COVID-19: Declare end of 2020 academic year!

Prevention is better than cure. The government of Uganda called for the closure of academic institutions on 18/3/2020 after feeling threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the directive was effected on 20/3/2020 as a preventive measure.

Uganda is steadily proving to be partially successful in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. However, managing the post-COVID-19 lockdown impact will be a mountainous journey to traverse.

While coronavirus attacks humans by reducing the oxygen levels in the blood eventually causing a collapse of vital organs and death, it also shuts down vital economic organs including industries, services such as farms, tourism, hotels, and schools.

The education sector that is entirely dependent on the welfare of the economy which is headed to recession in 2020/2021 FY will direly be affected. As Bank of Uganda postulates at least two million people to lose jobs by the end of the pandemic; 15% of FDIs will disappear with skyrocketing prices on imports due to scarcity as Uganda stands at a 28% drop so far.

Uganda’s GDP is expected to fall from 5.2 (2019) to 2.3% this year (2020). It’s noteworthy, that all the key drivers of Uganda’s economy; industry, agriculture, and services have been affected and their recovery cannot be attained in the short term.

All those whose businesses may never recover and those who will or have already lost their jobs are either parents or guardians to the school going children who may henceforth, fail to pay school fees for their dependents this year.

The debacle within the academics is; when shall academic institutions reopen? Uganda established various measures in order to contain the spread of the pandemic in Uganda; social distancing, frequent washing of hands, observing sneezing etiquettes, and staying home.

Factories were allowed to operate on condition that they provide accommodation to their employees within factory premises. The government, however, continues to ponder about potential COVID-19 victims who are asymptomatic (patients without symptoms) who are thought to be potentially spreading the infection to communities unknowingly. Their status can only be confirmed after testing which costs at least $65 (240,000/=)

The educational implication of the already existing COVID-19 safety measures is that, if learning institutions are to resume any time soon this year then, all the 15 million learners and staff will need to be tested, permanently confined in schools and re-tested after some time until the end of a term/semester and mandatory sanitizing of all academic institutions among others.

What remains unclear is whether the Government will be ready to meet the cost of $975 million (Ush. 3.6 trillion) or is it going to be mandated to each school to meet its individual costs if schools must reopen this year before the vaccine is discovered. Having a temperature monitor at school entrances may not at all guarantee the safety of learners in schools due to the reality of asymptomatic carriers and yet due to limited school facilities, social distancing will pragmatically not be applicable to learning institutions.

In spite of Ministry of education’s interventions on learning through newspapers, self-study materials, and visual (televised) lessons, majority of learners due to psychological, technological, social, economic, geographical and technical impediments are not benefiting hence, the learning approach is currently ineffective to make any significant sense.

Due to the economic breakdown of all sectors caused by the lockdown, some private schools may close completely, many parents do not have money, and schools may not afford to pay their staff yet since the month of March this year, many teachers either received half or no salaries till May. Unless the Government is planning to earmark some special funding to support in clearing education expenses including statutory obligations for academic institutions.

Conclusively as an educationist, I recommend that UNEB, UBTEB, UNMEB, and others should plan to call off this year’s national examinations and all academic institutions should be advised to redesign and plan their academic programmes for 2021 academic year unless an affirmative intervention is urgently done otherwise, the education system is poised to experience the worst school dropout and failure rates in the recent history across academic levels.

The writer is a PhD (education) student – IUIU


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