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Refugee schools gear up for safe reopening amid huge challenges

Learners at Highland SS, Bidibidi refugee settlement, Yumbe

Learners at Highland SS, Bidibidi refugee settlement, Yumbe

Ahead of the eagerly-awaited schools reopening in January, learners in refugee settlements have not been given much attention but the intervention of Finn Church Aid (FCA) will see more than 200,000 learners resume classes in January, writes JOSELYN NAKITTO.

For almost two years since schools were closed to stem the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 15 million learners have been affected. Of these are at least 600,000 refugee learners in primary and secondary school level, whose plight is worse given the unpredictable conditions in refugee settlements.

To mitigate the situation, Finn Church Aid (FCA), in a joint partnership with UNHCR and the ministry of Education and Sports, is preparing for the safe reopening of refugee schools next month.

FCA staff peparing to distribute handwashing stations in refugee schools 

Already, FCA is implementing a condensed curriculum that allows at least 70,000 refugee children who have not been able to attend school for long periods to catch up with their studies and return to school in refugee settlements. FCA implements the programme in Kyaka II, Bidibidi, Palorinya, Rwamwanja and Omugo refugee settlements in Uganda.

EARLY PREPS

A huge number of learners are expected to be enrolled in January and almost each grade will have a double cohort of students due to the stagnancy caused by the pandemic.

According to Denis Okullu Ogang, an education specialist at FCA, teachers, parents and students in the refugee settlements are being sensitized on the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Ogang also says FCA will adopt the learning strategy dubbed double shift school system and, where applicable, alternate attendance as proposed by the Education and Sports ministry to allow bridging the learning gap caused by the pandemic.

“In the different refugee settlements where we operate, we are mobilizing and ensuring teachers get vaccinated. Meanwhile, construction of more classrooms to cater for the big number of refugee learners is also underway and we are equipping teachers with knowledge and skills to handle big classes once schools resume. We have given teachers, parents and learners psychosocial support to mentally prepare them for the reopening,” says Ogang.

He emphasizes that the organization has already provided equipment like infrared thermometers /temperature guns, hand-washing stations, sanitizers, soap, facemasks to refugee schools on top of training school-based surveillance teams to monitor adherence to Covid-19 prevention measures and report suspected cases within the schools.

A learner washing his hands at the school

Explaining how they manage to work with learners from different backgrounds with different languages and culture, Ogang says the organization hires qualified teachers who also work hand in hand with the community personnel [Assistant teachers] to assist in the interpretation of languages in the different refugee settlements.

“We have gone ahead to recruit individuals from the refugee community who understand very well the mother tongue of the learners. They work together with teachers, right from planning lessons to the delivering as well as interpreting from English to local languages,” he adds.

PLIGHT OF PREGNANT TEENAGE

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), about 354,736 teenage pregnancies were registered in 2020 and another 196,499 in the first six months of 2021. A sizeable number of these teenagers are from refugee settlements and FCA is working hand in hand with the government to allow pregnant teenagers to attend school.

“Through community sensitization and mobile education clinics, we have engaged parents to ensure that they protect their children during the school closure so that we don’t lose many to early pregnancies and early marriages so that when schools reopen all of them come back to school. ” says Ogang.

PLIGHT OF THE DISABLED

While preparing for the safe reopening of schools, FCA is not leaving out children with disabilities.

“We promote inclusive education and over the years we have supported the establishment of schools with specialized facilities for children with disabilities. We have set up a full-fledged Special Needs Education (SNE) school in Adjumani [Pakele Girls] and are establishing another SNE school in Kyaka refugee settlement [Sweswe Primary school] to cater for children with severe disabilities. We have recruited and deployed teachers who are specialized in SNE and also provide teachers continuous professional development on basic SNE and inclusion,” adds Ogang.

“We also recently launched a project called Intervention for Disability in Early Childhood aimed at early identification of disability and support right from a tender age and increase the chance for successful learning by children living with disabilities.”

Finn Church Aid is the national co-chair for the Education in Emergencies working group together with the ministry and UNHCR.

Comments

0 #1 kabayekka 2021-12-03 17:31
The government of Uganda has in its treasury savings of about Uganda Sh. 7 trillion locked away because of the COVID19 lockdown of all the national schools for the last two years.

This is good money to mitigate the situation despite the Finn Church Aid (FCA), in a joint partnership with UNHCR and the Ministry of Education and Sports having come together to prepare for the safe reopening of refugee schools next month.

Unfortunately for the NRM parliament, this is a legislative house getting ready to provide the government with money to start a new political war adventure in the East and Central African region.
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