Uganda: Government, Stakeholders Yet to Agree On School Reopening

(file photo).

The Ministry of Education technical team has gone back to the drawing board after the minister, Ms Janet Museveni, directed for further consultations on how they can safely reopen schools.

Sources close to the week-long closed door meetings at State House with various stakeholders, said it was agreed that the ministry further consult so that everyone was involved in the final position they will settle for.

Ms Museveni, who is also the First Lady, met Members of Parliament on both education and health committees who raised other concerns that they thought must be attended to before schools reopen.

The ministry officials had earlier indicated that guidelines for school reopening would be issued by Friday which was not done.

In their draft proposals, schools were to partially start reopening on June 8 following a directive from President Museveni.

Sources, who declined to be named, however, said MPs observed that the guidelines which the ministry had drafted had not factored in the easing of the lockdown, which encouraged mixing up of people as well as the rising number of coronavirus cases.

One source said: "It became clear when we met MPs. The border issue came up and no one had answers. They said we cannot apply the same guidelines for the districts at borders. We did not think through the fact that people can now move and mix with each other. Parents are asking: what will you do to our children across the border? Will you quarantine them every time they come for school?"

Mr Patrick Muinda, the assistant commissioner in-charge of ICT at the Ministry of Education, confirmed that they would not be able to issue the guidelines until they concluded the consultations.

"The ministry is now at the final stage of consultations and embarking on consolidating the feedback it obtained over the last week. The ministry communicated it would issue guidelines and dates for reopening this week (last week). This will not take place due to emerging issues which require further multi-stakeholder discussions and concurrence before the ministry can issue a statement," Mr Muinda said in a statement.

According to Mr Muinda, the minister's guidance is to ensure that everyone participates and owns up when things backfire.

"You have to have good answers for that parent. Should things backfire, you will not say its education. It will be a collective decision. We will all own it. That is the best direction and the Minister guided so well," Mr Muinda said when asked.

The ministry taskforce, chaired by Mr Ismail Mulindwa had proposed that schools which are both day and boarding choose to either be day or boarding but not both. If not, the schools would be required to separate the different sections to avoid mixing day scholars from boarders.

But the proposal received criticism from the Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu) leadership who in their statement argued that the decision to force learner's to be day or boarding would be discriminative since every child has a reason for using their specified mode of study.

Another concern complicating the ministry's planning is the rising cases of Covid-19. At the time of closure in March, the country had not registered any case. By yesterday, there were 413 Covid-19 cases.

"Let us finish the consultations. It is what will guide our decision. If this Covid-19 comes we shall manage it like a wave and whoever survives, survives. As far as we are concerned, children are not affected adversely unless they have underlying reasons. The only worry is when they mix with their already ailing parents and guardians. Our health experts will guide," Mr Muinda said.

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