On 1st/February/2021, Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports cabinet decided that schools and other learning institutions will be reopened in a “staggered manner” especially for the semi-candidate and university learners.
As the date for when the entire education system will become fully functional remains unknown in the country, the systems’ closure since 18th March 2020 when the lockdown was first announced due to the outbreak of the Covid19 pandemic has inevitably forced over 15,100,000 learners and 548,000 teachers countrywide to adapt to the immense challenges of the academic year 2020/21.
With a country that is amidst an economic crisis and an education system that was unequipped and underprepared to respond to the pandemic, school dropouts, teenage pregnancies, and child marriage rates are likely to skyrocket countrywide.
For the younger learners in pre-primary and lower-primary, a drastic shift from their pre-covid routine of colorful classrooms, friends, and extracurricular activities has inevitably had a levy on their mental health with physiological distress, worsening behavioral problems and somatic symptoms such as changes in sleep and appetite.
In the attempt by the government to mitigate this challenge through urging schools to adopt structured lesson plans and remote teaching programs such as student-teacher Whatsapp groups, Zoom, and Google meet classes for interactions, this has only underlined the country’s non-inclusive and discriminative education system.
For many learners from low-income communities, the outbreak of the pandemic has only been another hailstorm for them because they lack resources such as internet connectivity, a dedicated quiet place to study, books, and other scholastic materials making their education continuity a mere myth.
Also, parents and caregivers- particularly those in poor rural communities- cannot support their children as many of them are illiterate or unable to read and comprehend the curriculum. All these factors combined have left millions of children stuck.
The process of reopening schools is gradual with only a few students attending/ hoping to attend school. This is to reduce the agglomeration or the possibility of another wave of the pandemic’s variants as the ministry also devises means on how the education system can recover stronger.
I spoke to a few learners across the age group of 9 to 17 years on their thoughts of being out of school, online schooling, how they have been trying to stay positive, and their expectations when schools reopen:
Karegyeya Favour Crystal- 13 years and wants to become a business lady in the future.
- How do you feel about being out of school for 10 months since the outbreak of Covid19?
I feel both good and bad. I feel good because I have gotten time to relax my mind from studying nonstop during the three yearly school terms as well as during the holidays.
I still have to keep reading because we have beginning of term examinations when school resumes and that will be very stressful. I also feel good because I have been with my family this entire time.
I feel bad because when school resumes, it will be difficult for me to cope with the syllabi and perform the way I used to. I have a feeling it will take time for me to get used to being in school again. I also feel bad because I have gotten so lazy, my handwriting has gotten worse and this will be a problem. I have also gained a lot of weight and I no longer fit in my school uniform.
- Have you been able to self-study during this period of being out of school?
To a small extent, especially during the first 3 months of the lockdown and the time when there were rumors that we would be promoted to the next class according to how we had been previously performing. My mother also keeps pushing me to continuously read my books.
- Have you been able to get in touch with your teachers and friends during this period, and how have you been doing it?
Yes, I was in touch with my teachers when the pandemic had just started through a WhatsApp group they had created. They created a timetable, sent work, and then we would do tests but that only lasted for the first 3 months of the lockdown. I would answer test questions from my teachers but that has disappeared since then.
- How are you trying to stay positive during this period?
I am very positive that Covid19 is going to end because we are going to receive the vaccines for it. We will then be able to go back to school and everything will go back to normal.
- What do you expect when school reopens again?
I expect the teachers to be more lenient by giving us more time to cope with what we have missed during these 10 months and also schedule extra lessons for us. I also expect fewer students to return to school because some have dropped out especially the girls who have gotten pregnant and married.
Kagumya Ithiel Jared-10 years and wants to become an Archeologist in the future.
1. How do you feel about being out of school for 10 months since the outbreak of Covid19?
I feel bad because I miss my daily routine of going to school from Monday to Friday and seeing my friends, teachers as well as reading from the library that was nice and peaceful.
- Have you been able to self study during this period you have been out of school?
Yes, ever since school stopped, I have gotten the chance to learn about dinosaurs, read books about Jesus Christ and learn about other countries.
3. Have you been able to get in touch with your teachers and friends during this period, and how have you been doing it?
Yes, one of my teachers comes home every Tuesday of the week to tutor me. For my friends, I have only been visiting those in my neighborhood, but the ones from school, it has been impossible.
- How are you trying to stay positive during this period?
I am keeping the faith that this pandemic will be over soon and that we will be able to get back to our daily routines.
What do you expect when school reopens again?
I expect SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) such as washing hands, social distancing in class, and temperature checks to be followed at school to prevent us from catching Covid19.