The news of the resumption of schools was received with mixed feelings by the public, we look at the different challenges that face the reopening of schools in Uganda.
As the president addressed the nation on Monday 18th, May 2020, there was a ray of hope for the parents, educators and students as the president made mention of reopening of schools in Uganda starting with the candidate classes and finalists in a bid to allow them to prepare for the national examinations.
This, according to Mr Museveni, would see pupils of primary seven and students of form four, six, finalists in tertiary institutions and universities resume studies as soon as the public transport resumes.
The resumption of public transportation, just like that of educational institutions, was tied to the supply of masks. Museveni unveiled the plan by the government to distribute masks to all Ugandans aged six and above at no cost. The said masks, he said, were being manufactured by Nytil and would be ready in two weeks.
The news of the resumption of schools was received with mixed feelings by the public. While some think it is a good idea to start a phased reopening of schools, a section of others said it is too early for the government to reopen schools at a time when Uganda continues to register many numbers of Covid-19 positive cases.
The different opinions aside, we look at the different challenges that face the reopening of schools.
The cost of social distancing
As the Ministry of Education works on the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the reopening of schools, it is very obvious that social distancing will be much emphasised. While this is understandable, it is also evident that this will come with a huge price to pay.
For instance, one of the expected guidelines will be a reduced number of students per room. This will necessitate the increase in a load of every teacher or need for more teachers. While one may argue that the teachers of the other classes will be idle and therefore can come in, this is not applicable everywhere as different teachers specialise in different levels.
For instance, it would not make sense to deploy a teacher of primary two in a primary seven class to prepare candidates for a national exam.
The collection of school fees
While it is expected that the Ministry of Education will issue guidelines to schools regarding the collection of the unpaid school fees for term one, it remains unclear how exactly schools will go about the same. It should be noted that term one had been covered halfway by the time schools closed for lockdown.
Therefore, the ministry will most likely draw a program that will provide time for the completion of term one syllabus. That leaves an imbalance between the parents who had cleared, those who had partially paid and those who hadn’t paid anything at all (yes, it’s possible!). That subsequently poses an unresolved conflict with the school on how to deal with the three categories of parents.
In a related story, it should be noted that most parents are not working and therefore are likely to find it hard to clear the school dues.
The border districts
In the president’s speech, it was echoed that the border districts of Uganda will not be able to reopen public transport. This was done to prevent the possibility of spreading Covid-19 from the neighbouring countries. This leaves the candidates and finalists in such districts with no means of accessing their schools.
It should be noted that some students in those districts attend schools and universities that are many miles away from their homes.
We will wait to hear from the Ministry of Education on the same.
The cost of the new normal
By this time, everyone has learned to live in the new normal. Things like hand sanitizers, masks and other things of the sort have become part of us. It is most likely that the ministry will have to make most of the above a most have. This will come with the cost.
Such a cost will be a huge burden to the schools and the schools may end up pushing the burden to the already broke parents in the form of school fees increments.
The teachers’ salary woes
Most private schools and institutions have not paid salaries to their staff. They attribute this to the unavailability of funds as their sole source of income – school fees – was put on halt.
With the new directive of opening with only candidates and finalists, certainly, the schools will only be able to collect some revenue from a handful of candidates and finalists (who had not yet paid).
This same revenue will be subjected to meeting the entire cost of running the school and paying salary to the teachers in charge of the finalists.
It remains unclear whether the other teachers will be considered to partake on the meagre revenue.
As schools resume with only finalists, it is evident that they’ll try to cut costs in all possible ways. This among others will include the laying of some of the staff.
This is most likely to affect the non-teaching staff whose services schools may, for the meantime, do without. Jobs of the cooks, matron, gardeners, watchmen, cleaners, secretaries will hang in balance as schools attempt to cut operational costs.
With the curfew guidelines still in place, the day students will be expected at school later than usual and expected to be home earlier than usual.
In a related case, teachers with no residences at boarding schools will not be in a position to conduct evening and morning preps. This will reduce the contact time with the students. We shall wait to hear what the ministry will have to say about the same. There are a lot of other issues that will need the ministry’s proper scrutiny and subsequent action as we move towards the reopening of schools in Uganda.
Issues like how students will get their hair trimmed with the salons closed. These and many others remain unresolved in the stakeholders’ minds as we wait for the guidelines from the ministry.