Education expert Jonathan Kivumbi: Why President Museveni is right on the re-opening of schools

President Museveni and his wife Janet Museveni, on arrive at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala, Uganda for WorldHealthSummit official opening (PHOTO /Courtesy)

President Museveni and Education Minister Janet Museveni (PHOTO/Courtesy)

On Wednesday, September 8, 2021, the Daily Monitor, published a story about President Museveni’s take on the re-opening of schools and education institutions, in general, under the headline, ‘Museveni rejects plan to re-open schools in October’, a story that has attracted a number of mixed reactions from the public, with many saying Museveni and his government, are not mindful of the education of our children, any more. Yes, basing on the period our children have spent home, without attending to their studies as expected, you must be naive, to blame that section of people in possession of this school of thought.

However, I am convinced beyond doubt, after reading the full story, one cannot fail to support the President, with regard to his position on the re-opening of schools and education institutions, in general.

Throughout his submission, the President placed a lot of emphasis on vaccination, and he clearly points out the persons that need to be prioritized, during this exercise. Perhaps, guided by fears of the projected third wave and, of course, the damage caused by CoViD-19 during the second wave, the President has made it clear to the authorities at Embassy House, that he is not ready to risk the life of more Ugandans by re-opening schools and education institutions, at large, in October, as earlier planned (of course, not by him, but by the authorities at Embassy House), unless the target group of people meant to be vaccinated has really been vaccinated, a decision that I also strongly support.

In fact, I personally believe, instead of pressing the President to re-open schools, we should rather press him to vaccinate the people meant to be vaccinated, before the end of 2021, regardless. All we need as a citizenry, is to have our people vaccinated, of course, starting with the groups that relate directly to the education sector, as put forward by the President, together with the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Maama Janet Museveni.

The question of how he gets the vaccine, is none of our business. All we want is whoever needs to be vaccinated, to get the vaccine, in the remaining 113 days, of 2021, of course, paying close attention to those that relate directly to the education sector.

We must admit the fact that schools and education institutions, in general, failed to follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) given to them by the Ministry of Health, something that grossly contributed to the escalating cases, and, of course, rising death toll, during the second wave.

Hiding patients and cutting off communication, with parents/guardians, were part of the misdeeds committed by schools, ahead of the second lockdown on education institutions.

I personally, strongly believe, the Education Ministry, would have taken advantage of CoViD-19, just like other ministries and/or government agencies, notably the Ministry of Kampala Affairs/Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to re-organize education institutions, but unfortunately, this has not happened yet.

We all know that KCCA had for long wanted to re-construct the Old taxi park, from the time it (KCCA) came into existence, but they were still scratching their heads of how best to have this done, and, oh yes, to them the outbreak of CoViD-19, and the lockdown that followed, were warmly welcomed, as they saw this as the only shortcut to accomplishing their objective.

Believe it, or not, the Education Ministry, has learned TOTALLY NOTHING from CoViD-19. Too unfortunate!

Emphasis of the authorities at Embassy House is on re-opening schools and education institutions, at large, regardless. At a time when the Ministry of Kampala, of course, together with its agency, KCCA, are planning to re-organize the city, nothing is being done by the authorities at Embassy House, to re-organize the county’s education sector.

In fact, what we are seeing today in our education sector, is MORE AND MORE MESS, than ever. Everyone is doing things their way, as though Embassy House, has been closed. You cannot imagine, even though we all know the selection exercise for S.1 and S.5 students has not yet been done, a number of private schools have already started teaching these students.

This is incredible! With the selection of first year university and tertiary institutions’ students yet to be done, private universities and tertiary institutions, are already warming up for lectures. Surely, what are we up to, as a country? What exactly, do we want to obtain out of education? Do we really have any technocrats in the Education Ministry?

At a time when every school-going child/adult, can hardly tell you which class, or level of education they are currently attending, a number of schools have already obtained money from parents/guardians for the 2021 Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) registration and money for the Public Universities Joint Admissions Board (PUJAB) forms. Hmmmmm! In fact, this money was collected before the President announced the second lockdown on schools and education institutions, in general.

Aware of the fact that, the would be P.7, S.4, and S.6 candidates of 2021, have hardly had any meaningful studies, since March 20, 2020, when the first lockdown on education institutions, was announced, the Education Ministry, in conjunction with its examining agency, at these three levels, UNEB, are more than ready to have these students examined, in the first quarter of 2022, no matter what, and, as usual, without any shame, come out, and tell the public, how the 2021 candidates performed much better, than those of 2020. Oh Uganda! may God uphold thee … Even though we are fully aware that at the lower secondary school level, the country is operating with a totally new curriculum, which curriculum still has many unanswered questions, the authorities at Embassy House, are convinced beyond doubt, that S.1 students, of course, meant to be in S.2 currently, are studying, and they are more than determined to see them through to the next class. Oh God, who is bewitching my Uganda?

One wonders how something new, can be implemented under such a mess! Even though, schools are currently closed, with teachers scattered, UNEB has already called on teachers to start applying as invigilators, scouts, and markers of the 2021 examinations, a clear indication that they are more than determined to have these students examined, in the first quarter of 2022, as already mentioned, regardless.

And I can assure you, as usual, the performance of these candidates MUST be much better than the one of the 2020 candidates. Hmmmmm! Learners at all levels, are doing exams online, and everyone is watching, as though this is something normal/right! For heaven’s sake, how do you tell me, you are administering an exam online? Then, if examinations can be administered online, why can’t we have UNEB exams, and the rest of the national exams, administered online, as well? But surely, do we have any technocrats in the Education Ministry?

Today, if you asked anyone in the Education Ministry, the system of education we are following as a country, I bet, if any person therein, can come up with a definite answer in this regard.

While some learners, majorly those from seemingly well-to-do families, have resorted to online (zoom) lessons, others are have to catch up with their lessons on television, radio, or WhatsApp.

We also have another category of learners who get visiting teachers to attend to them from home, or their (the learners) places of convenience. Another group of learners has to move to a teacher’s place for assistance.

There is also a category of learners that has to catch up with their studies through the newspapers, or the learning materials, available on market (notably, holiday package). We also have a category of learners being assisted in their studies by their brothers, sisters, cousins, and relatives of all sorts.

This is the category that has, say, a brother, sister, or cousin, ahead of them, academically. Of course, needless to emphasize the fact that there is also another category of learners that is not doing anything at all, in relation to academics, and arguably, this group MUST be the biggest of them all.

Please be reminded that, all the aforementioned categories of learners are going to be subjected to the same exams, and as earlier discussed, the performance of these learners according to UNEB, will, without any doubt, be much-much better than that of learners who sat exams, under seemingly normal situations.

In fact, if learners can be in position to come up with an EXTRA-ORDINARY performance, while seated home, compared to when they are in school, why should we, even bother the President with the re-opening of schools, surely?

Don’t you think, it is ideal for our children to continually attend to their studies from home, since by so doing, as parents/guardians, we are guaranteed of an EXCELLENT performance, compared to when they are in school, following the conventional teaching style?

For goodness sake, after schools grossly abusing the law, to the dot, moreover, in the presence of the authorities at Embassy House, what guarantee does the ministry have, that once these schools re-open, they will heed the SOPs, as expected? Yes, I have personality read and clearly understood the Education (Pre-primary, primary, and post-primary) Act, 2008, and I can without fear, or favour comfortably and confidently conclude that there is not even a single clause of this Act that is operational. I am even wondering why Parliament wasted time deliberating on this law.

Schools are being sold off contrary to the law, for example, and the authorities at Embassy House, are simply clapping the happenings.

While Article 30, of the law requires all secondary schools, both public and private, to have in place functional students’ councils, not a single private school, has this in place, and to the authorities at Embassy House, including the Uganda National Students’ Association (UNSA), this is very fine.

To-date, I am still asking myself why UNEB and PUJAB fix their fees, for both registration and form acquisition, respectively, yet at the end of the day, each school, is at liberty to come up with its own charges.

Even though, we all know that, under normal circumstances, a taxi is required to carry only 14 passengers, a coaster 29-32 passengers (depending on the size), and a typical bus, 67-69 passengers, to the authorities at Embassy House, schools have the freedom to enroll as many students as they so wish, irrespective of the space available.

This is why, you find schools like King’s College, Budo, occupying vast pieces of land and with all the necessary facilities that make up a typical school, with a much smaller students, compared to that (number of students) of a typical private school.

To private schools, it is all about numbers, regardless-the reason you will find a private school, seated on say 2-3 acres of land, or even less, having their total enrollment 3-4 times of King’s College Budo, or any of our renowned traditional schools. And, of course, as already mentioned, to the authorities at Embassy House, this is very okay. Hmmmmm!

To the authorities at Embassy House, it is very fine for one to operate a chain of schools under the same name. Hmmmmm! At a time when the Ministry should be engaging private school owners, and, of course, all those operating private education institutions, to basically find out, those that are ready to stay in the industry, and those that are not, once schools and education institutions, are re-opened, so as to come up with remedies, specifically for those that are likely to quit business, they are simply focusing at only one thing, re-opening of schools and education institutions, and nothing else.

Just as we have in place a national task force and district task forces for CoViD-19, so must we have the same for education, but this all-important arrangement, has been totally ignored by the concerned authorities.

Take it, or leave it, there is not a single sector, more so, in Uganda, that has been hit, by CoViD-19, like that of education. And without any doubt, if we are to get out of this mess, combined efforts are needed, lest we all pay the price.

This is a time when monitoring and evaluation (call it, inspection) of schools and education institutions, in general, should be ongoing, than before, across the country, but, you cannot imagine, since March 20, 2020, nothing of the sort, has been observed.

Truth be told, we should have seen the Education Ministry, de-registering, or closing hundreds of thousands of schools and education institutions, in general, during this period, if at all inspection was/is to be objectively done, for without any doubt, many of these schools, are not fit to handle the country’s future human resource, but, to the dismay of the majority, this has also not happened.

The ministry has instead placed emphasis on having schools re-opened, regardless. But, does anyone expect the inspection of schools and education institutions, in general, to go as expected, aware of the fact that the very inspectors are the owners of these schools?

For goodness sake, do you really expect an inspector of schools to, in a given district, to come up with an objective report, on a minister’s, commissioner’s, or District Education Officer’s, school, after inspection of their schools, aware of the fact that these are the people keeping him/her in office?

Your Excellency, like I have always said, throughout out all my correspondences addressed to you, don’t you think this is where the latest problems of our education, as a country, start from?

For goodness sake, Your Excellency, how do you expect TYPICAL CAPITALISTS, that are all-over the Education Ministry, to effectively plan for the country’s education, more so, during this crisis, and thereafter, surely?

How does a person running a chain of schools, and at the same time, holding a public office, of course, within the Education Ministry, come up with a policy meant to promote the success of public schools, aware of the fact that, once these schools succeed, he/she is actually out of business, as an individual?

I have seen and heard many people ranting at the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Maama Janet Museveni, blaming her for failing to revive the county’s education sector, but surely, Your Excellency, how do you expect this lady to execute her duties as required, after pairing her with people whose major aim is profit maximization (call them, opportunists), surely?

Truth be told, once paired with the right team (people, who is main focus is to serve Uganda, beyond self), I personally believe, Maama Janet, has whatever is needed to revolutionize Uganda’s education-the reason you should start thinking of dealing with the issue of conflict of interest, in the Education Ministry, and, elsewhere, Your Excellency.

I am also appealing to you, Your Excellency, not to simply end at rejecting the plan for re-opening schools and education institutions, in general, as presented to you, by the authorities at Embassy House, but to also direct the authorities there, to work on fixing the gaps within the sector, other than, simply focusing at having these schools, re-opened, ahead of re-opening schools and education institutions, in general.

I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, Your Excellency, but I personally believe, the country is yet to see many more building collapsing, if the authorities at Embassy House, don’t come up steady-fast to fix the sector’s gaps, alongside planning the re-opening of schools.

Like I said on UBC-TV, two months ago, once we don’t make use of the golden opportunity brought unto us, as a country, to put right the mess evident in our education system, then we might have to keep up with this very mess, for another fifty (50) years, or so.

Think about it, Your Excellency. I beg to submit!

For God and My Country! Jonathan Kivumbi Educationist-communication and language skills analyst 0770880185 (WhatsApp 0702303190)

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