OPINION: Janet Museveni, Minister of Education; re-opening of education institutions, on June 4, 2020, is not only risky, but unjustified

Dear, Minister of Education, Janet Museveni,  re-opening of education institutions, on June 4, 2020, is not only risky, but unjustified

While closing education institutions on March 20, 2020, following the President’s directive to close all schools and education institutions, countrywide, was an easy task to accomplish, the re-opening exercise might not be easy, as some of us might think.

There are so many things to be taken good care of, prior to thinking of re-opening schools and/or education institutions. To-date, I am still asking myself if the President keenly studied the things that are yet to be convincingly analysed in this brief, ahead of directing the Education Ministry to come up with an action plan that is to be followed in opening up schools for P.7, S.4, and S.6 candidates, as well as final year students in the higher institutions of learning, including University.

First, how possible is it to re-open education institutions on June 4, 2020, and maintain the hours of the curfew-6:30am to 7:00pm?

Isn’t this what they call, “Eating your cake, and then having it?” Surprisingly, instead of coming up with a loud and uniform voice, against this whole arrangement, majority of the top University administrators, in Kampala and beyond, have instead opted for a re-adjustment in their teaching time. They are planning to, for example, reschedule the evening lectures, and fix them during day time.

In most education institutions (Universities and Tertiaries), evening lectures, often start at 5:00pm and end at 9:30pm. Before coming up with this proposal, did the University dons ponder around the following questions: Why are some lectures fixed in the evening? Who are the students who attend to such lectures? Consider an institution like the Uganda Management Institute (UMI) where over 97% of its students are working class; so, does it imply that all these people have to lose their jobs, simply because they have to attend to their lectures, now during day time, unlike before?

Surely, who doesn’t know that students who study in the evening, including undergraduates, are largely from the working class? I bet, no University, whatsoever, can succeed it its arrangement of rescheduling evening classes.

Needless to emphasize the fact that lessons in primary and secondary schools are also supposed to officially start at 8:00am and end at 5:00pm. Obviously, in most schools (if not, all), they stretch from 7:00am to 6:00pm. Are we not aware that several of our children, including their teachers, especially in the rural areas are expected to walk over 10kms, to and fro, school, everyday? So, do we expect a person meant to walk a distance of 10kms to have it covered in 30 minutes, i.e., 6:30-7:00am? There is no doubt, we either give a lee-way to academics, and call off the curfew, or maintain the curfew and call off academics. In this case, the planning machinery, together with the Presidential advisory team, need to apply the principle of opportunity cost, so as to come up with a rational decision.

Believe it, or not, there is absolutely no way, both academics and the curfew can run concurrently. Secondly, about the issue of public transport: With the biting poverty amongst the biggest percentage of the population, “How practical is the President’s directive of passenger service vans loading up to 50% of their usual capacity”?

To cater for the empty seats, just as was the case before the lockdown, operators of public transport will, definitely pass on the cost to the passengers. For instance, instead of paying the usual Ugx. 2000/- from Namugongo to Kampala city, one will be required to pay twice the fare (i.e., 4,000/-). Notice that this is for only one journey. The return journey is, of course, more expensive, as this will now cost Ugx. 6,000/-.

This means, if a student attends, say, Kampala Secondary School, they will be required to part off with Ugx. 60,000/- in transport alone, every week. Surely, at this point in time, “How many parents can afford this amount”? Then we have the issue of the virus, itself.

I am reliably informed, to-date, there are people who have tested positive, but have, since then gone missing. A case in point is the patient still on the run in Buikwe district. Honestly speaking, with such a scenario, is still worthwhile for government to take such a risk of sending back its people to school, after keeping them home for 10 solid weeks, without having them tested”? What criteria will be followed in identifying a person with the symptoms of Corona Virus, aware of the fact that many people who have tested positive, world-over, have not shown any symptoms before”? Don’t you think by insisting on opening up education institutions, on June 4, 2020, government is likely to water down all its registered achievements, in as far as fighting against the spreading of the virus, is concerned?

What is the cost-benefit analysis of re-opening schools on June 4, 2020, and having many positive cases of the virus, emanating from the education sector? Notice that the President pledged to transform all public stadiums into hospitals for COVID-19 patients, should numbers rise.

Don’t you think the first persons to fall victim could actually be those from within the education circles? I strongly believe any academic programme organized in the month of June is likely to cause more harm than good, and should, therefore, be called off.

This has nothing to do with being pessimistic, but, obviously, basing on what is happening in the world, one cannot be crucified, or even be described as a pessimist, when they come up with such a conclusion.

Opening schools while some businesses are yet to start operations, is equally wrong. This is because even parents/guardians operating such businesses, also have children, who need to be in school. What plans does government have for international students, aware of the fact that when education institutions were closed, some moved back home? Initially, I was of the view that these should not be allowed into the country, whatsoever.

However, I believe this would be too harsh, a decision, since these people left country against their wish. It is the duty of government to plan for these students as well, as it thinks of re-opening education institutions on June 4, 2020, since it allowed them, in the first place. But, with what is going on, elsewhere, do you think it is worthwhile for these people to come and mix up with the rest of the learners in school? In fact, should the Ministry of Education, overlook this issue, it risks putting government in a terrible position, as student from within East Africa, might seek for justice in the East African court of justice.

Worst of all, this might also adversely affect Uganda’s image on the international scene. Is government aware that by opening up school for just one class, or two, the entire has been opened? There those costs that one will incur, regardless of the size of production. These costs, economists, have described as fixed costs. For instance, staff salaries, under normal circumstances are supposed to remain intact, whatsoever. The school cannot choose to leave some places/rooms dark, in the night, simply because it is trying to save on Yaka/electricity.

Unless government has a well-laid down plan for this, I can guarantee with certainty, several schools, both public and private, will fail to operate, as required. The situation will be worse for schools operating with small numbers. This morning I had a lengthy talk with a primary school proprietor/director, who has only 12 pupils in P.7. In fact, he told me that he is worried, many might not even return, due to the aforementioned reasons. According to the Education Ministry, how are such schools going to be helped, aware of the fact that they are all managing the country’s future human resource? In fact, in order to partially address the problem, primary school directors/head teachers have resorted to convincing parents with children in P.6, to take them to P.7, so that they can raise the numbers. Still, schools with smaller numbers, both primary and secondary, are also planning to merge, of course, temporarily, as a way of meeting the required operational expenses.

Either, the quality of our education will be compromised. If the Ministry does not come up with practical measures to mitigate against the two vices, more so, the first one, ahead of re-opening schools, then we should be set for either registering the poorest grades, ever in national examinations, or registering seemingly good results, which I usually describe as “plastic results”.

Re-opening education institutions

Ministry of Education is set to Re-open all education institutions of higher learning and schools in Uganda

Furthermore, in order to ensure that operations go on “as planned”, a number of private schools and education institutions, are planning to resort to the piece-rate system, and, of course, you cannot blame them. However, should this be done (which, of course, must happen), performance in national examinations will, adversely be affected, as a result.

Many schools are also operating on loans. And, unlike individual, or any other business loans, with schools, the bank, pays it as soon as money, in the form of school fees starts going into the school account. Should this happen (which is likely to be the case), schools might fail to even meet their day-to-day expenses, or variable costs. This way, left with no option, they will have to close operations, and send children back home. There are staff members with salary loans. With fewer students at school, and adjustment in the mode of payment, these might have to suffer the consequences, individually, and in the process, their efficiency at work, is likely to be compromised. In the end, it will be the learner, together with his/her parent, who will pay the price.

Reflecting on the issue of biting poverty amongst the citizenry, let’s look at this scenario: Here is a S.4 student who never picked his/her results-slip from his primary school, after failing to pay, a sum of say, Ugx. 200,000/-; he/she is now required to pay Ugx. 164,000/- for UNEB registration, and at the same time, he/she has to pay school fees, amounting to say, Ugx. 400,000/-. Needless to emphasize the fact that his/her sponsors are still under lockdown.

According to the Education Ministry, are they convinced beyond doubt, that should they follow the President’s directive, and re-open education institutions on June 4, 2020, such a student will be in position to return to school? Look at a child whose parents run a cosmetics shop, which products have fixed dates of expiry, and has been closed for all this long. Grapevine has it that landlords, especially those in Kampala require their tenants to pay for the months they have been away, and also pay for a month in advance, prior to accessing their premises, at the end of the lockdown.

Needless to emphasize the fact that most of them (if not, all) have consumed all the little they had, including capital. Surely, if we insist on opening education institutions in two-weeks time from now, “Do we also expect the children of these people to be part of the equation”? I highly doubt! Some subjects like Geography and Entrepreneurship Education require students to answer their exams using, strictly information obtained from the field. Therefore, according to the Ministry, with the damage already caused by this virus, “Will it be worthwhile for UNEB to examine students about the same”? And if so, “how will the issue of field trips be addressed”? Certainly, most organizations are going to remain closed to any external individuals until further notice, as a way of mitigating against the spreading of the virus. The President has still maintained lockdown on salons (which is okay), but shown green light for final year students in higher institutions of learning, including University. Prior to arriving at this decision, did anyone inform His Excellency that there are students studying beauty, cosmetology, and hairdressing, and that these also have a practical paper to sit for? There are schools that usually collect UNEB registration fees in term 1, and as always been the practice, constructively divert the money, and fill up the gap after collecting fees. Of course, there is a gap, here already. But in this case, with the UNEB money on the school account, and their staff members having to survive throughout this lockdown, “Who can blame a head teacher who used the UNEB registration fees for clearing staff salaries, of course, with the intention of having the gap closed, moreover, during such a trying moment”?

The President has also warned schools against administering any form of formative assessment, perhaps, until students sit for their final exams. Surely, don’t we have any experts in education on the CoViD-19 Task Force? Your Excellency, by and large, summative assessment is a replica of formative assessment, implying that, calling off formative assessment, automatically, means calling of summative assessment, as well. Assessment is in a variety of ways in education. Nowadays, a great deal of attention is given to its use in facilitating the teaching-learning process, commonly described as a “assessment for learning”, or simply, “formative assessment”.

There is more to assessment than just seeing if the requirements of achieving a qualification have been satisfied. Formative assessment is the assessment used by educators on a continuous basis, specifically to help their students achieve to the best of their abilities, and is considered an essential component of the teaching-learning process, (Anderson et al, 2001). Based on this background, therefore, Your Excellency, we can only regulate schools on how to perform formative assessment, but not rubbishing off the whole arrangement, altogether. I believe the public, more so, individuals in the 45 districts, where the lockdown has been maintained while education institutions re-open, the action plan by the Education Ministry to cater for these districts.

These are the districts that have been greatly disadvantaged by the ongoing e-learning programme; the self-study materials sent were far less than required, and worst of all, the biggest percentage of these districts have persistently registering very poor grades in the nation exams. Honestly speaking, I see no reason of having in place, multiple learning (which are moreover, full of innumerable flaws), for students who are going to sit for the same exams. This is a clear sign to indicate that we are not in any way ready to accommodate students in a period of just two weeks from now.

A number of female students are likely to return to school with pregnancies, having stayed home for long, while others might have either voluntarily moved into marriage, or been married off by their parents. What plans does the Ministry have to address this problem between now and June 4, 2020?

Have educated, trained, and sensitized teachers and, more so, the medical personnel of these education institutions on how to handle CoViD-19 related suspicious cases? With the overwhelming numbers of people crying out for food, countrywide, are we convinced beyond doubt, that these hungry masses will be in position to fully take on the responsibility of meeting their children’s education needs by June 4, 2020? With the rising numbers of community cases, “What plans does the Ministry have for day students, including members of staff who don’t reside at school”?

Are universities and higher institutions of learning going to let students sit for their exams minus clearing tuition? Because, unless this is done, I can guarantee with certainty that a total of over 70% of the students will miss out on their exams. This way, the meaning of allowing finalists study, would, definitely, have died, a natural death.

Needless to emphasize the fact that several students who have to do industrial training will miss out on this exam, and as a result, will not be able to graduate. In my latest open letter to the President, titled, “We need more clarification: Let’s balance the equation starting with education and transport”, I cited some of these courses. I strongly believe, to allow room for better planning, the Ministry should obtain the lists of all courses that have to do industrial training, as part of their assessment from the different institutions of higher learning, including University. In order not to compromise the teaching-learning process, universities should plan to hold their graduations, starting March, 2021, and not December/January, like it has always been the case.

Likewise, I strongly believe, even if the S.6 students reported to school in the last quarter of the year, it even if the worst gets to the worst, in January 2021, they can still sit for their final exams in April, and catch up with the academic year in August, or latest September, of the next academics level. This way, we would have actually not lost the academic year, in any way. But most importantly, we would have guarded against the risk of exposing these innocent souls to the dangers of catching the virus.

Likewise, the S.4 students can also begin school in August, and still sit for their exams in November and December, 2020. The P.7 pupils should be assessed using work covered from P.1 to P.6. This work is more than enough for the examining body (UNEB) to come up with standard, valid, and authentic assessment. If this is done, then the P.7 pupils can sit for their final exams in the first week of September, meaning they can resume school in July.

Universities should ideally prepare for exams. They cover the backlog in at least three weeks, and then go in for exams. These should be left to come up with their own action plan, each, of course with well-laid down guidelines from the Ministry, which they should later submit to the Ministry. These should also re-open in July.

The puzzle, however, still lies with both post-graduate and undergraduate students with research projects, more so, the 45 districts that have been clearly described as danger zone districts. Needless to emphasize the fact that even conducting field research in other districts/organizations might prove to be a daunting task. It should also be borne in mind that majority of the international students conduct their research from their respective countries. This means, those students who fall in this category, and remained home throughout the lockdown, will have to travel back home, and accomplish this task.

Notice that, at the moment, this is not possible. I, therefore, believe, any arrangement aimed at re-opening education institutions ahead of addressing the aforementioned concerns, will be suicidal, and completely unjustified. This is the reason, as it has always been the case, I am seeking for your timely intervention in this matter, honourable minister, before we can suffer the consequences that might come along with the untimely re-opening of education institutions. If we have been patient for 10 weeks, I strongly believe we can still be patient for at least 5 more weeks, and resume school, at such a time, when we feel we are ready to deal with any hindrances that might be encountered, thereafter. Otherwise, I wish to thank you, together with your team, for the tireless efforts you have put in, specifically in this lockdown, to see to it that the future generation, are attended to, academically.

Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationist. 0770880185/0702303190.

For God and My Country!


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