Pains of Covid: Akampa’s UCE dreams hang in the balance over virus

Gideon Akampa during the interview. Photo/Promise Twinamukye

What you need to know:

  • When the country announced lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of Covid-19, the most affected were school-going children, many of them staying home for close to two years. Starting today, we bring you stories of how the pandemic affected learners; some of whom have never gone back to school. Here is the first instalment.

"One morning, people came to interview me. They said they were bringing help. I just needed to look into the camera and answer questions they had for me. I gladly did that. They said my story was going to the BBC, and that many people would see me and give me a helping hand. 

“They handed me a Shs50,000 note and a few days later, a friend called telling me to check on BBC on TV. My story, evidently, was right there on the screen. The help, however, has never come through.”

This is Gideon Akampa’s story. Akampa is a resident of Nakigalala, found just a few kilometres off Kajjansi Trading Centre on Entebbe Road in Wakiso District. 
He says he started getting mentally ready to go back to school after the interview was broadcast on BBC, a segment he watched from a TV in shop in Kajjansi Town. 

But now, while some of his friends have registered for Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) exams, he is still at home, watching the little glimpse of hope for a chance to go back to school fade further away.
When Covid -19 struck Uganda, Akampa’s school, along with others, were shut. He had just started Senior Four at Trinity College Kajjansi, a school where he had a bursary taking care of half of his fees because of his Primary Seven results. He had scored aggregate 7 in the Primary Leaving Examinations he did at Kitende Primary School located in Ssisa Sub-county, Wakiso District.

The other half of the fees was paid by him and his grandmother, right from Senior One.
In Senior Four, however, the fees he had to pay had increased to Shs350,000 – half of the Shs700,000 that the Senior Four students had to pay.
When the school opened after the lockdown on education institutions was lifted, however, the fees he had to pay had escalated to Shs600,000. A total of Shs250,000 was an addition for registration and filling forms, among other requirements.
Akampa knew that it was going to be really difficult to make that amount of money.

Financial background
Akampa’s mother passed on when he was in Primary Three. His grandmother then took on the responsibility of paying for his school fees from the money her other children would send her.
Life got tougher when he got to Primary Seven and the money did not come in as it used to. 
He started collecting scrap to add to what was needed to pay the fees. His father, he says, couldn’t care less about his school necessities and so he stayed out of the picture. 

When he was given a half bursary spot at Trinity College Kajjansi, it came as a little relief. His grandmother would pitch in as he looked for more to ensure they had the full amount.
In Senior Two, Akampa started washing motorcycles to earn more money to take care of both himself and his grandmother, plus school dues.
Since he had learnt how to ride a motorcycle when he was 10 years old, by the age of 16, Akampa was already making money off the skill. His friends would give him a bike for a few hours and he would make some money.

“I used to make between Shs4,000 and Shs5,000, depending on the day. We would use some of the money at home and I would use the rest to top up on the school fees,” Akampa says.
However, when Covid-19 hit, there were no more motorcycles to wash and no gigs to do. All he could do was go with his grandmother to the garden so they could find what to put on the table.
By the time schools were reopened, Akampa and his grandmother could only afford a quarter of the money he was to pay. The school was strict on the full amount being paid and so would not have it.

“I had to go home and sit. The money I made was not enough to take me to school since I had to also take care of myself. When a friend told me there were people coming with help, I was elated. I knew I was going to school very soon,” he says, sadness spreading over his face.
He had even started revising with friends when they got back from school to keep his mind fresh. He says now the tiny light he was seeing at the end of the tunnel has left only a spark.
“I have kind of given up. Even speaking to you feels like I am wasting my breath,” he says, almost bursting into tears.

 “When the reporters from the BBC came three weeks after schools were reopened, they promised to call. They never called. And I cannot call them before they call me. Students are about to finish registering. If all fails, I need at least a senior six certificate. From there, we can see what to do next,” he says.
The deadline for students to register according to the Uganda National Examination Board was May 3, with a provision for late registration up to June 30, but with a 50 percent surcharge for those registering for UCE.

Covid impact
 A report by the National Planning Authority compiled in August 2021 and released in January 2022 indicated that 30 percent (4.5 million) of an estimated 15 million learners in the country would drop out of school, stifling literacy levels.

This came as schools were set to reopen in January  for the first time in two years. President Museveni announced the closure of learning institutions in March 2020. The closure would last nearly two academic years as the country battled the coronavirus pandemic.

In a study released by UNFPA, a total of 354,736 teenage pregnancies were registered in 2020, and 196,499 in the first six months of 2021. The Situation of, and Impact of Covid-19 on School going Girls and Young Women in Uganda report by UNICEF indicates that between March 2020 and June 2021, there was a 22.5 percent increase in pregnancy among girls aged 10-24 seeking first antenatal care from 80,653 to 98,810.  

The UNICEF-supported child toll-free line, Sauti 116, reported more than 600 cases in the month of June 2020 alone. The cases ranged from sexual abuse, physical abuse and even one instance of murder. In addition, approximately two out of every 10 children had less than a meal a day as they no longer had access to the meals provided under the school feeding programmes.

Dr Munir Safieldin, UNICEF representative in Uganda, said there is more to schools than learning. “When schools close, children are at risk with marginalised ones paying a heavier price. Evidence shows that the children’s literacy levels fall with many facing the risk of never attending school again. There are other risks such as child labour, mental health, and sexual exploitation,” she said in July.

A recent study released by John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre  titled Covid-19 Pandemic: Bottleneck to the Education of the Teenage Girls in Uganda reveals that only 52 of 157 girls returned to school in 2022 at Oryang Primary School in Nebbi District, one of the 12 target schools.


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