Uganda remains the only East African country that has not reopened learning institutions since president Museveni implemented the second lockdown which left all schools shutdown due to fear of new surge in COVID-19 cases.
After 18 months of lockdown and still counting access to learning has been minimal if not nonexistent in Uganda following the outbreak of corona virus in march 2020 which lead to the banning of public gathering as a way of combing the spread of the virus though in the end has affecting the education sector and all learners.
Some form of teaching and learning is taking place in high-end private and public schools, where parents can afford the cost of equipment, infrastructure and Wi-Fi, to have their children learn online.
But many public schools which enroll children from poor families remain closed, and studies of government’s efforts to distribute printed learning materials for this category show that only 20 percent of households received these provisions.
Experts now say the education sector is in a crisis as players individually determine how to teach and access learning, which has spawned and widened inequality, with majority of school children totally shut out of any form of studying.
“Digital learning is okay, but we were not ready for it. In the private sector we tend to be faster than the government – albeit haphazardly. We took it as private schools as an intervention to bridge the learning gap, but how far can it go?” says Asadu Kirabira, Chairman of National Private Education Institutions Association.
Other educationists say delayed reopening will plunge the sector into a deeper human resource crisis.
“Long closure is a crisis at different levels,” says Dr Mary Goretti Nakabugo, executive director of Uwezo Uganda, a not-for-profit organisation that works to promote equitable quality education.
“Teachers have quit and gone into other trades. So when you reopen, you are going to face a crisis of shortage of teaching staff. And then you have a crisis of children who have dropped out of school,” she adds.
But the government – which has pegged reopening of education institutions on all teachers and children aged 12 and above getting the Covid-19 jab – remains adamant.
“Schools will remain closed until sufficient vaccination of the eligible population and children aged 12-18 years old has taken shape,” said President Yoweri Museveni in his July 31 address to the nation.
However, the experts argue that these vaccination targets cannot be attained soon, because the children are wasting away.
At the time in May, Kenya had 143,525 of its teachers vaccinated. Today, Uganda, whose schools remain closed, has 88,825 of its teachers fully vaccinated.
In March 2020, amidst the fear of the Covid-19 pandemic that was devastating most of the developed world and spreading fast into Africa, President Museveni imposed a total lockdown that saw all education institutions closed immediately.
The decision sent home 15.1 million school-going children at all levels, and for the majority, the status quo has remained for public schools, 18 months later; with pre-primary pupils and those in primary one to three, having not had any form of learning during that period.
Kenya reopened schools in January while Tanzania never closed for prolonged periods.
South Sudan also reopened in May after a 14-month lockdown while Schools in Burundi reopened early this week bringing an end to more than two months of vacation.
Tanzania never closed at all. Was there death in tens of thousands due to Covid? No. We need to accept that when we reopen we are going to have cases, but that doesn’t mean we shut down the whole system. Test, isolate. That’s the way to do it.”
Kenya, which neighbours Uganda to the east, according to Reuters, has registered than 242,284 cases and 4,864 deaths as its schools opened since January. Kenya, just like Uganda, had shut down schools in March 2020 when the Covid-19 contagion had just started taking a foothold across the world.
Both Kenya and Uganda have reported low vaccine uptake among their teachers and non-teaching staff despite the category being prioritised in the current vaccination drive.
Uganda has set a target of vaccinating 550,000 teachers. By Thursday, only 237,930 of the teachers had received the first dose, with 88,825 having received their second shot.
Latest statistics from John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre show that Kenya has so far administered at least 3,192,099 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which translates into about 2.8 per cent of the country’s 55 million population.
Uganda has administered at least 1,622,367, translating into about 1.8% out of 44 million populations in Uganda.
Likewise, teachers and school workers are also mandated to wear face masks at all times, maintain physical distance, and check for COVID-19 indicators daily.
Latest statistics from John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre on Friday showed that Rwanda has so far administered at least 2,822,493 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which translates into about 10 per cent of its population having received the jab.
With teenage pregnancies spiking, the Ugandan government has increasingly come under intense pressure to reopen learning institutions with Ms Janet Museveni, the First Lady, who doubles as Education minister, defecting all the blame.
In August, Dr Besigye criticized government’s continued closure of schools, as our East African neighbours reopened, insisting that Uganda should follow suit because the “infection in children is minimal.”
“For Uganda to shut our schools for over a year is the most heinous crime. There is no justification for the measures that have been taken against schools. We’ve known children are least affected by COVID-19. Why should you shut down schools for knowledge acquisition because of COVID-19?” Dr Besigye said.
Mr Museveni had an opportunity to respond to Dr Besigye during the International Youth Day celebrations at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds on August 12.
He insisted his government knew what it was doing by keeping schools closed and that it needs no advice from anyone.
“The other day I heard my friend Dr KizzaBesigye talking about the opening of schools; that schools should open; that these people don’t have a plan. He was saying the government doesn’t have a plan; that if we had immunised teachers, schools could open…. Okay; thank you very much Dr Besigye, but you have not been through the problem properly,” Mr Museveni said.
By close of July 2021, the UN children’s fund, Unicef, was calling for an end to the school though President Museveni ruled out any re-opening of schools in October.
Education minister Janet Museveni reaffirmed that continued closure of schools is intended to safeguard the health and lives of the youngsters who are Uganda’s future.
President Museveni tasked members of the National COVID-19 Taskforce to scrutinize the influence of limited vaccination of teachers, support staff and elderly parents alongside the risk of the projected third wave of the pandemic on learners returning to class.
According ministry of Education technocrats, reopening of schools was meant to be in October as tertiary institutions considered first, something rumored to have been rejected by the president.