The Covid-19 pandemic gave birth to many major changes in the way individuals, institutions and the government go about their activities ranging from living, working, learning among others.
Education which is also a vital aspect in societies was not spared by the new normal and schools were among the first institutions to close down in Uganda because the traditional setting was nothing but a potential contamination hotspot.
In an interview, Rosemary Seninde, the minister of state for Education (Primary) explains what government is doing to ensure that learners do not miss out on school.
Your ministry announced that there will be no nursery education until covid-19 is gone,is there any other reason?
Of course, I would like the public to appreciate that the Ministry of Health came up with standard operating procedures that must be implemented and when you look at these young children, I don’t think the managers of these children will be able to implement these SOPs. A child of that age can’t put on a mask because they can easily suffocate.
Can’t we prevent these risks and allow the kids back to school?
When the teachers are teaching these children, they are closely interacting with them. How will you stop these children from interacting? We are talking about social distancing, so at that age they can’t. We must appreciate the fact that pre-primary is mostly about playing. We teach these children through playing. This can be done at home.
Single mothers who had done away with maids and resorted to taking their children to daycare centres, are they not going to be affected?
When we got the problem of Covid-19, many challenges followed and of course none of us, even the government and the parents themselves, knew what would follow after this pandemic. We must appreciate that this is a new normal. This is a situation that we can’t do much, parents have no choice, they have to follow the guidelines.
How is the ministry going to manage the situation where teachers move from one school to another? isn’t it going to be another way of spreading the virus?
No,we have agreed as government and we have already informed the country that not all classes are going to reopen at the same time so that means that there are teachers who are going to remain home. They will not even stay home because they will have to come and help to fill the gaps. Remember we said we need only 15 children per class which means that even all other rooms will be occupied.
Is there surplus budget for the struggling schools?
I am telling you this is a big challenge and of course we must remember that Covid-19 came with it’s problems. Many businesses have closed down, education is not spared we have some private schools which are going to close down.
Is there any plan to help these private institutions that are more likely to close?
We would have loved to but it may not be easy ,it can’t be easy at all,we tried to discuss it at one point but we realised it’s not possible.
Talk about President Museveni’s Shs 20 billion package to teachers.
They have not yet started receiving that money because the ministry of education is still working around the clock to ensure that we get a fund manager to enable these teachers access this Money.
We heard some controversy around this money, what is the truth?
What kind of controversy? Initially I believe some teachers thought that there was no money. I want to allay the fears of our teachers that the money is there. I was given the responsibility of chairing the committee that is actually discussing the issues to do with this money.We don’t want this money to get lost.
Since a school is both a public good and a business,how is the ministry going to regulate these private education facilities?
We have the Education Act which is like our Bible. It clearly provides for the responsibility of government and we regulate the private institutions. We have made sure that the private schools adhere to the regulations and the law. If government was not regulating, probably private schools would have continued to teach even during lockdown.
Does covid-19 give the government an opportunity to do more in terms of regulation?
Many things have changed and things may not go back where they were. I do believe that this business of social distancing in the dormitory will remain because we must agree that we are now moving to the new way of doing things.
Since covid-19 has changed a lot of things,does it mean that your ministry is going to ask for a supplementary budget to deal with the situation and the challenges?
I may not talk about supplementary budget as of now but of course the truth of the matter is that definitely Ministry of Education will need more money.
Given the effects of covid-19, many teachers have moved on to do different things for survival and there is fear that many of these may not come back to the profession,does this burden you?
It is true many of our teachers could only concentrate in the classroom and that’s why you will realise that during Covid-19 lockdown, there are some teachers who were innovative and creative. Some people are worried that maybe some of these teachers may not come back to teach but of course I believe these teachers will definitely come back. For those in government schools who may not come back we shall replace them.
Is there any plan to stop teachers from hopping from one school to another as it is used to be?
We are trying to encourage schools to avoid that especially the private schools because it’s not so common in government schools.
Finally, when will the current P.7 begin S1, Will they wait until next year?
You will realise that our calendar has been affected. We have been completing our calendar year in December and starting the new academic year in January but now so many things are going to change. We are going to release the new school calendar.