Allow me start by congratulating everyone for crossing over into 2022.
More special congratulations to all learners who finally have to return to school after spending more than 77 weeks away, either fully or partially following the outbreak of coronavirus disease pandemic.
According to Unesco, Uganda maintained the world’s longest school closure over Covid-19. Rightly so, all Ugandan learners ought to be told, bravo!
With schools officially reopening in a phased manner, there is so much to ponder about. Save for challenges pupils, parents and schools are facing such as the struggle to raise school fees since some parents lost their jobs, teachers who abandoned the profession, and many learners who may have forgotten how to read and write, it is a sigh of relief that finally children return to school.
Most parents are excited about the reopening of schools. However, there have been concerns from different people that some children are not excited about returning to school.
Recently, a businesswoman in town was telling colleagues a story of an 11-year-old boy who approached her asking for advice on what else he can sell to make more money. The boy has been selling boiled eggs in different arcades since schools were closed.
The woman’s response was, “schools are soon reopening. You need to first go back to school, complete your studies and then think of doing business later.”
She had a brief conversation with him, explaining the importance of education. However, the boy didn’t seem to buy the argument, and this was his response, “People study to get jobs and make money, and I am already making the money; why should I go back to school?
According to the National Labour Force Survey 2019/2020 report published by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, child labour doubled from 2,057,000 (14 per cent) to 4,096,000 (28 per cent) of the 14, 987,929 children in Uganda aged five to 17, and continues to rise daily.
There are fears that many of these children may never return to school because they are already earning an income, no matter how small, and do not see the point of going back to school. Putting this category aside, thousands of teenage girls became pregnant during the two years of lockdown. Some have since given birth once or twice.
A United Nations Population fund (UNFPA) report reveals that at least 644,955 teenage pregnancies were recorded during the Covid-19 lockdown in Uganda.
Unfortunately, most of these girls won’t return to school due to known factors like cultural norms and social stigma, and have no one to leave their babies with so that they can attend school.
However, some of these teenage mothers may wish to return to school after giving birth. The onus is on each and every one of us to encourage such children to return to school.
A more special request goes to all local council leaders in their respective capacities. As schools reopen, work with other relevant stakeholders such as parents, religious leaders in communities and encourage children of school-going age to return back to school since cases of child labour and teenage pregnancies are now more prevalent.
We know that realizing Uganda’s Vision 2040 will require, among other things, investing in children’s future through sustainable education. And for Uganda to join a middle-income status, Ugandans have to study, toil, save and invest. You may wonder why you should care, especially if your own children are going to school.
Well, we all want to live in a progressive country, where all children have a shot at education, are able to reach their fullest potential, acquire skills and knowledge that make job opportunities with higher incomes available to them, and can break the cycles of poverty.
So, when you come into contact with a child of school-going age who is out of school, talk to him or her, and encourage them to return to school. Even one child who resumes school following your advice makes a whole lot of difference.
Welcome to an amazing 2022!
The writer is a journalist, and consultant writer/editor