OpED

Open letter to President Museveni: Suspend the re-opening of education institutions, indefinitely

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Your excellency the president here is why to immediately suspend the re-opening of education institutions, indefinitely

“This is not the time for convenience; it is not the time for business; it is not the time for education,” said the President, while addressing the nation about the progress of Corona Virus on March 30, 2020.

Following the detection of Coronavirus, in most parts of the world, President Museveni was compelled to prematurely bring to end business in all educational institutions on March 20, 2020, a day before the first Coronavirus patient was detected in Uganda, in a bid to counter the spreading of the virus.

Like I have stated in my previous publications, there is no doubt, this was a decision taken in the right direction. Notice that by the time schools were closed, there were fewer cases, world-over than today. In fact, in the East African region, Burundi and South Sudan were yet to register a single case. The number of cases in the majority of the African countries (if not, all) were still in tens. “… musirike, tutayizze omurabe”, literally meaning, “… take cover, so that we can be in a position to successfully engage the enemy”, said the President, while selling to the citizenry his popular slogan in this campaign of, “Stay home, Stay Safe”.

Arguably, even when lockdown total was announced by the President on March 30, 2020, the citizenry, heed the President’s directive of “Stay home, stay safe”, mindless of how they were going to make ends meet without work. In his latest state of the nation address, the President directed the Education Minister, Janet Museveni, to work out a way with the relevant authorities, and ensure that education institutions re-open on June 4, 2020, for P.7, S.4, and S.6 candidates, as well as the finalists in the higher institutions of learning, including, University.

As the saying goes, “Easy said than done”, this seemed to be a simple exercise. School, after school; tertiary institution, after tertiary institution; university, after university, all began drawing their roadmaps, in preparation for the next course of action, i.e., studies.

You cannot imagine, despite the presence of the curfew, a couple of universities, including Makerere, had vowed to teach only those students on the day program, and leave the evening students unattended to. Honestly speaking, I do not know what compelled my seniors to arrive at such a decision, well aware that it was/is PRACTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE”.

Ahead of arriving at this decision, they (universities’ policy-makers) did not think of the students who have to do internships, as students of education, who as a must, have to do their school practice, while in their second and final year. Universities are ready to leave out both post-graduate and undergraduate students with research projects in the forty-five districts, still on total lockdown.

Even though they are fully aware that over 90% of international students do their research in their respective countries, the authorities at the different universities are more than determined to leave out this category of learners. There is no doubt, a number of supervisors of post-graduate students, and also undergraduate students are still caught up abroad, since they cannot travel back home, due to the absence of air transport, globally. However, to the authorities at our universities, this has still been overlooked. I wish to thank Makerere University Business School (MUBS), for calling off its 2020 graduation ceremony, till further notice.

Institutions, like the Uganda Management Institute (UMI), have 99% of their learners studying in the evening. Needless to emphasize the fact that over 90% of the post-graduate students in different universities are also working class.

Your Excellency, by and large, we cannot have studies going on, alongside the curfew. And with the biting poverty amongst most Ugandans today, should the curfew be prematurely brought to an end, all in the name of education, I can guarantee with certainty, many of us, after painfully spending over seventy days at home, shall, not only become victims of theft, but of murder, as well. These goons will target University students in all possible spots, for they (the goons), know from them (the University students), they can obtain mobile phones and laptops. They will not only target the gadgets, but they will also focus on life, as well.

Your Excellency, surviving Coronavirus, and losing life in cold blood, will be so unfortunate. Think of your grandchildren in primary and secondary schools, who have to trek long distances, to and fro school.

Your Excellency, don’t you think by lifting lockdown on education, prior to coming up with a detailed security plan, you are exposing these youngsters to the monsters? We all love education, but I strongly believe, when it comes to the issue of life, then education can assume the second position.

Your Excellency, with all due respect, it serves no purpose absolutely, to lift the lockdown on education, and maintain the lockdown on other businesses. By so doing, it implies the children whose parents/guardians are still in lockdown, will not have an opportunity of going back to school since they (parents) are penniless. Besides, Your Excellency, there are schools with very few students in P.7, S.4, and S.6. Consider a school with only 1, 5, or 9 P.7 pupils.

Surely, with the only P.7 at school, how will such a school operate? Your Excellency, do you expect a secondary school with, say, 8, S.4 students, and 13 students in S.6 to operate smoothly? Will such a school give us the quality of human resources we need to enable us a country to achieve our Vision 2040? In the absence of staff quarters, “What plans does the Ministry have to accommodate non-resident teachers and other members of staff?”

Your Excellency, to-date I am still asking myself why picking up a suspected Coronavirus case, medics have to be accompanied by the army, fully armed, as though they are going to wage war against Al-Shabab. I got shocked when I saw a man (truck driver) and woman in Masaka district, put on the same handcuff on the orders of the area Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Herman Ssentongo.

For the thirty-four years, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) has been in power, I have neither seen nor heard of a woman handcuffed, regardless of the crime committed.

Your Excellency the president, if being suspected of having Corona Virus, tantamounts to being handcuffed, irrespective of one’s gender status, then, I can guarantee with certainty, that we still have a long way to go, in as far as fighting against the spreading of the virus, is concerned.

Your excellency the president

President Yoweri Museveni

This is because, instead of people coming out willingly to undergo voluntary testing, many are going to continually go into hiding. Interestingly, this inhuman treatment of the victims, in particular the woman, went unnoticed. Not even the female Members of Parliament (MPs), or female activists, came out to condemn the act. If handcuffing a woman in Uganda, is something of the past, how about putting a woman and a man on the same handcuff?

Your Excellency, I am very sure, you cannot be in support of such a vice. Your Excellency, since we wouldn’t love to see more of our mothers and sisters being handcuffed for merely being suspected of having contracted Corona Virus, in the course of pursuing their studies, it is the reason I am requesting you to suspend the re-opening of education institutions, indefinitely, until such a time when this gap is fixed, as well.

Your Excellency, if education institutions were closed without a single case in Uganda, Burundi, and South Sudan, “Do you find it worthwhile to re-open these institutions at a time when the number of cases is increasing day-by-day, in Uganda, and beyond? If so, “What precautionary measures has the government put in place to ensure the safety of our children, teachers, parents, the community, and the rest of the stakeholders”?

What criteria will schools put in place to ensure that students have their masks on, all day long, as required by the state? During shower time, will these students bathe one-by-one? Will teachers have to accompany them to their dormitories to enforce the wearing of masks?

Your Excellency, do we see these P.7 pupils putting on their masks, while at school, as a principal requirement, so easily? Aware of the fact that the Police are using excessive force and brutality in dealing with people who have no masks, don’t you think many irrational teachers are going to do the same to your “bazzukulu”, while enforcing the wearing of face masks at school?

Has the government trained school nurses and teachers in managing Corona Virus suspected cases? Your Excellency, with due respect, “Are you aware that a mere student coughing, while at school will, definitely cause a stampede, and this might, as well lead to loss of life”? Prior to opening up of education institutions, Your Excellency the President, “Don’t you think it would be worthwhile to re-open religious institutions (churches, mosques, temples, etc.) first, of course, with well-laid down standard operating procedures (SOPs), since we need these institutions to perform the psycho-social healing function”? The amount of fear created by the way Coronavirus has been managed, amongst the population, more so, the children, requires the involvement of experts in psychosocial therapy, for it to subside, and, undoubtedly, this can be done to everyone’s satisfaction by our different religious institutions. In fact, it is much easier to counter the spreading of the virus in the church, mosque, or temple, than in school. I believe the reasons here are obvious, even if I don’t delve deeper into the matter.

Your Excellency, with the hundreds and hundreds of people in most shopping centers, around the city center, “Do you think it is worthwhile to still keep traders whose business is in arcades home”? Your Excellency the President, I wish to reassure you that there is no place in Kampala that brings together people like Kikuubo.

The number of people in Kikuubo, at any one moment, is 100-fold that of shopping malls/arcades. Therefore, Your Excellency, if the business is going on normally in Kikuubo, I am of the view that you lift the lockdown on all the remaining businesses, in Kampala and beyond. Truth be told, even when the re-opening of education institutions is done indefinitely, these must be re-opened, and so, the earlier parents prepared themselves for the same, the better.

Your Excellency, majority of the people in Kikuubo use public transport (taxis), “With the congestion in Kikuubo and elsewhere in the city center, do you think it is worthwhile for the number of passengers to be limited to seven (7) in taxis”? Besides, exclusive of the front seats, taxis have four (4) seats, with each seat sitting capacity of three (3) passengers.

This implies if taxis are to carry only 50% of their total load, i.e., seven passengers, then the other seat will remain empty. Your Excellency the President, do you find this economical? Don’t you think this is going to adversely affect the smooth flow of business in the education sector, since the majority of the players (parents, teachers, students), there, use public transport?

Your Excellency, with taxis carrying people from different walks of life, “How is the reduction in the carrying capacity of these vehicles by 50% going to counter the spreading of Corona Virus”? Your Excellency the President, among the businesses still in lockdown, are salons; however, I have personally seen hundreds and hundreds of women, including your female ministers with new hairstyles, on a regular basis. Where do these women go for their hair-do? Don’t you think they, of course, including ministers, ignored your directive of “STAY HOME, STAY SAFE”?

It is most likely that these ladies call salon operators to their homes, and in a way, have greatly contributed to the danger of spreading the virus in the community. Certainly, even teachers have fallen victim.

This equally explains why the re-opening of education institutions, should be indefinite, suspended. Your Excellency, buses usually conduct their business in the night. How are they going to operate alongside the curfew?

Don’t you think many of the parents in this sector, might fail to take back their children to school, especially if the curfew is maintained? With, or without the curfew, Your Excellency the President, I strongly advise that these buses be accompanied by security patrol cars, preferably for Military Police, until such a time when we are sure, the situation is back to normal. I am equally of the view that the government puts a given amount of money in the Uganda Development Bank (UDB) purposely to aid private education institutions in this situation. By so doing, these institutions will not be so hard on parents/students, when it comes to tuition fees.

The government should equally shoulder the responsibility of paying UNEB registration fees, for all students, including those in private schools, lest we are ready to have fewer students register for these exams than ever, in the past ten years.

Rather than spend 35 billion shillings on procuring masks, for people who already have them (the masks), Your Excellency the president, don’t you think if part of this money is to be diverted to education (clearing UNEB registration fees), it will serve the purpose? This way, the number of school dropouts, will tremendously be brought to a minimal level.

Your Excellency the President let free masks only be given out to the very poor, and other vulnerable groups like people in internally displaced camps (IDPs), including the floods victims, in the adversely affected districts.

Students in all educational institutions should be allowed to sit for their final exams, with or without completing tuition fees. Of course, this will largely depend on how government comes to the rescue, of basically the private education institutions. If possible, an arrangement to have all students tested ahead of returning to school, be put in place.

Even if the P.7 and S.4 students returned to school in September, or October this year, they can still sit for their final exams. If the worst comes to the worst, the S.6 students can even return to school in January 2021, do their final exams in April, and join University and other higher institutions of learning, in September.

Your Excellency the President, we cannot plan for finalists in the higher institutions of learning, including University, if the economy is not fully operational. For instance, as earlier noted, students in Primary Teachers Colleges (PTCs) and those in the various National Teachers Colleges (NTCs), as well as those in University, can only return to school, after primary and secondary schools have been fully opened.

Short of this, it will be a waste of time and resources for them to return to school since they will not be able to sit for their practical exam of school practice. Hopefully, the Education Ministry has picked some lessons from this period. I pray, it (the Ministry), continually uses this period to fix some of the gaps evident in the education sector. That said and done, Your Excellency, I feel the issue of re-opening education institutions should not be left to the Education Ministry alone, but rather should involve the entire cabinet, including many other stakeholders, notably Parliament, since this is where we find the people’s representatives.

There is no doubt, while the closing of educational institutions was a hard, but yet simple decision to arrive at, re-opening of the same, might not be as easy as we might assume. Your Excellency, these truck drivers are our fathers, brothers, friends, etc. With due respect, Your Excellency, I am of the view that, rather than victimizing them, we start treating them as such.

These people live with us in our communities, and so we cannot treat them as people coming from a different planet, altogether. If this is not done, it is most likely that even their children will be sidelined at school.

By and large, there are so many unanswered questions surrounding the whole arrangement of re-opening education institutions. And unless answers to the majority (if not, all) these questions are found, to avoid what has just happened in South Korea, let the re-opening of education institutions, be indefinitely suspended.

Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationist. 0770880185

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