All schools were shut on March 20, 2020 as President Yoweri Museveni began to announce a general lockdown forced by the coronavirus disease pandemic.
In May, the president said candidates and university finalists can resume classes but that decision was also rescinded until further notice, creating public anxiety. In an exclusive interview with Yudaya Nangonzi, the permanent secretary, ministry of Education and Sports, ALEX KAKOOZA, addressed a string of biting issues in the sector.
It’s three months since all education institutions were closed to avert the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Is this a dead year?
We are not planning on having a dead year. As you are aware, when we closed schools and universities, we were not prepared for that. For schools, first term was still running.
When we closed, the biggest issue was how to keep the learners engaged. We came up with different options for learners to revise through TVs, radios, and printed materials. In all these options, we said, we shall not cover areas that had not yet been covered by learners at school.
This means the ministry is still preparing for the reopening of schools. The big question is when we are re-opening. If we don’t open, for example, finalists at universities would be stuck.
Secondly, there are professions that would feed into the current situation. We will need intern doctors, nurses and paramedicals, among others, on the wards to help in the fight against Covid-19. Also, if we get a dead year, it means the system at all levels would get clogged.
The ministry is printing materials to keep learners engaged but many parents complain they have not yet received them
When schools were closed, we came up with four modes of keeping learners busy. These were; radios, TVs, printed materials and uploaded learning materials online. The ministry did not have a budget for this activity and had to rely on the already existing budget or assistance from other stakeholders.
Therefore, for printed materials, we could only afford 25 per cent of what was required and beneficiaries were determined by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics poverty index showing the poorest districts.
In districts like Napak and others in that category received almost 100 per cent while others got much less. Recently, some development partners came up to lend hand but government is also looking for more resources to inject in this activity.
The fact that government is still contemplating printing more materials shows that learners are still at home and schools remain closed
Whereas that may be so, these study materials also offer learners in this country a new opportunity for the very first time. Learners across the country are going to have uniform and organised materials prepared by experts brought together by the National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC).
Therefore, whether schools are opened today or not, the printed materials will be useful to the learners. So, printing more materials in itself doesn’t mean that learners will always be at home.
Talk about the printed materials… The ministry insists its copies are free of charge while parents claim they have to buy New Vision in order to access study materials
The ministry didn’t go to New Vision as a newspaper but contracted Vision Group for printing services. They were indeed procured by the NCDC basically to print and distribute the materials.
When they print the materials, they are loaded separately for distribution to the targeted districts. What New Vision inserts in their newspaper for sale is over and above what the ministry contracted them to distribute. So, the inserts are at their own cost. Actually, they are helping us increase the circulation of these materials because even with that insert, they don’t change the cover price of the newspaper.
While other learners are studying at home, learners with disabilities seem to be left out. Why is adaptation of their materials taking long?
The adaptation of their materials is taking long because we could not process their materials until we had completed materials for other learners.
However, the adaptation of their materials is now complete and we are looking for resources to reproduce them and send them out. We expect these learners to get their materials in a month’s time.
What happens to first term fees paid by parents when schools reopen? According to the school calendar, the first term did not end and we are already into second term.
Every year, we have a syllabus to cover and the money charged is broken down into three terms. When schools reopen, we shall do our best to cover the materials meant for the entire year.
This means the schools have to go back to the drawing board and redistribute that money across the remaining terms in the year. If the learners cover the annual syllabus – that is what we are aiming at – no money will be lost.
In May, you issued a circular to heads of private education institutions to pay staff. To date, the proprietors claim they were affected by the closure of schools and want government to help pay the salaries.
Payment of salaries is a statutory obligation. The Employment Act clearly indicates that when an employee has a contract of service, whether oral or written, he/she shall be entitled to payment. We have had issues in the past of private institutions that do not pay their staff and normally, the argument is that they have no signed contracts with employees.
Therefore, no obligation to pay. In that circular, I was basically saying that the private proprietors have a duty to pay their teachers. But when someone says they are closed, and not working, that is an issue that government may be looking into for all businesses that have been affected by this pandemic.
However, apart from being education institutions, private schools and universities are businesses. If there’s a plan by government to come in, they will be considered like other businesses. I have written to the permanent secretary ministry of Trade who is charged with this matter to include private education providers whenever there’s an opportunity for a bailout for businesses.
On the issue of government coming in to help private education institutions to pay staff salaries, it cannot be considered in isolation of other employees in private businesses across the country. So, shop owners in places like arcades who have not paid their shop attendants for the last three months may also ask government to intervene. If government is to consider such an intervention, it should be holistic.
Does the ministry have a special arrangement for its Universal Primary Education and USE students?
The materials we are printing are going out to all learners regardless of whether one studies in a government or private school. All learners are expected to benefit from materials either on TVs, radios, printed or online. The online materials have been uploaded for download on the Uneb and NCDC portals as well as the official ministry website.
By the time a parent enrolls for universal education, do you think they have money to buy data and download these materials online?
As I have already stated above, the ministry is providing different modes of sharing the study materials. We are aware that there are some learners who do not have the means to download the materials.
However, there are also individuals and organisations that have come up to bridge the gap. For example, some district local governments such as Adjumani, MPs, and NGOs have come up either to download these materials or reprint them for learners at their cost.
Last month, the ministry of Finance’s Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit (BMAU) punched holes in the ministry’s delivery mode of materials through media and printed materials. Has the ministry studied BMAU’s report?
Yes, they shared their report with the ministry. However, we are trying to do our best in a very difficult situation. We didn’t budget and plan for this situation but basically we are using the meagre resources at hand to do something for learners. So, someone who misses a TV will get a radio or printed materials.
Learners in urban areas have some parents who can print the materials or buy newspapers and get something to keep their children busy. We are aware that these materials may not reach every learner but it is a good starting point.
How far with the proposal of distributing radios per house and two televisions per village to aid learning? How will learners adhere to the ministry of Health guidelines like social distancing while watching a TV?
This issue has been discussed by cabinet and I am yet to get a cabinet extract guiding on its implementation. Until I do so, I may not be able to be in position to give more details about the proposal.
Talk about the roadmap for P7, S4 and S6 2020 candidates...
Schools were closed on the advice of the national taskforce for Covid-19. Therefore, the reopening of schools shall also be guided by the same taskforce.
As we wait for guidance, the ministry has come up with a response and preparedness plan, which has guidelines to govern the management of education institutions when they reopen.
We are working with the ministry of Health to conclude the standard operating procedures that will be approved by government. Uneb is also preparing itself to deliver the exams for candidates as and when the schools reopen. Let candidates continue to revise with the hope of completing their various cycles.
In the event that Covid-19 stays forever, most schools are crowded. Is the ministry planning to direct schools to lay off some learners or construct new buildings?
We are aware of all these issues but let’s wait for the standard operating procedures to come out and see how to address such issues including overcrowding.
While the president ordered for closure of all schools, learning is ongoing in international schools and they are charging fees from parents
It is true that some parents have written to the ministry expressing concern that international schools have continued to teach online and charge fees. The ministry has written to all international schools to give us their fees structure and the content delivered during this period.
Accordingly, we have received a good response from the international schools and the ministry is analyzing these responses. When this exercise is complete, the ministry will respond accordingly. It should also be noted that international schools offer an international curriculum and accrediting institutions such as Cambridge are still delivering learning and assessment irrespective of Covid-19.
With virtual learning, the ministry is not addressing the component of practicals for subjects like Chemistry, Physics and Biology
Currently, the ministry is delivering remedial materials. We are helping learners to revise part of the syllabus covered before the closure of schools. It is also true that practical subjects may not be easy to deliver on some platforms we are using such as radio.
However, we are also devising other means of overcoming this problem by working on a digital agenda for the sector so that we can, for example, have animated programmes that would make it easy to deliver practicals.
What does this mean for President Museveni’s continued hype for sciences without practicals?
As already stated, we are now focusing on revision. When learners resume normal classes, they will pick up from where they stopped, both for theory and the practical. As a sector, we are hopeful that learning will continue because countries in Europe and Asia that closed schools earlier than us have reopened.
How has Covid-19 affected implementation of lower secondary curriculum?
Like all other education programmes, the implementation of the revised curriculum such as training of teachers and the actual delivery of the curriculum to the learners stopped with the closure of schools.
Implementation will resume with the opening of schools. However, some activities related to the implementation have continued like the procurement of books. When we open, we shall continue with the training of more teachers and distribution of books. Fortunately, government has availed the ministry with the necessary resources to implement the curriculum.
There have been reports that the ministry agreed to a phased reopening of some tertiary institutions and universities…
When government is ready to open any education institution, the public will be informed. For now, no decision has been made to open any institution. Therefore, all education institutions remain closed.
Have parents done enough to protect learners during this lockdown?
We appreciate the contribution of all education stakeholders and we want to thank them for the various roles played in order to keep our learners safe during this period.
I want to call upon parents to continue engaging learners in life skills that will help them grow up into good citizens but most importantly also protect them from activities that will end their education path.
We are saddened by reports that some learners have experienced forced marriages, sexual violence, domestic violence, lack of psyco-social support, early pregnancies. We have seen reports in the print media that a number of learners in Eastern Uganda have been impregnated.
Similar reports are coming in from other places across the country. We appeal to parents to continue protecting learners from activities that would compromise their education.