OpED

Open Letter to the Education Minister, Janet Museveni Are you convinced with the ongoing radio and television lessons?

“Tell me, and I will forget; show me, and I will remember; involve me, and I will understand”. Anonymous. Can we convincingly argue that what is happening on TV and radio, is teaching? I wish to extend my gratitude to you, and your team at the Ministry for steering us this far, especially during this trying moment, where everyone is fighting for their safety.

Thank you so much for the measures put in place to keep our children busy throughout this involuntary holiday. I strongly believe your address of July 3, regarding the progress of the education sector during this lockdown, was indeed timely. Experts on crisis management have pointed out communication as a principal requirement in crisis management.

Undoubtedly, this you have ably done. However, allow me to pose these questions: Are you convinced with the ongoing television and radio lessons, and e-learning programme, in general? If so, does this, therefore, imply that you are determined to examine the P.7, S.4, and S.6 candidates of 2020, basing on what is happening on TV, radio, WhatsApp, and zoom? After registering so many “failures” in national examinations through the conventional teaching approach, do you see this latest mode of instruction, performing wonders?

For the time this mode of instruction has been in place, have you as a Ministry laboured to conduct some kind of scientific study, to establish its effectiveness? Do you have a team put aside as a Ministry put aside to follow up on what is happening on TV and radio?

Have you laboured to look at, and perhaps, read through the study materials being sent out to our children, or you are pretty convinced that the people in charge, commonly described as experts are doing a great job? Have you as a Ministry laboured to critically study the National Planning Authority (NPA) report on the impact of CoViD-19, on Uganda’s education sector, submitted to Parliament last week? Are you aware, of course, as a Ministry, that approximately five million people in Uganda, have already lost employment due to CoViD-19?

While disseminating your information, did you realize that you were actually communicating to a stressed audience? Are you aware, definitely, as a Ministry, that teachers and educators, in general, in both private schools and private higher institutions of learning, are finding it extremely difficult to survive in this period? Do you, as the Education Minister, have a team, specifically put aside to follow-up on whatever detail is happening on the various social medium platforms, with specific regard to education?

Throughout your speech, you continually mentioned the issue of completing the syllabus in what you have described as the second phase of instruction; so, does this, therefore, imply that the main purpose of this whole arrangement is syllabus completion, regardless of whether learning takes place, or not? Are you aware that while you, and, of course, all the officials of the Ministry, are assured of a well-balanced diet, as a routine, there are people, already feeding on banana, cassava, and sweet potato peelings, just like pigs, during this lockdown for survival? As we promote e-learning, especially in this lockdown, are we also focusing at these people? Did you, or any other official at the Ministry, follow up on the story of Doreen Nakyejjwe (Ms), Resty Navubya (Ms), and Harriet Kibirige (Ms), that was aired on the 9:50pm news of Spark TV? And if you did, “Are you convinced that a teacher who is currently moving house-to-house looking for casual work to do, including washing clothes for children they teach, can wholeheartedly, support the ongoing education interventions by governmemt, during this lockdown? Do you even think this person is bothered about what is happening with education, currently? Recently, your Permanent Secretary, Alex Kakooza, issued a letter to all directors, proprietors, and heads of private education institutions, directing them to pay their staff, as a requirement by the Employment Act, “In your capacity as the Minister, have you laboured to find out, if this directive has been adhered to, or not”? And if not, “What interventions have taken, since then”? Are you aware that there are a number of teachers in private schools who still have salary arrears of November, 2019? Constitutionally, your Ministry is supposed to regulate, control, and direct business in private education institutions, “As the Minister, currently in charge, can you sit back, and say, you have satisfactorily played your regulatory, control, and directing roles”?

Last week I heard the State Minister for Primary Education, Rosemary Sseninde, warning and cautioning parents against involving their children in work, instead of leaving them study on radio and television: Surely, before sounding such a warning, why doesn’t someone ask themselves first, why parents decide to work with their children? Mama, do you think there is any rational parent who would love to move around with their 10-year old daughter, or son vending roasted potatoes, maize, or fish? Parents whose source of livelihood is agriculture, almost spend the entire day with the children in the garden: So, according to the Primary Education State Minister, is this a crime? Don’t you think, basing on the words of the Minister, we are soon seeing Police and LDUs, handcuffing people, who are definitely looking for means of survival, and, thereafter, sending them to Kitarya? In the same week, the ICT Minister, Judith Nabakooba, warned and cautioned the public about the radios that governmemt is yet to give out: She categorically stated that the radios are strictly meant for education, and not any other business. She threatened to arrest anyone found listening to any other programme, say politics, while lessons are going on. Hmmmmmm! With all due respect, if governmemt is going to control me on how to use my radio, allow me to turn down the offer, ahead of time. I am not ready to see my 70-old dad, who has never breached any law of the land, in jail, over a mere radio. For this, I am humbly appealing to whoever will be distributing these radios, to kindly move past his gate, during the distribution exercise. I am yet to establish the criteria that is going to be relied upon by the Minister in establishing who is using the radio for studying, and those who are not. I just do not know why our ministers, who are mothers, moreover, sound more scary, than anybody else, including the President himself? I wish every minister, and, perhaps everyone in government could emulate your style of communication, Uganda would be a better place to be. Let us be more persuasive, than aggressive, especially when dealing with parents on issues concerning education of their children. These people are already stressed, and truth be told, any form of aggressive communication, unnecessarily, stresses them, the more. We wouldn’t love to see more people burning themselves to death like it happened in Masaka, on July 2. Honourable, “Are you aware that a number of female students will not be able to return to school, even if schools were to be re-opened today, because many are already pregnant, while others have already been married off? So, do we expect these students to be interested in what is happening on TV, radio, or the Internet? In a situation where the biggest percentage of the population is not working, “Do you think parents can afford to continually meet their daily TV subscription fees”? Is governmemt going to give out radios with solar panels, or adequate dry cells? Parents have bought data/MBs, since March 19, “Surely, do you think we still have the money to cater for the same”? For all this long governmemt has failed to avail the girl-child with sanitary towels, but in a blink it is going to issue out ten million radio sets, and two television sets for every village? Surely, are we being fair to the future mothers of this country? Who is supervising the ongoing TV, radio, zoom, and Internet lessons? If students are not easy to control while at school, “Do we expect parents, guardians, or their elder siblings, to surely control, direct, and influence their learning, while at home”? With the S.1 and S.5 students returning home on March 20, with empty books, “Are you convinced that these people are also being taught, during this lockdown”? I have heard and seen teachers of Mathematics, teaching Maths on radio and television; interesting! Honestly speaking, “How possible is it for a teacher to conduct a Maths lesson in the studio of a given radio, or television station”? Teaching Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English Language, English in Literature, or Agriculture, while in the radio/TV studio; surely, is this possible? If teaching is about talking to whoever is listening, then, I can confidently say, it is possible. However, if teaching goes beyond mere talking, then, I can confidently conclude that, there isn’t any kind of teaching going on. What is currently happening, is a group of selected individuals, looking for survival, of course, moving around the different radio and television stations, to simply talk to our children, rather than teaching them. For anything to be described as teaching, it must take into account the aspects of interaction and feedback. There must be interaction between the learners and their teachers. There must also be interaction amongst the learners themselves, to pave way for peer learning. Needless to emphasize the fact that, teaching is highly consultative, and for this reason, even teachers themselves, must frequently interact, if teaching is to be meaningful. Feedback is considered an ideal aspect of the teaching-learning process. One way through which this can be fostered is through practising assessment for learning (AfL), where teachers subject their learners to regular exercises, assignments, tests, and formative assessment (internal exams), and have them marked, as a way of finding out whether learning has taken place, or not. I highly doubt if the ongoing radio, television, zoom, or whatever e-learning programme caters for this. By and large, teaching cannot be effectively conducted exclusive of interaction and feedback. Since March 20, these children are being taught, minus assessment, a clear indication that no teaching is taking place. Teaching and assessment, go hand-in-hand; these two, are practically inseparable. As a teacher, I have personally taken the initiative to look at the work of different school going children, right from nursery to S.6, and apart from a few children who have private lessons with teachers physically, the rest don’t have any red ink in their books. All you see in these books are empty spaces for questions that these students couldn’t answer, wrong answers, and wrong spellings, areas that can only convincingly be attended to, after taking into account the aspect of feedback. Honourable Minister, on April 27, 2020, I wrote an article, titled, “Gaps in the radio and television lessons”, and this was published by the Daily Monitor. In this article I convincingly put across 21-reasons why I was totally against the whole arrangement. I pray, you look for, and find this paper in your archives. You just cannot talk of radio and television lessons, or e-learning, in a country where power has to go off, as a routine, in most areas, as a routine. Personally, I reside in Wakiso District, just 11km away from the city centre, but as a routine, I have to engage UMEME over power cuts in my area. I have heard of some areas that have had no power for over a month now, due to breakdown of their transformers. The ongoing e-learning programme, including radio and television lessons, does not favour students with special needs, especially the deaf, blind, and those who are mentally impaired, in any way. Surprisingly, I have heard NCDC is preparing learning materials for these children with parents guides, as way of fostering their learning in this lockdown. I am just wondering why we are wasting the meagre available resources on doing things that cannot practically serve their intended purpose. With all due respect, honourable minister, whatever money governmemt is injecting in the publication of self-study materials for children with special needs, is being put to waste. How I wish this money can be put aside, and used for buying food for the many starving teachers in primary schools, all over the country. Certainly, everyone, including Parliament will hail you, if you used this money in the procurement of sanitary towels for the girl-child and women, particularly in the disadvantaged districts. I hail from a family with a special needs child, and I can guarantee with certainty, these children can only study with their teachers, while in school, most preferably. I am sure, people around you, might not be telling you this, possibly because there is a way they are benefiting from the whole arrangement, in one way, or another. Even the learning materials sent in already, have not served their intended purpose. I bet, not more 10% of the intended beneficiaries got access to these materials. Worse still, even those few who got them, did not use them for the intended purpose. We do not have to do this research out of the urban districts of Kampala, Wakiso, and Mukono. I am very ready to move around with you in these three districts to prove my point. Just like law, civil engineering, or nursing, teaching is a profession which must be handled by people trained to do the job (teachers) and, strictly in an organized environment. “No teaching can take place on radio. A radio is simply a medium of communication; the teaching-learning process happens in a defined environment”, Honourable Kasibante Moses. To assume that teaching can be managed by everyone, is not right. By and large, the environment at home cannot allow the teaching-learning process to go on, smoothly. Who, at the Ministry is co-ordinating the ongoing e-learning, radio, and television lessons? It appears like every radio and television station is doing things the way they so wish. We have already seen schools charging parents between 1.7M to 2M, for a term, moreover, for even nursery going children. Surely, in the Ugandan setting, which nursery child can study via e-learning? Why are we using this period to create collateral damage for our children, as though CoViD-19 is here to stay? Your guidance on nursery going children and children in lower primary (P.1-P.2) was crystal clear, and convincing enough. Surely, why, again have you given a lee-way for schools to go against your guidance, and start duping parents of even the little they are left with? I pray, you use your powers to pronounce yourself on the matter, until such a time when the Ministry officially opens schools. Imagine the brain of a child aged 3-7 years, seated on a computer; kindly, let us save the best for last. Honourable, the public outcry for food, countrywide is still on; I highly doubt if a hungry person has the time to think of education. Reference can be made to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Before spending billions and billions of shillings on buying radios and television sets for every home and village respectively, I would advise that you at least spend a few millions and conduct some research on the impact of the ongoing radio and television lessons onto the intended beneficiaries. This way, you be in position to make an informed decision. I can guarantee with certainty, this arrangement is going to cause more harm than good. If the virus is already in our communities, then, there is no doubt, the two television sets per village, are going to escalate the spreading of the virus. This way, re-opening of schools, will be further delayed, since governmemt will have to attend to the ever rising cases, emerging from the education sector. Besides, these village televisions, are going to also escalate the spreading of HIV/AIDS, amongst school-going children, on top of unwanted pregnancies. The radios are likely to escalate domestic violence, as well, since, men, majorly in the rural areas, will definitely, assume ownership of these radios. If radios and televisions are meant for education, I would humbly request that this money be diverted to at least provide food for the already starving teachers in private schools, or be used for some other productive cause. With radio and television lessons going on, indefinitely, the intended beneficiaries are already becoming exhausted, and hence shifting their attention to other constructive things. In my area of residence, school-going children are already involving themselves in brick making, construction, etc. I believe time is ripe for the Education Ministry to join hands with the ICT Ministry, to push governmemt to scrap OTT. Some of us challenged this tax, of course, from the onset, with clear reasons, but our concerns fell on deaf ears. I am yet to study the guidelines issued by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) on e-learning, before I can pronounce myself on the same. E-learning for a student of civil engineering, medicine, or law at the Law Development Centre? We are privileged as a nation to have a person in the position of a First Lady, who is very prayerful. There is no doubt, God cannot fail to answer our prayers, especially with regard to helping us find an everlasting solution to CoViD-19. May the Lord bless you and continually give you wisdom to effectively steer us through this difficult time. Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationist. 0770880185. [email protected]

 

 

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