Tuesday, January 26We Break the News

EDUCATION: Schools in Uganda face social distancing quandary.

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KAMPALA- School managers and other stakeholders in the education sector have warned that the recommended social distancing guideline is near impossible to achieve as schools prepare to re-open for candidates and final year students on June 8.

Social distancing, also known as physical distancing, means keeping space between oneself and other people to help stop person-to-person spread of the coronavirus disease.

While the government is silent, investors in the education sector as well as the teacher’s union, have called for support to enable them keep the learners safe.

Mr Filbert Baguma, the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu) secretary, in a statement to the Education ministry, said many institutions are crowded with limited infrastructure, making it impossible to implement the Ministry of Health’s four-metre guideline between individuals in public spaces.

Mr Alex Kakooza, the Education ministry permanent secretary, said they are still planning and it would be premature to comment on the issues.

Early this month, President Museveni announced that only candidate and final year students would be allowed to resume school to enable them complete their studies.

The President tasked the Education ministry to draw guidelines that the institutions will follow before reopening.
But sources close to the ministry’s taskforce, chaired by Mr Ismail Mulindwa, told Daily Monitor that the planners are stuck with the options available; aware of the struggles many of the institutions face in dealing with congestion in both dormitories and classrooms.

The institutions also lack teachers, and sanitary facilities.
Mr Mulindwa said the guidelines would be out today.

The school managers put their average classroom ratio at one teacher to 55 pupils.
They said there are places where it is impossible to implement the four-metre distance among the learners even when the schools accommodate only candidate classes.

The sources cited government’s universal schools such as Kololo S.S., Masaka S.S., Mbale S.S., and Jinja S.S. where a single class registers close to 1,000 students.

A teacher at Kololo S.S., who preferred anonymity, said their Senior Four class has nine streams each accommodating more than 80 students.

In such a scenario, Mr Patrick Kaboyo, the Federation of Non-State Education Institutions (FENEI), proposed that students in neighbouring schools with high enrolment be redistributed to under-utilised facilities.

Although another source in the ministry’s top management acknowledged that they were stuck with the guidelines, he asked the different stakeholders to allow them to explore the various options without interference.

“We have all those challenges and queries. We are meeting to see what to do. Whatever we discuss as the technical team can be reversed by the political team. Why do they (private sector) want to be at the forefront? Policy is policy. It is a constitutional right to have education. Let’s wait. The Bible is clear. There is no leader without God’s appointment. Accept and we lead you. You cannot please everyone,” the source said.

On Monday, Cabinet instituted a sub-committee to further scrutinise the options the ministry had presented after failing to agree.

Earlier, the private school owners had echoed similar concerns, requesting for more teachers and classrooms to implement the guidelines.

But Dr Goretti Nakabugo, the Uwezo executive director, yesterday asked government to facilitate institutions in implementing realistic solutions such as handwashing hygiene and use of facemasks, warning that physical distancing is almost impossible to perform.

She said their 2018 research indicated that only 24 per cent of the schools that they surveyed had handwashing facilities.

Ms Nakabugo explained that the social distancing guideline would never be achieved in a school setup and yet the schools must reopen.

She added: “Even when you think of teaching in shifts, you are going to recruit more teachers yet we cannot even pay the ones we already have. It is very complicated.”

A senior epidemiologist, Dr Monica Musenero, told Daily Monitor that for them to ease the lockdown, the public must be ready to adhere to the guidelines’.

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