My message to President Museveni: Reopen education institutions or declare a dead year now

Either way, this clearly implies that even if schools especially lower education institutions are to be re-opened today, a number of learners will be left out and behind

Education institutions

President Museveni asked to reopen education institutions or declare a dead year now!

EDUCATION NEWS UGANDA |  I wish to thank you for your selfless dedication, commitment, and devotion towards mitigating the spreading of coronavirus in Uganda.

Truth be told, your stewardship has enabled us, as a country to reach this far. You will realize that on March 18, 2020, in a bid to counter the spreading of the virus, you directed all education institutions to close, effect, March 20. Arguably, this was a decision taken in the right direction, and I wish to thank you for taking such a decision.

This means, pupils and students at all levels of study, went back home, prematurely, and since then, they have been home. Amidst all odds, parents have laboured to provide for their children during this lockdown period. However, I wish to inform you that many of us have reached a point when we can no longer stretch beyond our limits.

Your Excellency, put yourself in the shoes of a parent who is not earning even a single penny, but has family to take care of, and at the same time, has to print and/or photocopy work for his/her children in school, buy Yaaka so that the children can attend to the ongoing radio and television “lessons”, and make the routine TV subscription, among other things; assuming that you were the parent, in such a situation, would you priotize food, or education? Besides, are you convinced, beyond doubt, that whatever is happening with distance learning-radio, television, Internet, Facebook, WhatsApp, zoom, name it, is, in itself teaching?

I posed this question to the Education Minister, Janet Museveni, and I will pose the same question to you, as well: Are you determined to assess the P.7, S.4, and S.6 students, this year, basing on what is happening on radio, TV, zoom, or WhatsApp? Teaching is guided by two principal instruments-lesson plan and scheme of work; while the former is prepared and evaluated before and at the end of the lesson, the latter is prepared for a given time period, usually, a term.

These two documents aid the monitoring, supervision, and evaluation of the teaching-learning process. In fact, there is absolutely no way monitoring and supervision of the teaching-learning process can go on without these two documents in the midst.

To this end, allow me pose the following questions to you, Your Excellency: Do the teachers conducting distance classes have these two principal documents in place? And if so, in the absence of the head of department, director of studies, deputy head teacher, in-charge of academics, and above all, the head teacher, who supervises and monitors them? What yardstick do these teachers use to establish whether the lesson was successfully taught, or not, in the absence of a lesson plan? What mechanism do they (i.e., the teachers) apply to ensure that there is “classroom” control? How practical is it for one to attend to a class whose actual, or even projected number is not known to them? So, while “planning” his/her lesson, how many learners does the teacher “plan” for?

How practical is it for one to a teach a student whom they do not know what they are doing at that time? Is teaching simply about talking to whoever may be “listening” to you at that moment? What is the essence of children having lots and lots of work done, but unmarked? In simple terms, how is formative assessment, conducted? Notice that formative assessment, unlike summative assessment, is what scholars in education have described as “assessment for learning” (AfL), meaning that its significance to all the beneficiaries, far outweighs that of summative assessment. Therefore, in the absence of formative assessment, how possible is it for us to start thinking of summative assessment (UNEB examinations)? If teaching is all about doing UNEB examinations, then, there is no doubt, you have my full backing in as far as promoting distance learning is concerned; however, if it involves something extra, beyond merely subjecting the learners to summative assessment, then, with all due respect, I would kindly request you to think more about distance learning, and its likely adverse effects, not only on the learners, but more so, on the Uganda of tomorrow.

There is no doubt, if we are to conduct an objective cost-benefit analysis, the costs of the ongoing e-learning programme, far outweigh its benefits. Even if you decided to give each learner their own radio and television set, including all the accessories, I can guarantee with certainty, there CANNOT be any meaningful teaching and/or learning taking place on the radio and television. Distance learning cannot take place for a lifetime, and we still believe that learning is still happening. One wonders how a teacher who has failed to make 40, 50, or even 100 students in their class to fully understand the basics of say, Chemistry, Mathematics, or Biology, can do so, to the entire country, moreover, via distance learning.

Your Excellency, take a closer look at the quality of examinations administered by UNEB, and any other examining body, including those of English Language, and see how English language, is a problem to educators of this country. It is common practice to find question items in a couple of UNEB examinations administered with multiple tenses, and examiners still expect to obtain constructive feedback from the learners.

Whenever I look at the quality of UNEB examinations, specifically those of English Language and English in Literature, I keep wondering the kind of training that our teachers of English Language, undergo. Surely, if teachers have failed to clean up their own house, how, then, does one convince me that they can do so, to our children, moreover, through the distance learning? I am just imagining how a teacher of English Language, who has failed to make a class of 50 students grasp the basics of composition and/or functional writing, can do so, to millions and millions of learners “listening” to them on radio, or watching them on television. So, having registered a multiplicity of failures, especially in the science subjects in the national exams, through the conventional teaching method, are we now convinced that miracles shall be realized through distance learning?

Your Excellency, I reside in Kawanda, just 12 km, away from Kampala city, and I wish to assure you that the school-going children in my community are not studying, at all. In fact, majority of the parents, teachers, and learners in my community are not bothered at all, about what is happening within the education sector, anymore.

Your Excellency, the chief activity here is brick making, and if you so wish, just make an hour’s tour through Kawanda and you see men and women, including their children (majority of whom are school-going), making bricks. The construction sites in my community are full of teachers and students. Your Excellency, you cannot imagine, teachers are working as porters on construction sites alongside their students. Teachers too, have joined the brick making business. If children in Kawanda, Wakiso District, are not studying, must one believe that those in Buyende, Ggomba, or Buvuma districts are studying?

Your Excellency, if during normal school time, students, mainly girls, reach an extent of even escaping from school, purposely to check on their boyfriends, how about now, when they are home, moreover, indefinitely?

Your Excellency, are you aware that the magnitude at which the girl-child has been sexually abused in this lockdown, is far greater than that of CoViD-19, Ebola, and HIV, combined, in relation to Uganda? I am reliably informed that parents in an effort to find means of survival in this lockdown, a number of parents, especially those in the rural areas have decided to marry off their children, including minors. This vice seems to be very highly pronounced in the Busoga region. Your Excellency, think of your grandchildren aged, 12, 13, 17, including those who are of age, being forcefully, married off, simply because their parents want money to buy maize flour and beans for survival. Hundreds and hundreds of our girls have already been impregnated either by their fellow children (young boys), or by heartless men.

Your Excellency, are these the people we are planning to buy radios and televisions, for? Don’t you think it would be worthwhile to spend the money meant to buy radios and televisions, on, at least boosting the welfare of teachers in private schools? Your Excellency, if there is anybody who has been hit hardest by the adversities of Covid-19 in Uganda, is the private sector educator. Notice that, while we expect a teacher in a public school, who is assured of salary, no matter the circumstances, to produce for us a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer, we also expect his/her counterpart in a private school, who is moving all over the village looking for clothes to wash, so as to generate some income, to do the same. Interesting!

In my article, titled, “Gaps in the Ongoing Radio and TV Lessons”, published by the Daily Monitor, on Monday, April 27, 2020, I convincingly pointed out 21 reasons why I am personally against the whole arrangement; Your Excellency, I pray you look for, and find this article. Certainly, you will find it invaluable. Your Excellency, if you found it easy (of course, amidst a couple of worries), to close off all education institutions on March 20, why are you finding it so hard to either re-open them, or better still, declare 2020, a dead academic year, other than keeping parents, learners, teachers, and all the relevant stakeholders, on their tenterhooks? Are we looking at this learner today, or we are looking at him/her 10, 20, or 30 years from now? If we are looking at a mere Primary Four, Primary Five, or Senior Four pupil/student, of today, then, it is, schools can be opened any time this year, as we continue engaging the learners through distance learning. However, if our intention is to produce a doctor, an engineer, or even Uganda’s future President, then, I strongly believe, declaring, 2020, a dead academic year, is long overdue. Teaching/learning, is a process, and not, an event. When lockdown on public transport was lifted, so many people decided to relocate to the village with their families, with no hope of returning to their original places of residence. Others decided to send all their children to the village, so as to cut the expenses in town. Either way, this clearly implies that even if schools or education institutions are to be re-opened today, a number of learners will be left out, since many have to change school, now. I looked at the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued to the Education Ministry, by the Health Ministry, if education institutions are to be re-opened, and came to a conclusion that, if education institutions are to be re-opened, following the SOPs given, then we might either have to wait for 2040, or spend the whole of Uganda’s budget for two financial years on nothing else, apart from STRICTLY, education. Re-opening of education institutions for only P.7, S.4, S.6, and final year students in higher institutions of learning, including University, is equally impossible. Your Excellency, I have already convincingly argued about this issue, and I believe I don’t need to bore you with the same. Still, the adversities of opening up learning for only the aforementioned groups of learners, far outweigh, the expected returns. For instance, it is useless sending back students of education, whether in primary teachers’ colleges (PTCs), or at University, to school, yet primary and secondary schools, are not fully operational, since these will have no where to go for school practice. Your Excellency, if you were able to heed my advice on masks, and more so, my advice of bailing out private education institutions, including looking into the concerns of teachers in private schools, I still believe, you will accord this message, the attention it deserves.

What if the vaccine is discovered before September? But, what if the vaccine is not discovered, shan’t we have education institutions re-opened? Your Excellency, with all due respect, with, or without the vaccine, I believe sending back children to school any time this year, is most likely to do more harm than good, especially in the long-term.

Reference can be made to the National Planning Authority (NPA) report, submitted to Parliament, last month.

Your Excellency, why are we bringing in the issue of, “what if” when it comes to education, yet we did not do the same on the issue of the forth coming elections? Don’t you think there is a huge contradiction here, sir? While I totally agree with you on the issue of safety of our children and all stakeholders within the circles of education, I do not agree with you on the measures put in place to address the education gap throughout the entire lockdown period.

Perhaps, to remove any form of doubt, Your Excellency, I am humbly requesting you to call for a enclosed education session for different groups of people, all in their respective disciplines of specialization, starting with the cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament in favour of distance learning, and then, we have teachers teach them using the radio, or television, and thereafter, be subjected to a standard assessment, basing on the content of the lesson; the scores of each individual should be made public.

Thereafter, we also have the teachers conducting these lessons themselves, examined, as well, and have the scores of each published. We should as well perform our research on a sample of say 1000 students attending to the distance learning programme, strictly from the top-notch schools in Kampala, Wakiso, and Mukono districts, right from primary to secondary schools, and we see the out comes.

Those in the rural areas, should not be left out, either. I bet, if a quarter of the participants, right from the ministers score beyond 30% in an authentically administered examination, I will NEVER say anything concerning education in Uganda, anymore. I will keep my mouth shut, for good. Your Excellency, by and large, if radios are really meant for education, then, I can guarantee with certainty that this is money being put to waste. This is what economists refer to as “dead-weight expenditure”.

It is even worse off, if it is borrowed money. If the planned Ugx. 370 billion, or whatever amount meant to buy radios, is used for paying teachers salaries in private schools for a month, or two, I can assure you, it can do wonders than wasting it on doing something, whose results are not only questionable, but hardly achievable. Your Excellency, the people advising you to train Uganda’s doctors, lawyers, and nurses of 2030, 2040, or 2050, using radios and television, are the very people that you talked about who do not care about Uganda. Other than keeping people in a state of panic, why don’t we declare a dead year, once and for all, and we start planning on how to handle the clog, next year? I am also of the view that instead of suspending the monthly subscription of NSSF for educators in private education institutions, you advise Parliament to expedite the amendment of the 1985 NSSF Act, to enable the beneficiaries get access to at least, 50% of their savings.

Some schools have already been transformed into other businesses, while many more, are already on sale. I believe all this is evidence enough, that we are not ready for education any time, this year. Your Excellency, people, including teachers in private schools, are still starving; don’t you think it would be more rewarding for us to spend the money meant to buy radios, on buying food for starving communities? If people are already marrying of their children with the ambit of getting money for survival, what will stop them from selling off the radios?

Your Excellency, with all due respect, I wish to humbly request you to once again think more about the issue of giving out free radios to the 9 million homesteads, prior to implementation of the idea. Let us not create collateral damage for the Uganda of tomorrow, when we are actually seeing, I humbly beg.

Just as you announced the closure of education institutions, you can still do the same for declaration of a dead academic year, because this is more predictable than planning the re-opening of education institutions, any time from now.

Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationist. 0770880185. jonathankivumbi2017@gmail.com


Most Popular

To Top