Uganda: Govt Yet to Agree On School Reopening

Empty class.
27 January 2021

The Ministry of Education is stuck on when to reopen schools for other classes because majority of the institutions lack space, which scientists have emphasised is key in controlling the spread of coronavirus.

The proposals from both the inspection team and scientists will be discussed today by the sector's top management before a decision is reached in tomorrow's meeting that will be chaired by Education Minister Janet Museveni at State House, Entebbe.

Sources, who preferred anonymity because they are not the sector's Covid-19 taskforce committee spokesperson, say they agreed to reopen schools to all learners in early January, and tasked the committee chairperson, Mr Ismail Mulindwa, to manage the processes.

"The position is that learners should go back to school this term to avoid a dead year. The only concern the meeting observed was adherence on wearing masks consistently and washing hands with soap," the source, who attended the ministry's meeting said.

However, another source said scientists have remained uncomfortable with some proposals, insisting that social distancing of two metres must be maintained.

In some discussions, the source added that they had suggested to reduce the distance to one metre considering that many institutions are struggling with space and classes are congested.

"When you look at a school, can the learners fit in? These other issues such as handwashing and masks can be sorted. But if you want to create space for everybody, you will need days to construct. We should be able to manage the issue of space within the available structures. That is a huddle we are discussing now," the source said.

It is also a dilemma for the ministry to limit teachers' movement once the schools fully reopen with fear that they can infect the learners.

But Mr Filbert Baguma, Uganda National Teachers' Union general secretary yesterday said it will be impossible since many schools do not have staff houses.

"It is difficult managing teachers' movement. In some areas, there are no houses at all. They have to commute. Some proposals can't fit in all circumstances," Mr Baguma said.

There are already reports that some schools have started allowing in learners in other classes in addition to candidates who were officially cleared last year to report to complete their studies.

Although it is not yet clear whether this will be third term for the rest of the learners and hence a promotional term, educationists have warned that the ministry's planning should ensure there is continuity in syllabus coverage and that no child will be penalised as a result of individual school demands.

The State Minister for Higher Education, Mr Chrysostom Muyingo, acknowledged that most of their schools lack space for the learners but added that their technical team with support from scientists would manage a safe return for the learners.

Mr Alex Kakooza, the ministry's Permanent Secretary, said they will be discussing the proposals from their team and scientists today, adding that the minister (Ms Museveni) will tomorrow then advise the public on how many learners can be permitted in school and when.

Education institutions were closed on March 20 last year following the coronavirus outbreak.

Ministry."The scientists are uncomfortable with social distancing proposals. With the nature of our schools, we will never reopen because some of our schools are crowded. There was a suggestion to reduce on social distancing. As government, we must ensure everybody is safe. It's something the meeting will agree on this Thursday," Mr Chrysostom Muyingo, State Minister for Higher Education

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