Uganda: Government Faces Hurdles in Plans to Reopen Schools

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The Ministry of Education and Sports is stuck with President Museveni's directive to reopen schools to candidate classes as the country prepares to begin a phased easing of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Sources close to the ministry said yesterday that top officials handed over their proposals to the National Coronavirus Taskforce, highlighting many unresolved issues that should be addressed before the reopening of the schools on June 4.

On Monday, the President directed the Ministry of Education to come up with an "action plan" within two weeks to guide the reopening of the schools to candidate classes.

Following his directive, the ministry taskforce met on Tuesday but did not conclude on a number of issues.

One contentious issue was how students from the border districts where the President maintained movement restrictions will move and how to bring in international students.

Sources said they decided to refer the issues of students' movement in border districts and the return of those from other countries to the Ministry of Health for action because they raise security and health concerns.

Education ministry to decide

However, the source added that when they met the national taskforce on Wednesday, they were informed that they will only be given feedback and it will be the Education ministry to act. It was, however, not clear when the feedback would be given.

"The people who are coming from border districts and the international students have to be tested. That is now beyond the Ministry of Education. We have handed over our thoughts to the Ministry of Health. We had doctors on the team. One of them was giving a proposal but the other doctor was not agreeing with certain things," the source said.

"Some of us are saying visitations will happen but not at once. You can have a visitation week not a visitation day. But some doctor was saying, 'No. What if some of them were truck drivers with the virus'," the source added.

Another concern is that majority of the education institutions will still be congested, which makes it difficult to adhere the Ministry of Health's recommended social distancing of four metres apart.

Many schools don't have teachers' houses. This means they will continue to interact with the public as they commute from their homes and this will expose the learners to the risk of contracting the virus. Another source noted that it is not easy to monitor movement of day scholars.

While the Ministry of Education taskforce welcomed the idea of allowing candidates to report first to free up space in the school, the trouble is still on when continuing students should report. But the source who attended the Wednesday meeting said the health experts warned the education officials against allowing large numbers in school. The experts said they are looking at reopening schools fully next year.

Unresolved issues

"The only thing that is scary is that the health experts said they will not make any decisions for us. They said they will present us with the facts and what they think we should do. But they will not tell us how or what to do. That means we will go back to our stakeholders?" the source said.

"There are many questions because those that we are saying they start, how do they start? How do you ensure that this girl who stays in Namasuba but goes to Kitante Primary School and has been using a boda boda to the next stage, then a taxi and then uses another boda, how will this kid reach? Those are still the questions," the source added.

The source revealed their concern now is how the candidates will report before thinking about the continuing students.

"The national taskforce and health officials said they are looking at opening schools next year. They wondered how we are thinking about opening now," the source added.

Mr Alex Kakooza, the ministry's permanent secretary, said their plan will be ready by Friday. Officials from both ministries of Education and Health held a meeting yesterday on the way forward.

What key stakeholders say

Mr Filbert Baguma, the general secretary of the Uganda National Teachers Union, said most schools lack teachers' accommodation and wondered how the learners from border districts will be taken care of in the absence of public transport.

"Learners from the border districts are scattered everywhere. Even if you say you are going to put joint means of transport, it will be practically impossible. There is a lot to be done in these two weeks," Mr Baguma warned. Ms Zauja Ndifuna, the proprietor of Mbogo Mixed School and a member of the Federation of Non State Education Institutions, welcomed the President's proposal but said the plan should be pushed to July for adequate planning.

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