By Aggrey Nyondwa Kikobera
A few weeks back, I landed on this wonderful conversation on Facebook.
It’s a candid and innocent conversation between a father and his 4-year-old daughter, Mea (Pseudo).
The latter is perplexed about why schools remain closed to this day. She grumbles about how much she misses school, her friends and teachers.
To Mea, a full year out of school is too long, and she fancies to have a conversation with ‘The President’ about the same…
Mea: Daddy, when will schools be opened? I want to go to school.
Dad: Schools were closed because of the outbreak of coronavirus, a deadly disease that spreads very fast.
Mea: I know this. But when will schools be opened again?
Dad: I don’t know. But I will call someone and ask. You know the disease is spreading very fast, and we are required to stay home, and to avoid congested places such as schools.
Mea: But Daddy, you and Mummy leave home every morning, and return in the evening. Is there no coronavirus where you go?
Dad: Ha! There’s coronavirus everywhere. But we are careful. Don’t you see us wearing masks all the time when returning home? Don’t you see us carrying bottles of sanitizers and washing our hands? These are some of the things we have to do to avoid falling sick.
Mea: We can do all that at school.
Dad: Yes you can. When schools reopen. Mea: When will that be? Dad: I don’t know but I will call and ask.
Dad: I will tell you… ***Conversation ends*** Another evening…
Mea: Daddy, I want the telephone number of the president. Do you have it?
Dad: Which president?
Mea: President Museveni.
Dad: Who is President Museveni? Do I know him?
Mea: The one who talks about coronavirus all the time on TV. The one who wears a hat…
Dad: Why do you want his telephone number?
Mea: I want to call and ask him when we will go back to school. We all want to go back to school. Me (and my other friends). I miss my teacher, I miss my friends. I miss school.
Dad: I don’t have the president’s telephone number, unfortunately.
Mea: Ah! Dad: (But, I will call the president) when I get his telephone number.
Just like Mea, over 15 million learners have been affected by the closure of schools in Uganda, since March 2020.
This closure was a measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which was just on its way into Uganda, at that time.
According to UNICEF, there are other 1.6 billion children from over 200 countries, that have been affected by nationwide school closures, as a result of the pandemic. It is coming to a year now, and millions of Ugandan children, are still stranded at home.
The closure of schools was as inevitable as all the other measures that were taken. No one, however, anticipated that it would be for this long. It is now a full academic year lost and you wonder how children, especially those in rural areas, will be able to catch up.
Besides, the closure of schools has reversed the progress registered by the government and Non-Governmental Organisations, in curbing child abuse.
The continued keeping of children at home, means continued exposure, to gross child abuse risks.
According to the Uganda Child Helpline Service, Sauti 116, sexual violence against children rose from 20% in March to 40% in July 2020. Just in the space of three months.
The report also indicates that between April and September 2020, cases of violence against children rose from 2,400 to 5,000.
This is mostly attributed to the redundancy of children at home, thereby exposing them to the perpetrators. In addition to academics, school is a safe haven for children, where a lot of moral protection is provided.
But with the kind of busy parents today, this protection has been stripped from the children for the last 11 months, leaving them helpless and vulnerable.
A recent cabinet meeting culminated in a suggestion, that schools should remain closed for another three months. However, the risk of keeping children at home, is far greater.
Just like Mea suggests in the conversation she has with her father, schools should reopen, with strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). We have already seen this work with the opening of candidate classes, and other public entities that have been allowed to operate.
The author is a Social and Political Critic