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After two years of Covid-19 lockdown, Education sector struggles to restart

In March 2020, President Museveni closed all educational institutions in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Until October 2020, institutions were cleared to operate in a phased manner before the country was hit again with a second wave of Covid in June 2021.

As YUDAYA NANGONZI writes, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel after the ministry of Education and Sports recently approved the full reopening of all pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools on January 10, 2022.

The onus is now on the parents to look for tuition fees amid December festivities and January blues. Here’s a breakdown of how the different sub-sectors of education performed as well as looking ahead into the New Year, 2022.

TRE-PRIMARY AND PRIMARY

This sub-sector comprises the highest number of learners but little was done in the financial year 2020/21 since schools
were closed for two years – save for candidate classes that registered for national examinations.

Despite the long stay at home, Uneb surprisingly reported improved performance in PLE compared to the previous year.

Schools registered primary six learners for national examinations. Moving forward, Uneb has agreed to administer PLE to any student from lower candidates as long as they met the registration credentials.

Uneb executive secretary Dan Odongo reasoned that when lockdowns were instituted, many parents made an effort to hire teachers for private coaching which yielded fruits. Indeed, to keep learners occupied at this stage, some teachers were paid handsomely.

Teachers charged as high as Shs 150,000 per month, Shs 10,000 for two hours online, while others gathered the young ones in their homes to earn a living. By January, all learners will be automatically promoted but the ministry of Education insisted that only those who are six years will progress to primary one.

Although Covid is still a concern in the country, learners in nursery schools cannot observe standard operating procedures of social distancing and wearing masks but were cleared to study.

“We have allowed kindergartens and primary to open because we made considerable strides in vaccinating teachers and other staff in school. Secondly, Covid does not affect these learners as severely as adults [the teachers]; they only get mild cases,” the ministry of Education and Sports spokesman, Dr Denis Mugimba, said.

He, however, agreed that the issue of social distancing will be difficult at this level – a reason government is insisting on wearing masks and vaccination for adults that will interact with learners at school.

SECONDARY

Overall, the secondary education programme was poor (40.1 per cent) as several targets were not achieved, according to the Finance ministry’s Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit (BMAU).

For instance, the annual science fair was not undertaken as funds were re-allocated to Covid-19 activities; instructional material for Mathematics and English was also not procured.

Under construction, only 14 of the 16 schools rolled over to the financial year 2020/21 were completed. “For new works of the financial year 2020/21, contracts were signed for 24 of the 34 schools planned and progress was very low except for Ntare School where construction of a storeyed dormitory had progressed to 30 per cent,” reads the BMAU report.

On a good note, the unit cost of Universal Secondary Education has been increased from 41,000 to 58,000 and Universal Post O-level Education and Training (UPOLET) from 80,000 to Shs 90,000. The sub- sector also licensed and registered 80 and 114 private secondary schools respectively.

As schools reopen in January, teachers in secondary schools have an uphill task to implement the lower secondary curriculum that pioneers, now automatically promoted to S2, had studied for only three weeks in the first term of 2020.

Some teachers were not fully trained to handle the changes in the curriculum yet a new senior one class of 2022 is also reporting on the same day, January 10.

BTVET

The BMAU also rated the business, technical, vocational education, and training (BTVET) sub-sector with poor performance in the financial year 2021/21. This is mainly due to the government’s failure to support its programs while other projects are behind schedule by six to nine years as donor-funded ones outshined.

This sub-sector is key in curbing unemployment if effectively funded to create skilled personnel for the labor market. Good performance was registered in institutions such as the Directorate of Industrial Training that developed and reviewed 78 Assessment Training Packages for the revised lower secondary curriculum.

UNIVERSITY EDUCATION

When universities were cleared to reopen after the first lockdown for finalists, virtual and blended learning became the order of the day. To date, most universities have put in place infrastructure to facilitate online learning.

However, universities still have more work to do about staff and students’ attitudes towards online resources as ICT is not yet appreciated as an alternative mode of instruction.

It’s worth noting that in some of President Museveni’s Covid- related addresses, he wondered how universities would assess students online without cheating.

Nevertheless, universities went ahead to administer the exams and passed out successful students.

At this level, the Higher Education Student’s Financing Board (HESFB) also widened loan opportunities to continuing students in their final year of study. Since 2014, HESFB has been supporting only first-year students for science-related fields only.

The National Council for Higher Education accredited 80 programs, inspected two institutions for grant of charter, and granted three institutions provisional licenses in 2020.

SPECIAL NEEDS EDUCATION (SNE)

This sub-sector was heavily affected by the lockdown especially on the availability of study materials for learners. While other learners got government study materials in time, SNE learners waited a little longer for specialized materials.

Meanwhile, the department managed to organize the first-ever National Inclusive Education symposium that geared towards the improvement of SNE.

To better the lives of learners, the commissioner for SNE, Sarah Bugoosi Kibooli, urged the government to look into the certification of learners with severe cognitive problems because society categorizes them as “stupid”.

“A learner with cognitive problems may not even pass primary one. Most of them spend more than seven years in primary but at the end of the cycle, they have no certificate to show. Such children, even if they were in school for 100 years, can’t pass PLE. So, we need to find ways of how they can be assessed without sitting UNEB exams to progress to other levels of education,” Bugoosi said.

Abandoned classroom

NEW INNOVATIONS, POLICIES

To streamline the teaching profession, Cabinet passed the long-awaited National Teacher Policy which requires all teachers in Uganda, regardless of the level of education, to hold a degree in Education or a degree with a post-graduate qualification in education.

Effective this academic year 2021/22, all students on bachelor of Education programs will study for four years, three of which will be full-time study including school practice, according to the new policy.

For in-service teachers without degrees, they have until August 2029 to upgrade while those who will be 60 years by 2029 will be given leverage not to upgrade but cannot bounce back in classrooms without degrees.

In the last financial year, the Education Policy Review Commission was instituted in May 2021 to review the existing Government White Paper on Education of 1992.

The commission will interact with the public, special interest groups, education stakeholders, and is expected to complete its work after one year.

Other policies that are being drafted are; the Early Childhood Care and Education, Education for Sustainable Development, National EMIS policy, National Instructional Materials, National Inclusive Education, School Health, Government White Paper on Higher Education, National Higher Education, and the Physical and Sports policies.

Most of the draft policies await cabinet approval while a few are at the national consultation level. As schools reopen, the ministry will embark on piloting the new Education Management Information System (EMIS) to have up-to-date enrolment and drop-out numbers of learners and teachers, away from the old manual head out.

The new system is expected to weed out ghost learners as the information will be integrated with that of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

BUDGET

In the financial year 2020/21, the education sector revised budget stood at Shs 3.7 trillion. Of this, Shs 3.6 trillion (97 per cent) was released and expenditure was at 95 per cent.

According to the BMAU, the overall budget performance of the sector was fair at 54.1 per cent. This was mainly due to limited information on key outcome indicators such as enrolment growth rate and pupil/student classroom ratio since learners were out of school.

BMAU noted that delayed disbursement of funds from the education ministry to the spending programs or departments and delayed procurement processes also affected the expenditure performance.

As the sector moves to embrace the National Development Plan III, BMAU concluded that there is a need to critically establish links between interventions and sector outcomes by clearly stating the indicators and ensuring that measurement of the indicators’ contributions to sector outcomes is assessed.

nangonzi@observer.ug

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