10 januari 2022
Uganda had the longest lock-down in the world when it comes to education, but today schools are finally reopening. Hasfa Mago Taylor, founder of Book Drive by Read to Learn Foundation in Uganda, gives us a review of the effects of this closure. What measures has she put in place to mitigate these effects? Finally, what are her views on what the government and ministry of education should have done better?
Today, 10th January 2022, schools in Uganda are officially re-opening, close to two years after they were closed on the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Following the outbreak, the Government of Uganda initiated a lockdown that saw the indefinite closure of schools that has lasted for close to 2 years now, making it the world’s longest school closure [UNICEF].
Impact of the Closure
Unfortunately, the closure has had a negative impact on Uganda’s 15 million students, teachers and the community at large. Without education, children become more susceptible to many environmental risks that may stunt their development. As a result of the 2-year closure, there has been a significant increase in child labour, teenage pregnancies, early marriages and sexual abuse, among many other children’s rights violations. Such issues, it is feared, may lead to a large number of school dropouts.
The prolonged closure has also had a devastating impact on the livelihood of teachers across the country. Most of them were left without any tangible source of income, forcing some of them to engage in illegal activities, like theft, to provide for their families. Others ventured into other avenues like farming and small businesses to get their daily bread. Parents have been faced with the hard task of juggling between finding alternative ways to ensure their children continue learning, keeping them safe, and providing for their families. This has proved to be quite difficult considering many people were laid off.
Communities have had to deal with higher crime and violence rates with children, as a result of being idle, resorted to engage in criminal activities. Throughout the closure the Government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Education and Sports, has been implementing continued learning programs through lessons on television and radios. They’ve also distributed some hard copy self- learning materials to students across the country. [ISER, www.iser-uganda.org]
Unfortunately, ownership of radio sets and televisions in the country especially in rural areas is very low. According to the Initiative for Social-Economic Rights (ISER), the portion of households that own radios has reduced from 45.2% to 31.7%. The same arrangement does not cater to deaf learners and also lacks a feedback channel between the learners and teachers. This has widened the inequality gap between children in rural and urban areas even further, as the latter are able to access online learning platforms like Zoom.
To reduce the effects of the closure especially on students, the Government through the Ministry of Education and Sports should have come up with a general term planner to ensure that students go to school in turns and adhere to the SOPs*. This would have ensured continued learning for all students throughout the closure, while simultaneously controlling the spread of the virus.
To prepare teenagers, teachers and schools for the anticipated schools’ opening in 2022, the following measures can be considered:
- The Ministry of Education and Sports should conduct large-scale back to school campaigns across the country to ensure that the masses are informed and those that are at a high risk of dropping out are included.
- The government should make vaccination of teaching, non- teaching staff and students of acceptable age a priority.
- The government should ensure that all schools have put in place the necessary measures and equipment, in accordance with the Covid-19 SOPs.
- The Covid-19 task force should ensure that communities are involved in the re-opening process early enough so as to build trust and shape perception of risk.
- The Ministry of Education and Sports should also plan for teachers mobilisation, prioritizing areas that were worst hit by the crisis. There should be emergency deployment of teachers to areas affected by high teacher mortality rates during the crisis. [www.iiepp.unesco.org]
- Teachers should also be supported so that they can in turn support distressed students.
In the wake of the indefinite closure of schools by the government, there is an urgent need to find means of spreading literacy and bridging the large inequality gap between students in rural areas and those in urban areas.
The Book Drive Initiative
Read to Learn Foundation, a not for profit organisation based in Uganda, came up with The Book Drive initiative to further achieve their goal of spreading literacy among children, especially those living in slums and rural areas.
Through Book Drive, Read to Learn Foundation has touched the lives of children in the ghetto and rural areas of Mpigi, Kampala, Kabarole, Wakiso and Nebbi districts of Uganda. Over 10,860 children across Uganda now have access to books and other study materials.
7 libraries have been set up for children from underprivileged communities with 2500 books being distributed amongst children that may not have access to reading materials.
Read to Learn Foundation in partnership with Tubayo, through Book Drive, have made it possible for revellers to experience a day in the life of a ghetto child by participating in spelling bees, read aloud sessions and dance-off battles. This has enabled them to have fun while inspiring the children and donating books under the slogan ‘Donate a book basket to a family!’
Book Drive has spread literacy across many rural areas of Uganda through book donations and touching the lives of children across Uganda, one book basket at a time. The Book Drive is weaving an illuminated future for Ugandan children by providing them with the knowledge to better equip them for survival in this fast changing world.
As schools resume opening, we should pay critical attention to the effect the two-year closure has had on the learners and how this has set them back in terms of their reading and learning skills. Hence, instead of focusing more on pushing for the curriculum to be completed, the teaching staff and ministry of education should focus on the following:
- Mental health awareness sessions to help the children transition from the mindset of child labour and destructive independence to being back in school under a structure of rules and regulations. This is more so for the teenagers who during the closure had resorted to seeking cheap labour in order to earn a living and support their families.
- Bridging the literacy gap for children aged 10 and below. For this age group, most of them had just enrolled in school so the two year school absence must have had a significant impact on their young brains. Instead of pushing for curriculum-based learning for this group, the focus should be on literacy and numeracy development in order to bridge the gap.
- Carry out teachers’ mental awareness sessions in order to help the teaching staff transition back into the school setting and educate them about the new changes to the students due to the two-year gap. The teaching staff need to be prepared for the fact that the children they were dealing with pre-lockdown do not have the same mindset. Some are now teenage mothers, young boys had joined gangs and most have now been exposed to both drugs and child labour. Therefore, teachers need to be prepared on how to help these children transition back into the school structured mindset.
- The Government of Uganda through its partners need to come up with more community-based learning interventions. They should involve local leaders and parents to support home or community learning interventions that will supplement the children’s learning during the weekends and holidays. This will help them to bridge the two-year gap.
Today we look to the future and forge new paths as the schools re-open remaining hopeful and set on providing more solutions. This will ensure we minimize the effects of the closure on the learners, teaching staff and the economy at large.
*SOPS are established or prescribed methods to be followed routinely for the performance of designated operations or in designated situations. In this regard, to the prevention of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
About Hasfa Mago Taylor
Hasfa is the founder and team leader of Read to Learn Foundation. She has a vision of championing literacy development in early child stages across Africa.
She is achieving this through a campaign called The Book Drive by Read to Learn Foundation. The Book Drive is a youth led non-political, not for profit, women led Ugandan based organization that advocates for the enhancement of literacy levels in Africa.
She believes that a community that ‘reads’ is informed, exposed, and equipped with knowledge to scrape history and ‘write’ a better story for itself. If the emphasis, therefore, is placed on the infants, whose brains develop fastest, are highly impressionable and most amenable to change, the vision of creating a future with solutions to all of Uganda’s social-economic problems is possible.
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