What you need to know:
- For the past two years, the doors to schools have been shut with only few exceptions. Both school owners and children are equally affected but some stakeholders choose to improvise and make ends meet. In Kyenzige Sub County – Kagadi District, a school that is predominantly for the underprivileged defied odds to extend education to the children in communities in the middle of a pandemic.
Sarah Kimuli is the first child in a family of seven children who are surviving with their widowed 28 year-old mother in Kasokero, Kyenzige Sub County in Kagadi District.
Three years ago, the 14-year-old Sarah had dropped out of schools to help her mother who is a struggling peasant farmer in Kasokero.
Her hope for education was brought to life by local nonprofit body Maisha Holistic Africa that runs Maisha Primary School that offers free services in Kagadi Kyenzige Town Council.
Two years later, Sarah’s hope was nearly lost as the country was hit by a global pandemic. With a directive from government that paved way for the finalists to wind up their studies, she declined the offer since she was no longer attending class and she couldn’t access e-learning services.
The school assigned a teacher to regularly teach her from home and she successfully scored a first grade in the recently concluded primary leaving exams.
Unlike Sarah, 17-year-old Gloria Mbabazi who was a senior student at Naigana Secondary School in Kyanaisoke Sub County, Kagadi got pregnant and she could not resume her studies.
All Gloria could secure from Maisha was counseling services and a Mama Kit to prepare for the birth of her child whose father is 33-year-old Deus, a married man within the community.
Robert Kikomeko, the executive director of Maisha explains that with schools closed, cases of dropouts, early pregnancy have been rampant in Kagadi just like in other places as reported in the media.
Kikomeko says that their first remedy has been to counsel the victims and encourage them to stay in school, securing for them school fees and rehabilitating them.
At the time of the pandemic, Kikomeko explains that his school Maisha Primary School chose to take education to the doorsteps in areas of Kigoye, Kasokero, Kyanaisoke, Mugalike, and Maisangwe among many others.
The idea was to keep school going children in schools amidst uncertainties brought about by the global pandemic.
“We realised that government wasn’t prepared to deal with the education sector in the middle of the pandemic and we created solutions,” he explains.
He notes that the organisation realised that children couldn’t access the available avenues like the internet and gadgets like the television and radio.
Kikomeko reveals that even the learning materials provided by the government couldn’t be accessed by the school and the family; a situation that prompted them to seek other solutions.
The idea was to facilitate teachers who would later reach out to learners in their homes in order for them to keep learning.
“As we started, parents reached out to us for help and at the end of it all, we ended up teaching parents how to read and write,” he notes
Atugonza Hannington, the inspector of schools in Kagadi District, reveals that several reports recognise that technology such as internet learning and tablets are exclusive to the rich and the privileged which leaves behind the vulnerable.
He notes that such conditions have affected school going children in poor communities and those in rural setting.
“In Kagadi for example, many of the poorest households don’t have access to radios, television and the internet which calls for alternatives. We are glad that the owners of Maisha Primary School chose to send teachers into homes,” he notes.
Atugonza adds that in a community that has huge cases f school drop outs and early pregnancies; the Maisha project has been a great rescue to children in Kagadi and particularly Kyenzige Sub County.
Education to Homes
Milly Nassolo Kikomeko, the assistant director Maisha Primary school, explains that the school management secured salaries for teachers who, at that time, had been rendered jobless due to the lockdown.
She notes that this time round, the teachers were briefly trained and prepared for a new task and given a route map and specific schedules to enable them reach out to children.
At least ten teachers were assigned to teach more than 20 children in a specific community.
Nassolo notes that the task was to distribute learning materials and test papers and the later revise with children in their specific homes.
“We secured learning materials and notes which we would print and give to teachers who later distributed to children in their homesteads,” She explains.
She adds that teachers would go back to mark and revise with the children and explain to them.
Ramadhan Kisekka, the Director of studies Maisha Primary explains that teachers would swap their destination so as to help children access teachers of different subjects.
He notes that the school equipped each teacher with a temperature gun, gloves, masks and sanitiser to avoid the spread of Covid-19 in communities.
Consequently, Nassolo reveals that the project benefited 380 children in the community and 15 children sat UNEB, scoring 14 second grades and one first grade.
More to education
Nassolo explains that a section of parents asked teachers to teach them how to read and write so that they could support their children and interpret documents from school.
With a few catered for, she notes that the school has adopted a culture where teachers will be skilling parents and local leaders in communities with basic education skills and other practical skills.
“With parents interested in getting basic skills in education, we are working with experts to create quarterly workshops where we can teach them a few skills that are both hands on and academic,” Nassolo adds.
Nassolo notes that the exercise will also enable the school to empower parents to support their children to stay in school.
Benefiting the young mothers
Nassolo told this paper that part of their project is to help young mothers and those who got pregnant to continue with school. She, however, says that students with such cases fear to appear in schools.
“Taking education to homes has helped us secure dreams for young mothers and the expectant ones,” she adds
It is in this manner that parents with children in such conditions have changed their mindsets to support their children to continue with education.
More school dropouts expected
With various stakeholders trying to find means of keeping children in schools, a report by The National Planning Authority (NPA) recently projected that over 30 per cent out of the 15 million learners that were in schools before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Uganda are likely not to return to school.
Titled, “Towards the safe re-opening of the education sector in Covid-19 time,” the report shows that at least 4.5 million learners across the different education levels will drop out of the education system.
The report highlights that as the impacts of the recession triggered by Covid-19 hit families, many children may be forced out of school, into labour markets. Girls are likely to be much more affected than boys, with many forced into early marriage.
It further stresses that consequently about 64.6 per cent of the parents will struggle or even fail to pay tuition which will also increase non-enrollment, school dropouts, and dead years.
The projection is tagged on reports showing that the Covid-19 coping measures have pushed poverty levels from 21 per cent to 24 per cent and are likely to push 40.6 per cent of non-poor households to become poor.
Covid and education in Uganda
In March 2020 when government declared the first lockdown, over 15 million learners were sent home. It’s understood that Uganda is ranked among the top 20 countries with the highest number of days of full school closures between March 2020 and 2021.
Data from the UNESCO Global Monitoring of School Closures Caused by COVID-19 Pandemic report (2021) highlights that children in Uganda missed 149 school days during that period.
The Situation of, and Impact of Covid-19 on School going Girls and Young Women in Uganda reports that between March 2020 and June 2021, there was a 22.5 per cent increase in pregnancy among girls aged 10-24 seeking first antenatal care from 80,653 to 98,810.
Recently, the president announced that schools will reopen in January 2022.
With very little data available on the number of children who are out of school as a result of the pandemic, Save the Children’s report Covid’s Educational Time Bomb shows that more than 20 per cent of students surveyed are at risk of dropping out for good with potentially devastating consequences for their future.