Schools across the country are set to reopen in January next year, nearly two years after they were closed by President Museveni in March 2020, to stop the spread of Covid-19.
But with few vaccines available, the second wave of Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations, and deaths struck. This again forced President Museveni to order another lockdown on June 7, for 42 days.
Indeed, as the lockdown dragged on with no end in sight, many Ugandans sought other avenues to keep some semblance of learning for their children.
Soon, the population opted for various alternatives, including online and underground classes, especially for those who could not afford international schools.
Many have resorted to neighbourhood education that has seen some parents liaise with teachers in their backyards to conduct underground classes amid the pandemic.
Twelve-year-old Brian Mayanja (not real name), has been attending face-to-face classes in the lockdown since last year.
His mother, who asks not to be named, says fellow parents arranged with the school director, who rented an enclosed house in Makindye, Kampala, to conduct secret teaching.
“He selected a few parents who agreed to the idea and classes got relocated to a residential building in Makindye, on the outskirts of Kampala, where classes have been held daily since last year,” Mayanja’s mother reveals.
She says a few pupils in semi-candidate classes live in ‘dormitories’, while others commute from home.
Another source says she chose to take her children upcountry where some schools operate.
“I paid fees last week, my child has been studying, and other worries are handled by the school directors,” she adds.
Some of these hush-hush teachings involve conducting physical classes in people’s homes and sometimes in schools.
Last year, the Kampala Metropolitan Police deputy spokesperson, Mr Luke Owoyesigyire, said police stormed a primary school in Kira Division, Wakiso District, and found classes “going on normally”.
Hasadul Sserwanja is the proprietor of SAS Junior School in Busabala, Wakiso District.
He says for two years, his school has been closed after failing to utilise the available avenues to extend education to his pupils.
He says although he initially tried to shift classes online via platforms such as Zoom and Teams, he was frustrated by various limitations associated with online schooling.
“We tried teaching online but the Internet is unreliable, and most of the parents have no gadgets [desktop computers, laptops, or smart phones] to keep up with the trend. At the end, only a few affluent families could afford,” he laments.
“Parents who feel left out either look for private coaching, underground classes, or international schools,” he adds.
Mr Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the Kira Municipality MP and the spokesperson of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, says the schools should have remained open since Covid-19 is here to stay even after mass vaccination as has been witnessed across the world.
“We have incompetent leaders who are only excited about the vaccine donations. Even after vaccination, Covid will still remain just like it is the case in countries where people are vaccinated,” he explains.
Mr Ssemujju says the leaders should instead encourage the population to observe the standard operating procedures (SOPs).
“Our leaders are fearful of the international community and are selfish because their children are going to international schools or abroad to acquire education,” Ssemujju says.
Much as there are reports that some international and private schools are continuing with classes amid the closure, Dr Denis Mugimba, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, says the government okayed only finalists in international schools to resume classes.
“Our official position on international schools is that finalists, who are in classes for the candidates that have to sit exams in the August – October window 2021, should resume,” Dr Mugimba explains.
He says candidates in international schools were granted permission to reopen just as the case was for local students who were allowed to sit their final year exams.
“Learning is taking place, what government stopped were physical classes,” he adds.
Indeed, online classes have actively continued for schools such as Gayaza High School, Greenhill Academy, Hillside, Sir Apollo Kaggwa, and Kabojja Primary School.
Much as Dr Mugimba says the ministry has no capability to monitor those who are wrongly promoted, he says online classes are not a guarantee that a learner has to be promoted to the next class because it is still deemed unacceptable.
But the question remains whether schools and parents who have had their children actively learning throughout the lockdown, will accept to spend the money and time, do tests, sit internal exams, and have their children assesed for the two years of continuous learning.
Government data estimates that more than 15 million children in Uganda have been affected by closure of schools, with education accounting for about five per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Uganda is ranked among the top 20 countries with the highest number of days of full school closures between March 2020 and February 2021.
Data from the Unesco Global Monitoring of School Closures Caused by Covid-19 Pandemic report, 2021, highlights that children in Uganda missed 149 school days during that period.