By Gloria Laker Aciro Adiiki
With no sign in sight as to when Ugandan schools will re-open after the government closed it in March 2020, several innovations are being put in place to ensure that learners study remotely.
Private education institutions, churches and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are adapting the initiative by the ministry of education to have children taught remotely. Indeed, several teachers, parents and authorities are responding positively to the call of tackling the crisis by making sure children learn from home to prevent spread of the corona virus.
In a phased and gradual process, President Yoweri Museveni begun lifting the lockdown restrictions but in his last state of Covid-19 nation address, the President said he is still studying the situation-with the guidance of scientists-to determine as to when to re-open schools.
He has repeatedly said he would not want to put the lives of over 15 million young Ugandans-whom he fondly referred to as his grandchildren-at risk of contracting the deadly virus. Specifically, the president cited difficulties in maintaining social distancing in schools, suggesting that opening schools pre-maturely can lead to a deeper crisis than the country is already facing.
In Gulu, northern Uganda, state-owned Radio Mega and Radio Rupiny are some of the community radio stations spearheading the radio classroom during the lockdown. The minister of Education, also Ugandan first lady Janet Museveni, announced recently that study materials are being dispatched to districts through the education officers at district level en route to local council I chairpersons. From here materials are distributed to children in their homes across the country.
It is with these materials that teachers go with on air and begin teaching; a trend that children now refer to as ‘
and they get their books for the respective subject and begin listening and writing. Teaching is also being relayed via television but this one, many children miss out because most rural Uganda do not have access to television sets.
Some schools have been submitting reading materials in different subjects and homework to their pupils via smart phones for both primary and secondary learners. However, several schools did this in early May and June and they suddenly stopped, meaning it is something that this approach is still far from sustaining.
While international schools in Uganda have been conducting e-learning, it has been associated with a lot of risk with children misusing the internet by watching pornographic materials instead of reading. A parent posted on social media; “Fellow parents, keep an eye on your children, I was shocked to find my 12-year-old girl glued on the laptop watching naked men.”
Also another challenge is that very few people have computers in their homes. A section of parents is supporting their children in the course of home lessons although this is exclusive to elite parents while those parents who are illiterate have no way of teaching their children. In the West Nile district of Adjumani which is also home to thousands of refugees from South Sudan and Upper Sudan, the teachers here embarked on relayed classes as early as May through radio learning program on Usalama f.m; a community Radio in Adjumani. They are reaching out to both nationals and refugee children in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Jesuit Refugees Service (J.R.S), a Catholic founded organization, is funding this radio education program. “JRS has been in the district for some good years and is now implementing the learning programs on Radio Usalama f.m in Adjumani following presidential directive for closure of all schools and education institutions”.
“Without any delay, JRS immediately started the education program in collaboration with the district education office, office of prime minister and the secretary for education in the district which officially launched the Radio Education program on Radio Usalama 99.7 f.m.”
Mr. Gemecauy, the Director of JRS in Adjumani office said they started the Radio Education program because JRS has already been supporting over 390,000 students with scholarship and 180 students receiving scholastic materials. “In addition the organization has also been constructing classroom blocks in Nyumanzi and Pagirinya refugee settlements. “It is not our first time to start the education program”. Gemecauy said.
In Arua district some lessons are being re-explained in the local languages like Lugbara “This is because some children in much lower classes don’t pick English well. Distribution of study materials for secondary school students has seen over 12,000 materials received by students to help them revise during the lockdown”.
To reinforce JRS education program, the organization is also carrying out community sensitization to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in collaboration with Child Rights, a psychosocial support organization, Tutaponer and War Child Canada among others”, Gemecauy explained the partnership with other organizations. He noted that even if covid-19 pandemic ends they will still continue with activities like the pastoral programme in the settlements.
To many Ugandan teachers and pupils, not all hopes is lost in education and radio still remains the most used and more affordable means of communication in Covid-19 lockdown. President Museveni suggested distributing radio set to Uganda families to aid education and information.