Uganda has reopened schools for the first time in two years, marking the end of the world’s longest school closure from the COVID-19 pandemic. While many welcomed students’ return to the classroom, a low turnout has raised concerns about the long-term impact on education.
It’s the first day of school in Uganda and students are checking in. Aside from food items packed for those in boarding sessions, other items such as masks and hand sanitisers are a must for those returning.
Uganda closed schools in March 2020 for more than 15 million learners at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
At Grace Nursery and primary school, a class is in session. But headteacher Nassozi Divine Kakembo says not all have reported.
“I was expecting many children because I’ve been talking to parents and they want to bring their children back to school. But what I expected is not what I have seen. The number is still small. Parents are still looking for money,” says Kakembo.
Bakumbi Kawthar, the headteacher at the Kiteezi Center for Disabled primary school, says the pandemic has changed the lives of many children.
“Some of these children are now parents. They have to go work and cater for their children. Some others have turned to be heads of families. Because some families have lost parents. Others are earning. You can meet a child and he says, for me, I have a construction site where I go and get some money. Such children are not likely to come back,” says Bakumbi Kawthar.
Kayaga Doreen escorted her eight-year-old daughter to the Kiteezi school. She has concerns about money — but couldn’t hide her excitement.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “I’ve asked every parent along the way to bring their child to school. The children have been home for a long time and they have been such a nuisance. They have grown and should be in higher classes. My main worry was the tuition. After all, this, while staying home, now we have to pay tuition, where are we going to start from?”
Mary Goretti Nakabugo, the executive director of Uwezo Uganda, a not-for-profit working to promote equitable quality education, notes that the school closure has deprived many students of basic learning.
“Even before the closure, 90% of them had not yet acquired the foundations,” she said. “For example, reading is extremely critical. So, this is the time for us to rethink our curriculum, our syllabus, our teaching and our learning. Can they read, can they do basic arithmetic?”
Uwezo says that considering the gaps in education that most children experienced during the shutdown, the majority of parents are keen on seeing their children return to school.