MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND SPORTS
P. O. BOX 7063 Kampala, Uganda
In Uganda, the first case of COVID-19 was reported on March 21st 2020 from a traveler returning home from Dubai. He was intercepted at Entebbe International Airport. Since then, the confirmed cases have risen to 657, with 118 recoveries and no deaths as of 9th June 2020. Most of these cases are “imported” as they are from returning travelers or their contacts. However, there have been a few identified from the community, confirming that there is community transmission in Uganda.
Several measures intended to flatten the pandemic curve in Uganda were adopted, including the closure of schools due to the fact that social distancing was not practically possible in our school setting. These measures have been effective and we applaud His Excellency the President of Uganda for the leadership as well as the COVID-19 task force at the Ministry of Health. The Uganda education system has over 15 million learners with an additional 600,000 attending schools in refugee settlements. In your maiden address to the nation since the closure of schools, you highlighted April 27th 2020 as the tentative date for the reopening of schools and higher institutions of learning.
However, the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 in the country resulted in the extension of the lockdown by 21 days. This prompted your second address in which you noted that schools would not reopen as initially communicated. In the same address, you emphasized the need for continuation of learning despite the delayed re-opening of schools and issued various strategies to facilitate this process including; radio, television, and self-directed learning materials that would be disseminated in the national newspapers.
“On the continuity of learning, I informed you that this happens beyond the four walls of a classroom but reinforced by effective implementation of the whole curriculum. In the present circumstances of total lockdown, the greatest contributors to learning are the parents and immediate family” – Hon. Janet Kataaha Museveni, Minister of Education and Sports.
In his 15th National address on COVID19, the president noted that schools re-opening will only be considered after a month from the 28th May 2020 with only learners in candidate classes being allowed to resume school. Civil Society Organizations advancing the sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing of individuals across Ugandan communities, recognize the timely and monumental strides made by the Ministry of Education and Sports under your leadership to ensure continuity of learning despite the lock down. As these innovative strategies are being adopted across communities, other issues that could potentially impede the successful learning of young people remain partially unaddressed.
The inequalities and inequities further exacerbate the already existing inhibitions to learning as indicated below;
- The proposed methodologies of learning prioritize traditional subjects. However, sexual and reproductive health needs of young people have not been prioritized, including access to correct, age-appropriate, and culturally sensitive information which facilitates informed decision making regarding their health and lives.
- The disruption in the school syllabus could result in work assignment overload for learners in a bid to make up for lost time, which could cause stress and compromise the mental health and wellbeing of both learners and teachers. This may push some children to lose interest in learning due to the pressure, teachers failing to complete the syllabus yet exams can be set from anywhere, leading to low grades, and eventually school dropout.
- Learners from hard to reach areas and those with special needs may experience difficulties in accessing learning materials as disseminated on the various platforms and channels.
- The learners living in child-headed and economically deprived homes are likely to benefit less from the proposed strategies of learning as their priorities are divided between meeting their basic needs and dedicating time to learning- yet accessing the learning materials is close to impossible for most of them.
- The capacity of parents is not strengthened enough to bridge the sexual and reproductive health information gaps and ably support learners during this period to appreciate sexuality education which also includes information on growth, puberty, fertility, dangers of early sex, and pregnancy among others.
Developing and establishing robust crisis response strategies for the learners in candidate classes that have so far been directed by the president to resume school in a months’ time and those still in the during the lockdown and to ensure their overall health and wellbeing. Therefore, the Civil Society Organizations propose that the Ministry of Education and Sports;
- Expedites the passing and implementation of the National School Health Policy to guide and rejuvenate the school health programmes post the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Operationalizes the National Sexuality Education Framework as per the presidential commitment at the ICPD+25 conference in Nairobi, See
- Establish mechanisms of protecting learners and teachers as schools re-open, ensuring that they have masks, hand washing facilities, temperature guns, among others to minimize the spread of the virus.
- That the Ministry revises the school calendar and supports the school administrators to adjust to the revised calendars to avoid panic in schools in a bid to complete the syllabus.
- That the Ministry ensures that all schools have psychosocial support to meet the mental health and sexual reproductive needs of learners and teachers. Train senior women and male teachers on how to provide counselling and deal with the different health needs of young people, including implementation of the Girl child School Re-entry and Retention Strategy to give any girls who may report to school with pregnancies, an opportunity to continue with their studies
- Ensure liaison of schools with nearby health centers and that the test kits for the COVID19 are available and accessible in the various healthcare centres at any time for access by schools.
- Address the unique health challenges of adolescents like sexual and gender based violence, teenage pregnancies, menstrual health and HIV, among others within the learning medium and materials shared for learners.
- That the Ministry of Education and Sports establishes the Operational Standard Procedures and guidelines to direct learning institutions operate amid COVID19 and establish a feasible and coordinated plan to ensure that the public health preventive measures of COVID19 such as installing hand washing facilities , social distancing, and wearing of masks, among others are in place.
- That Ministry of Education and Sports works with operators of the institutions of learning to devise practical measures for school fees payment and opportunities to educate their children amid the financial constraints that the response to COVID-19 has created, as many people have stopped working. Post COVID-19, this will prevent learners from dropping out of school as a result of defaulting on school fees.
We will appreciate your timely response and action.
- Center for Education, Graduate Entrepreneurship and Empowerment
- Center for Health, Human Rights and Development
- Joy For Children Uganda
- Naguru Teenage Center
- Partners in Community Transformation
- Philomera Hope Foundation
- Public Health Ambassadors Uganda
- Reach A hand Uganda
- Reproductive Health Uganda
- Sexual and Reproductive Health Alliance Uganda
- Teach for Uganda
- Uganda Health Marketing Group
- We talk series Uganda
- White Ribbon Alliance Uganda
- Youth Equality Center
A version of this article was originally published in the Daily Monitor on Friday 19th June 2020.