopened for other classes, including Primary Four, Five, and semi-candidates. 

President Museveni then said with proper observance of the standard operating procedures (SOPs), the virus could be managed and he cleared schools to reopen. Uganda had by then recorded 6,287 cases, with 2,616 recoveries and 63 deaths.

Just after the candidate classes had completed their national examinations in May, government brought on board Senior One, and Senior Two students and was planning to bring on board Primary One, Two, and Three pupils, but President Museveni announced a second lockdown in June, again ordering the closure of all schools.

This means Nursery, and Primary One to Primary Three pupils have spent nearly two years home without stepping foot in class.
Senior One and Senior Two have studied for only one month and a half since March 2020.


Whereas parents and proprietors of private schools have piled pressure on government to reopen schools before this year ends, President Museveni recently cleared only tertiary institutions to reopen in November. He said primary and secondary schools will reopen in January next year. 
But since 2020, government has announced several measures to ensure continuity of learning during the lockdown caused by Covid-19.

The first step was online teaching and learning, which government emphasised, especially for tertiary institutions.
However, the online lessons have proved both expensive and discriminatory, and have favoured only rich parents and students in schools located in urban areas. These are able to pay for lessons and afford smart electronic gadgets.

But their counterparts in the rural parts of the country, with no Internet connection, and with limited access to smart electronic gadgets and power supply, have since been left behind. This has created a big gap in accessing education between children of the rich and those of the poor.

The chairperson of Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu), Mr Filbert Baguma, says the country will be plunged into a crisis when schools reopen, especially for learners who have not been accessing online lessons.
“Online teaching has widened inequality between the haves and have-nots. Those with rich parents have kept studying and are still studying, while those with poor parents have not learnt and are still home,” Mr Baguma says.

“Schools, other than international ones, will have a crisis managing these two groups of students. Government will have to come in to guide the schools because if they promote those who have been studying online and leave out those who did not, it will be unfair,” Mr Baguma said.

Indeed, premier schools, including Gayaza High School, Seeta High Schools, and Hillside Primary Schools have since been teaching their learners online.
Some of these schools that have been conducting online lesions say they will base on this to promote learners, despite the few hiccups they have faced.

An online survey conducted by Gayaza High School indicates that some learners were not focused on online lessons, with the majority unable to even switch on their phones or ignored their phones as lessons were going on.

The survey, which Saturday Monitor has seen, indicates that 74 percent of the students attended all the classes, while 18.2 percent attended partly, and another seven percent attended only some subjects.

Only 13.9 percent of the students said they participated in all the discussion, while 61 per cent participated in some subjects and 11.7 percent did not participate in any discussion at all.

The survey also indicated that only 29.9 percent of the students focused on all the online lessons, 54 percent focused on most of them, while others said they did not focus at all because of the disruptions of Zoom lessons by poor network and low or no Internet connectivity.

Mr Ivan Ssenkya, the director of studies (DOS), says the school is slated to promote the learners based on assessment it will conduct on their online lessons. He says whereas they faced several challenges in delivering these lessons, they have managed to keep their learners active while at home.

Failed govt promises on study materials
Study materials

Government promised to distribute home study materials to all learners, but during its first attempt in April last year, most learners missed out on the handouts.
Government delivered the first set of study materials through local leaders (LCIs) but reports indicated that the leaders handed out the materials to their voters and close neighbours.

Government this year opted to deliver copies of more study materials to schools to enable learners pick up the materials directly from there.
The Ministry of Education, in April, printed 5.4 million copies of study materials for Primary Six and seven, and Senior Three and Four, which were distributed to 34,200 schools across the country.

Government has also bought more copies of study materials worth Shs48 billion, which will be distributed next month.
But the chairperson of the National Private Educational Institutions Association, Mr Hasadu Kirabira, says the effectiveness of the study materials supplied by government remains unknown because not all learners received copies or were learning.

Radio and TV lessons
Government also planned to deliver radio and television lessons but failed because some families in rural areas hardly had TV or radio sets.
President Museveni last year promised to buy nine million radios and more than 130,000 TV sets for families that did not have any.

But this pledge hit a dead end after MPs on the Education Committee declined to approve the Shs336.6b required for buying the radio sets.
This was after MPs established that one of the companies in Namanve near Kampala that the Ministry of Education and Sports had contracted to produce the radios had imported the sets and could not produce the required quantities.