At least 1,334 education institutions have failed to meet Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the education ministry before they are allowed to reopen.
This comes at a time when the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) has allocated only five weeks, starting October 22 to register candidates at all levels. Last week, Uneb insisted that there will be no room for late registration like in previous years in order to prepare for final exams in March, April and May 2021.
It is estimated that about 30,000 candidates, including those in P7, S4 and S6 have been affected. This implies that schools with candidates that have not been cleared for reopening ought to utilize this short period to register their finalists from other centers with Covid-19 certificates of compliance.
The coordinator of the national inspection exercise, Benson Kule Baritazale, told The Observer that the affected institutions scored 49 per cent and below, thus not authorized to reopen for candidates. Kule, who doubles as the commissioner, Secondary Education Standards, said the inspection focused on two aspects; hand washing equipment and social distancing. So far, all the non-compliant schools are privately-owned.
“In these schools, we found that the administration didn’t even have a plan for addressing Covid-19 SOPs. For a few that had drawn plans, they didn’t have funds to facilitate the process with basic items such as reliable water, foot-operated hand washing facilities or jerrycans placed in strategic positions at school,” Kule said.
In private boarding schools that failed to meet the required standards, inspectors found that the facilities were not commensurate with the agreed SOPs. For instance, some schools had double and triple decker metallic beds instead of allocating one bed per learner. Kule said besides the illegal sleeping arrangement, some proprietors found it difficult to leave the two-meter distance required between each decker in the dormitory.
“We are concerned that learners are moving long distances especially in areas without approved schools. However, where a school is found far below the standard, this is a matter of life and death and we can’t compromise standards to see children getting infected at school,” he said.
The nationwide inspection covered primary, secondary, BTVET and Teacher Education institutions that were not diploma or degree-awarding and with candidates/finalists. It started on October 5 and officially ended on October 17. Effective October 19 to 23, the DES has been compiling the nationwide inspection report that will be submitted to the education ministry’s top management this week for further guidance on follow-up inspections for approved schools.
Institutions that scored 60 per cent and above and complied with the SOPs have been issued with certificates of compliance while those that scored 50 to 59 per cent were categorized as pending and have been given more time to address the missing requirements.
Asked whether the compliance certificates cannot be forged, Kule said: “The certificates are serialized and we know which serial numbers were sent to particular districts and municipalities. It will be unfortunate to find a school with a forged certificate because for government schools, they will face stern disciplinary action and for private schools, a license may be withdrawn.”
According to Kule, candidates in institutions that will remain far below the basic requirements and minimum standards in line with the SOPs, will be transferred to the neighbouring institutions which qualified and have space. Where there is no other institution, the ministry shall take appropriate action to ensure that the learners continue with their studies.
As of October 22, out of the 21,817 education institutions that had been inspected nationwide, at least 18,533 (85 per cent) were found compliant with SOPs, 1,950 (9 per cent) pending to be re-inspected, and 1,334 (6 per cent) were found non-compliant.
The western region has the highest number of inspected institutions at 7,074, Eastern 6,125, Central 5,910, and Northern with the lowest figures at 2,708. By percentage, the central region took a lion’s share with 90 per cent of its institutions found compliant. In the West, 89 per cent (6,271 institutions) passed the test, East got 84 per cent (5,118 institutions), and North at the bottom with 68 per cent (1,833 institutions).
DES statistics indicate that the Eastern region still ranked high with the highest number of non- compliant institutions at 411. It is followed by the Western region with 371, Northern 340 and Central with 212 institutions. At least 2.5 per cent of the schools have not been inspected countrywide on grounds that; some previously existed as schools but non-licensed, others didn’t bother to plan for the inspection while in other locations, inspectors reached schools but “there were no administrators and other proprietors were playing hide and seek due to lack of requirements.”
EDUCATION OFFICERS REACT
In some areas, the district education officers (DEOs) blamed failure of private institutions on laxity of proprietors. The DEO Maracha, Flavia Osoa, cited a private primary proprietor in the district who failed to meet the required standards on all the two inspection visits.
“We are still advising this school on what to do because if they are to meet the social distancing guidelines, only two desks can fit in a room. Unless they put up new structures, it’s practically impossible because one class can only accommodate four learners. For latrines, they are full and occasionally used those of Boma grounds that have since been closed since there are no activities taking place there,” Osoa said.
In the meantime, the school has been advised to register its 12 candidates at Vurra PS for PLE until they meet the required standards that can only be met if the school erected new classrooms or shifted to a bigger location. In Bugweri, the DEO George Tigawalana, said more than 30 private schools failed to comply.
Tigawalana said the proprietors told inspectors that they have inadequate funds to afford basic items such as buying sanitizers for teachers, hand washing facilities, and paying teachers’ salaries. He said majority of the schools were operating illegally while classrooms would accommodate only 10 learners each.
In other schools, they okayed sitting arrangements of about 15 to 20 learners in a class. Meanwhile, in Buikwe, about 10 private schools were non-compliant. During the inspection process, the DEO Julius Kizito Musasizi said one privately-owned primary international school that had been cleared, registered a Covid-19 case a week ago. The learner was a contact to someone who had tested positive at their home.
“The child was returned at [boarding] school before receiving the results. When the positive results came, the parents picked him from school though it created tension at school but we isolated all learners at their premises,” Kizito said.
By last week, he said, efforts were being made to test all the possible contacts of the learner at school. Currently, the learners and teachers are under quarantine as they continue with lessons at the school.
WHY SOME PRIVATE SCHOOLS FAILED
In the initial stages of the inspection, a sizeable number of government schools had also failed to meet the required standards. After government released special funds to its schools, those that had got 49 per cent and below put up the required items and were cleared for reopening.
The chairperson of private schools in Kampala, Hasadu Kirabira, said it is unlikely that some private schools would comply with the required standards due to inadequate resources. He argued that the ministry of Education’s ‘late and hurried’ inspection of schools frustrated some proprietors.
“In his communication, the president informed schools to open on October 15. So, schools wrote to parents and sent messages to bring learners to schools but the ministry officials instructed schools not to open before being inspected,” Kirabira said.
“This created a lot of confusion. We don’t agree with the principle that for a school to open, it needs to first be inspected. Let schools open and be inspected as they are operating. The ministry needed to work out a prior arrangement before the president’s communication to inspect schools so that proprietors look for funds in time.”
He explained that the delay in reopening has greatly affected the turnout of learners in some schools yet the learning is ongoing in other schools. With the ongoing Uneb registration, he is concerned that some parents in the affected schools are also likely not to meet the registration fees and placements for their children in other schools.