Uganda: Cabinet Okays Schools to Reopen for P6, S3 and S5

3 February 2021

Cabinet has given the green light to schools to reopen for sub-candidate classes nearly a year after they were closed following the coronavirus outbreak.

The latest decision by Cabinet is contrary to the earlier proposal by the Ministry of Education to fully reopen academic institutions.

Their counterparts at the Health ministry and National Covid-19 Taskforce opposed the Education ministry's position.

However, the Cabinet meeting on Monday put a condition for the reopening, with government saying there will first be an inspection conducted by officials from both ministries of Health and that of Education to ascertain the schools' preparedness to receive the learners in the face of a pandemic.

According to a statement by the government's Media Centre, Primary Six pupils, Senior Three and Five students can report back in the short term to ensure progression.

But the statement said nursery schools remain closed because the learners are "prone to respiratory infections" and it is not easy to ensure they observe standard operating procedures (SOPs).

"Given that Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) will be completed on March 31 and Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) on April 6, there will be more space in schools when candidates leave to enable other classes report back," Mr Dennis Katungi said in a statement he read on behalf of the Media Centre executive director, Mr Ofwono Opondo.

This suggests that the sub-candidate classes will report in or after April when PLE and O-Level exams have been completed and the candidates vacated the schools.

It is not clear whether then, the learners in the aforementioned sub-candidate classes will report as candidates or in their respective classes of last year.

Mr Katungi noted that promotion to the next class will be based on attendance and continuous assessment of class work and assignments.

The latest development has been criticised by education stakeholders, especially in the private sector, questioning whether anything has changed.

Many children currently are at home without learning at all due to lack of access to the Internet, while some are studying online, but erratically.

The government also observed that since technical institutions and primary teachers colleges have space that can allow the recommended two-metre social distancing between the learners, all their students can report back.

But for universities, government asked the management to 'stagger' the reopening in order to comply with the anti-Covid-19 SOPs.

All learners who have been allowed to report back have been asked to wear facemasks all time, while the Ministry of Health was tasked to create a team of doctors who will support institutions that will be affected with coronavirus.

National Private Educational Institutions Association-Uganda secretary for research, Mr Hasadhu Kirabira, yesterday said despite the President's pledges for financial support to bail out private institutions and their employees during the pandemic, they haven't seen any money.

In addition, Mr Kirabira said e-learning is only benefiting the rich families who can afford data for Internet.

He said Cabinet's position on school reopening reflects President Museveni's communication during their discussions prior to their final conclusion.

"They have not reopened to other classes. They are just replacing the candidates because they are talking of April when the current candidates have left. That was always the prayer of the President. Even when we had him on Zoom, that is what he was talking about. They are telling us to prepare for April after the vaccine has arrived," Mr Kirabira said in an interview.

He added: "Government should give us a strategic direction on how it is going to manage the situation. Our issues are not answered. Allowing sub-candidates in March after candidates complete exams creates no difference. They have been silent. They are not giving people plans to know what to do. This allows speculation. How can parents prepare without a programme?"

Mr Martin Okiria Obore, the chairperson of Association of Head teachers of Secondary Schools Uganda, told Daily Monitor that they are under pressure from their communities to reopen schools.

"We support full school reopening. We call upon the Health ministry to adjust so we don't lose a generation," Mr Obore said.

Last year, the Health ministry set SOPs for schools to reopen. They required that primary school classrooms at least accommodate 10 pupils each, while secondary and tertiary institutions were recommended to handle 15 students per classroom.

In her report, Health minister Ruth Aceng observed that many education institutions were crowded, which limited social distancing and lacked sanitation facilities thus compromising Covid-19 control measures.

Dr Aceng feared that day scholars would easily transmit the virus because of free entry and exit at the schools, putting the rest of the learners at risk.

"Additional streams and new infrastructure requirements or modification may be required in order to accommodate the other students. Where changes in infrastructure is not feasible, the Ministry of Education should consider a shift system for students-morning and evening shifts of Monday to Wednesday then Thursday to Saturday in order to achieve the required social distancing for prevention," Dr Aceng said last year.

While various stakeholders continue to push for full school reopening, there hasn't been any effort to add on the infrastructure that existed at the time of school closure in March.

However, it is also important to note that government refused to give financial support, especially to private schools, to expand their classroom space in accordance with the requirements.

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