On June 16, Uganda joined the rest of Africa in the commemoration of the International Day of the African Child. This year’s theme was “30 years after the adoption of the Charter; Accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children."
Aspiration six on the same focuses on the right and the benefits of quality education. This year’s day came at a time when Uganda is undergoing a second lockdown due to the ranging Covid-19 pandemic.
Schools were again closed for the second time, this time for six weeks in an attempt to stem the worrying trend in Covid-19 cases, even while their phased reopening was still being implemented and some classes had not yet reported back, following the first closure in March 2020.
Before the pandemic, Uganda grappled with low-quality education characterized by low levels of staffing, poor infrastructure, high rate of teacher–pupil absenteeism thus leading to low literacy, numeracy, and high levels of school dropout. The school closures have therefore added to the burden of the already frail systems by disrupting learning and widening structural inequalities.
While children from affluent families and a few in urban areas have leveraged technology in learning as they have access to the internet and can afford to pay for virtual tutors, for others, the situation is bleak. This includes learners with disabilities, who were already marginalized before the outbreak and never included in the continued learning during the lockdown strategies, and those living in remote areas who can’t afford to use digital technologies.
It is imperative that while critical needs such as health, and social protection are being responded to, educational needs cannot be forgotten, and failure to address the current education needs would leave a detrimental impact on the country’s sustainable development goals.
As earlier established by the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, education is one of the major drivers of development and an avenue through which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty to be able to participate meaningfully in their communities.
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world with approximately 78 per cent of the population aged 30 and below. The importance of education in such a population cannot be underscored and therefore it cannot be seen to wait.
International conventions that Uganda is a signatory, highlight the need for education to be adaptable to changing situations. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the world was undergoing a fourth industrial revolution with Information Communication Technology (ICT) at the forefront.
This has created a high demand for seemingly gifted people in the craft and trade. And yet the unemployment levels in Uganda still stand at 13.3 per cent. This is majorly caused by the fact that learners do not have sufficient preparation to compete in the radically changing world.
This is majorly propagated by the fact that many schools still lack basic ICT infrastructure, many teachers are ill-equipped in the usage of ICT in education and are also unable to deliver learning through digital technologies this is further escalated by high costs of data which make it hard for learners in marginalized communities to access.
This, therefore, calls for the restructuring of education to cater for the needs of the changing world. Key stakeholders in education should thus embrace new and creative approaches to education, recognizing that learning is fluid and can take place outside the physical boundaries of the classroom.
This can be done through investment in technology that will provide learners with a high-quality education which transfers knowledge, instills confidence, and breaks down barriers to opportunity, boosting budgetary allocations to ICTs in learning to develop both the physical infrastructure and human resource by training teachers, learners and parents on the new learning modalities and the continuous upskilling and reskilling considering the dynamism of EdTech and making internet-enabled devices and data more affordable.
Unfortunately, in the current financial year, the executive proposed and the legislature agreed to enact 12 per cent excise duty on data.
Although it has been indicated that education data would be exempted, it remains unclear how data for education will be separated from the rest. It may be possible for data procured by education institutions generally, but not for individual learners on their devices.
However, this should be done with utmost inclusivity to bridge the already existing digital inequalities majorly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The need to include technology in learning cannot be underscored in this period especially now that we might have to brace ourselves for long periods of school closures and yet education cannot be seen to wait.
Author is a fellow at the Centre for Strategic Litigation