The President’s promise to reopen schools amid the COVID 19 pandemic that led to the closure of economies and hence halting schools and institutions of higher learning that harbour approximately Fifteen Million young Ugandans is a timely trial on the likely effect it might have on the opening of other critical sectors of the economy.
As the old adage goes ‘when you want to know what is in the forest you throw a stone’ and this is exactly what government intends to do so as to inform future decisions on how to survive and prosper since the vaccine for the virus may not come very soon and yet life has to continue.
However, questions to ponder about rotate on social distancing measures among learners and teachers given that if it is not well addressed it can lead to high infection rates and put the country’s achievements in containing the virus in shambles. However, since the trial is with the candidate classes and institutional finalists, the above worries may be handled appropriately given ample spacing in class, labs, compound, dormitories and proper washing hands with soap and facemasks.
Secondly, how will learners from border districts equally benefit – given that some have to trek from one border district such as Busia to Tororo where they study from or Ntungamo to Kabale which presents an interesting scenario on how learners in Universities in border districts are going to cope.
This raises important technical aspects as to whether such learners will equally compete with their counterparts in the final examinations such as PLE, UCE, UACE, and the like.
Thirdly, how will day scholars manage routine movement in the absence of affordable transport system given that the half passenger directive will lead to hiking of fares and yet even boda bodas are not allowed to ferry passengers. This is one area that stakeholders need to brainstorm on accordingly.
Lastly but not least, it is imperative that school fares be discussed extensively since learners are reporting for another term factoring in the economic hardships arising from the closure of businesses where parents used to earn from.
It should be brought to the attention of concerned government stakeholders most especially the President and MoES that most private sectors have not been paying their employees and some have suspended and terminated employee contracts which will greatly impact on how many parents will be able to send back their children to school bearing in mind exorbitant fees charged by most schools both public and private.
Some of the issues raised above require government intervening to subsidize at least for the candidate classes in terms of supplying food and a few scholastic materials so that schools reduce what parents have to pay.
MoES should put strict school requirements so that schools do not put much pressure on requirements such as hoes, slasher, dozens of toilet paper, dozens of books, sugar, cooking oil, after all, the majority end up in shops again.
In addition, to support parents who work for the private and third sectors of the economy whose earnings are already in jeopardy, parliament should expedite the process of amending the NSSF Act to allow access to savings during emergent situations as a mechanism of bailing out parents.
Lastly but not least, government through parliament should push for the need to increase funding to Student Loan Scheme where parents can borrow from to foot school bills in the short and medium-term to cater for learners in primary and secondary levels in addition to those in higher institutions of learning.
All the above measures among others if well thought have a high probability of revamping the learning needs of the populace with unprecedented desirable outcomes.
Dr. CHRISOSTOM OKETCH | [email protected] | Kabale University