KAMPALA – The Ministry for Education and Sports rolled out a guideline communique for schools to inculcate in the management of the covid-19 pandemic for the candidate classes set to start school on the 15th October. The vision end to the guidelines is that candidates can be able to sit for their final exams without compromising their health in regard to the threat of the covid-19 pandemic.
As a community of parents, civil society, education institutions among others, the impact of the pandemic looms at large in the absence of a vaccine. It is also evidently true that as a society we continue to struggle with following the SOPs in the prevention of the spread of covid-19.
It is therefore imperative that while learners are being prepared to go back to school some key realities need to be revisited and realigned to fit the times set before us. We need to reimagine the learning environment for learners especially those attending the Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) institutions.
There is need to highlight the state of classrooms in the UPE and USE schools and how learning will channel out for candidates in those schools. It should be noted that majority of government primary schools have no boarding sections and have an overwhelming influx of numbers with limited sitting capacity. The Ministry of Education and Sports provided lee-way for schools to operate as either day or boarding oriented but not both. It begs to query, how the schools will manage the mobility of children in the day-school arrangement in light of Covid-19 prevention.
In view of the above, the collective effort of line ministries should be geared to providing conducive classroom arrangements for the students that are set to start school later this week. It will be a discrepancy in planning and service delivery if learners in both UPE and USE are faced with a dilemma of fitting into small structures for class amidst the threat of a pandemic. The ministry guideline communique assumes that all schools have adequate infrastructure available for the learners, in negation of the fact many UPE/USE schools do not have infrastructure and much less the alternatives to sit all their learners with the element of social distancing.
In 2018, schools under UPE sat more students for Primary Leaving Exams than non UPE school with 476,130 out of 671,923 candidates. This among other indicators should drive for a resource pool that can adequately serve over 15 million children who are out of school as a result of the pandemic. It begs the question, will there be alternatives to the teaching arrangement for UPE and USE schools that will underscore the agencies and the need to invest in these low income schools?
It is imperative to note, that the fears in management of learner crowds, is in practising the covid-19 standard operating procedures and following through with implementation of the guidelines of the communique. The fear of the citizenry on the possibility of schools turning into hotspots and death traps for their children continues to loom with unspoken precision. Therefore, the Ministry of Education and Sports in line with the Ministry of health, should think of some executable agenda before the learners’ head back to school.
One, the line ministries need to prepare for a mass testing for the learners and the teaching and non-teaching personnel for all opening schools, in order to create a safety net for the educational fraternity. Notably so, the undercurrents of this lie in the reality that many parents might not be able to afford the price of the covid-19 test which is at 65 US dollars.
In addition to that, schools are requesting parents to show up with their children having paid 50 percent to 100 percent of the schools fees, regardless of the realities that the economy has suffered in both individual and collective finances in Uganda.
Two, key scrutiny needs to be put on the preparedness of institutions in adhering to the SOPs for the prevention of the spread of the pandemic, it should be noted that in the Ministry of Education and Sports communique, assumption is that all institutions will be able prepared in implementing the SOPs to the core. The uncertainties in implementation pose a fear in the community especially for the parents.
There is a school of thought that advocates for rendering 2020 a dead year. It is plausible in the sense that, the line ministries of health and education need to work together with the schools in the remaining months of the year to prepare learners for 2021 as the official/tentative re-opening of schools.
The Ministry of Education and Sports notes that, “15 million learners were returned into 8 million homesteads in Uganda thus reducing concentrations of young people that would have served as “dry grass” in the face of the eminent danger of COVID-I9 transmission. It must be emphasized that, the closure of Education Institutions and subsequent measures limited the spread of the disease by avoiding mobility and other risky interactions.” Therefore, it is credible to argue that a continued hold of children at home, promises a safer ground in monitoring their movements and interactions in the long run.
The Ministry of health with support from the Scientific Advisory Committee identified
potential risks associated with the reopening of education institutions, and developed
SOPs for mitigating the risk of COVID-19 outbreak in Education Institutions. These can only be achievable if we can guarantee the essential and foundational needs that UPE and USE schools need before they are re-opened for active school.
The writer, Tricia Gloria Nabaye is a Resident Research Associate