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Uganda Emulates Kenya, as MPs Want 2020 Declared ‘Dead Academic Year’

MPs on the National Economy Committee have demanded the cancellation of the 2020 academic year. More than 15 million students were sent home, as a preventive measure against Covid-19. Now, the MPs have advised the government to declare 2020 a dead year as opening amid the burden of following the Standard Operation procedures would not be feasible.

Standard Operation procedures to strain the finances of the schools

Committee chairperson Hajjati Syda Bumba noted that the procedures would enormously strain the finances of the schools, forcing most of them to closure. The committee was face to face with the State Minister for Higher education, John Chrysostom Muyingo to discuss how the pandemic had generally impacted the education and sports sector.

MP critics ministry’s suspense over the reopening of schools

Bernard Atiku, the Ayivu county MP criticized the ministry for leaving the country in suspense over the reopening of schools. He also advised in favor of the declaration of a dead year because it’s impossible to proceed under current circumstances.

“We’re now in mid-July, meaning actually that July is already ended, so if you’re looking for any period to utilize, it is from August, September, October, November, and December. But you are also aware that we are entering a critical political period. Much as we’re talking of scientific elections or campaigns, we know what it means to be an inactive political environment and also having the current situation of coronavirus and education. I don’t know why the ministry is not coming out clearly to advise the government that this is a dead academic year” said Atiku.

Schools to Reopen in Phases

Ismael Mulindwa, the director of basic and secondary education told MPs that schools were to reopen in phases, starting with the candidate classes, immediately when the ministry observes how to ensure continuity of learning under the new SOPs.

However, Mulindwa’s statement contradicted the observation of the Commissioner for education, planning, and policy analysis at the ministry of education, Frederick Matyama who noted that the cost of reopening schools is beyond the government’s means. He said the government needs up to 78 trillion Uganda shillings, more than the county’s budget for Financial year 2020/2021 to enforce the Covid-19 SOPs in schools.

JC Muyingo however, noted that the ministry was only waiting for the green light from the Ministry of health in order to reopen the schools.

“One of the responsibilities of the government is to ensure that citizens are safe and secure – our children, our teachers, our parents who go to these schools are safe and secure. That is why we are saying for us as the education ministry are ready but waiting for the Ministry of health to advise us and tell us that now the time is ready. If the Ministry of health and scientists agree tonight that it’s right, that tomorrow is the best time for us to send our children to school, the ministry of education will pronounce the time when the schools will reopen. That is why for us we’re not talking about a dead year because any time the ministry of health tells us, we’re ready to open” said Muyingo.

MPs also advised the ministry to terminate the program of the distribution of learning materials because it is ineffective. This came after the minister’s observation of a need for a national education curriculum policy that promotes a hybrid model combining institutional-based curriculum delivery with the online and home-based study.

Establish dedicated radio and TV stations to sustainably run education programs

Muyingo observed the need to establish dedicated radio and TV stations to sustainably run education programs.

However, the radio teaching program and distribution of study materials aroused criticism from Aswa County MP Reagan Okumu, saying such a policy would be ineffective in rural Uganda owing to differences in social and economic lifestyles between towns and villages.

“Their social lifestyles in villages, they will not have time to listen to the radio.  They will have to go to the garden, they will have to go to the wells or these other places and they will not be there. They have to go and cultivate; they have to go with their parents. By the time they come, they will have to do homework. But during school time, they don’t do that because their parents expect them to be at school. But when they are at home, they have to be part of that productivity even if they have that radio. But even then, the social lifestyle doesn’t allow them as your program, even if they have the radio. Secondly, the economic lifestyle doesn’t allow them even to afford batteries. Batteries become a luxury,” he said.

Distribution of study materials was a waste of time

Okumu was backed by Thomas Tayebwa and William Nzoghu, both fellow MPs who noted that distribution of study materials was a waste of time in the villages since there were hardly enough copies for circulation and the lack of instructors and supervisors deemed the whole program useless.

Tayebwa told the committee that the study materials were having zero impact, following a survey in the constituency and after talking to all the LC1 Chairpersons.

“Whatever you sent to the villages is having zero impact, the children are in the gardens. This is the reality I got from the leaders on the ground. The children are in the gardens and their parents are just waiting for the schools to reopen. The copies you sent to the LC1 chairpersons got spoilt after being used by 1,2,3 people, and some were destroyed by the rain. But number 2, madam chairperson, in areas like mine, we have no single A3 photocopier in the whole district”, said Tayebwa.

The MPs insisted that the government was creating a huge gap between those learners with means, that were benefiting at the expense of those without. They added that under these circumstances, it was unsafe to reopen schools as many students would be left out.

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