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MPs ask government to declare “dead academic year”

Ayivu county MP Bernard Atiku castigated the ministry for keeping the nation on tenterhooks over the reopening of schools.

Members of parliament on the National Economy committee have called for the cancellation of 2020 academic year.

More than 15 million children were sent home following the closure of schools in March this year by President Yoweri Museveni as a preventive measure to control the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country.

Now, MPs have advised government to declare this year a dead academic year just like Kenya did recently, saying it is not feasible to re-open schools for the continuation of the academic year amidst the burden of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that were put in place to tame the virus.

Committee chairperson Hajjati Syda Bbumba noted that the procedures would put an enormous strain on the finances of schools forcing most of them to close. The committee was meeting the state minister for Higher Education John Chrysostom Muyingo to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education and sports sector.

Ayivu county MP Bernard Atiku castigated the ministry for keeping the nation on tenterhooks over the reopening of schools. Atiku added that it would be ideal to declare a dead year for schools considering that it is impossible to proceed under the current circumstances.

“We’re now in mid-July meaning actually that July is already ended, so if you’re looking at any period to utilize it is from August, September, October, November and December. But you’re also aware that we’re entering a critical political period. Much as we’re talking of scientific elections or campaigns, we know what it means to be in active political environment and also having the current situation of coronavirus and education. I don’t know why the ministry is not coming out clearly to advise government that this is a dead year like Kenyans have announced.” said Atiku.

The director of basic and secondary education Ismael Mulindwa told MPs that the schools would reopen in phases starting with candidate classes as soon as the ministry observes how learning can be allowed to continue under the new SOPs.

Mulindwa’s statement, however, contradicted the observation of commissioner for education planning and policy analysis at ministry of Education, Fredrick Matyama who observed that the cost of re-opening schools is way above what the government can afford.

According to Matyama, the government needs up to Shs 78 trillion – more than the country’s Shs 45 trillion budget for FY 2020/21 to enforce the COVID-19 standard operating procedures in schools.

However, Muyingo noted that the ministry was ready to declare schools open as long as soon as the Health ministry gives them the green light.

“One of the responsibilities of government is to ensure that citizens are safe and secure – our children, our teachers, our parents who go to these schools are safe and secure. That is why we’re saying for us as the ministry are ready but waiting for the ministry of Health to advise us and tell us that now the time is ready. If the ministry of Health and the scientists agree tonight that it is right, that tomorrow is the best time to send our children to school, the ministry will pronounce the time when schools will open. That is why for us we’re not talking about a dead year because any time the ministry of Health tells us we’re prepared to open,” said Muyingo.

The MPs also called on the ministry to shelve the program for the distribution of learning materials saying it is having no impact. This was after the minister observed a need for a national education curriculum policy that promotes a hybrid model combining institutional-based curriculum delivery with the online and home-based study.

Muyingo noted that it may be necessary to establish dedicated education radio and TV channels to carry education programmes sustainably.

However, Aswa County MP Reagan Okumu was highly critical of the radio teaching program and the distribution of study materials, stating that such an approach cannot work in rural Uganda owing to differences in social and economic lifestyles between towns and villages.

“Their social lifestyles in villages, they will not have that time to listen to radio. They have to go to the gardens, they have to go the well or these other places and they will not be there. They have to go and cultivate, they have to go with their parents. By the time they return, they will have to do homework. But during school time, they don’t do that because their parents expect them to be at school. But while they are at home, they are supposed to be part of that productivity even if they have that radio. But even then, the social lifestyle doesn’t allow them as you program even if they have the radio. Secondly, the economic lifestyle doesn’t allow them even to afford batteries. Batteries become a luxury,” said Okumu.

Okumu was supported by the Ruhinda North MP Thomas Tayebwa and Busongora North MP William Nzoghu who both noted that distribution of the study materials was a waste of time in the villages since there were hardly enough copies to go around and the lack of instructors and supervisors rendered the whole program useless.

Tayebwa told the committee that following a survey in his constituency and after talking to all the LC1 chairpersons, he had observed that the study materials were having zero impact.

“Whatever you sent to the villages is having zero, and zero impact, the children are in gardens. This is the reality I got from the leaders on the ground. The children are in gardens, the parents are just waiting for schools to reopen. The copies you sent to LC1 chairpersons when they were used by one, two, three people, they got spoilt, some it rained on them and that was the end of it. But number two madam chair, in areas like mine, we don’t have a single A3 photocopier in the whole district,” said Tayebwa.

The MPs insisted that due to lack of radios and internet in most of the villages in the country, the Education ministry was creating two societies where learners with means were benefiting at the expense of those without means.

They noted that under these circumstances it would be unfair to reopen schools to merely conduct examinations since most learners have been left out.
© Uganda Radio Network

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