The Education sector in Uganda continues in a state of disarray for teachers, learners and parents, as government has not given sufficient guidance to inform a proper response strategy to mitigate challanges arising from the effects of COVID-19 and lockdown of schools in Uganda. Wizarts Foundation’s Journalist, John Okeya, meets with Mwamula Juma, the Secretary General of Uganda Private Teacher’s Union (UPTU) for a Q&A on the magnitude of the problem:
What eventual impact are we likely to have on learners, due to continued closure of schools?
Closure of Schools will have great effect on education itself. Our learning process here is designed in a curriculum format, which provides for what should be studied at which particular stage. However, because of the schools closure, learners have missed critical learning areas that should have been covered in normal school setting.
We are currently seeing situations where schools are forced to compress what should be studied, which deprives learners of adequate learning and time to reflect, understand and put thought into work, which would otherwise constitute effective learning. Essentially, this will affect the eventual outcomes; as we are likely to see a product of a population at a later stage, whose intellectual abilities are missing on very critical areas.
We have seen recent results released by UNEB indicate for example, that performance in PLE results of 2020 was better than 2019, even when learners were learning from home, how was this possible?
Many times, assessments are done based on situations. Even questions are set based on the prevailing situation. So, the results indicating that there was high passing this year compared to previous year, in itself is not an indication of improvement.
Honestly, we must be truthful to ourselves to indicate that education has been affected and our children have not had enough time to learn. Those high scores have only come about because of adjustment in assessment and examination processes, but not necessarily because there’s general improvement in how learners are schooling.
One thing we must know, is that learners have been deprived of schooling; learning is a wholistic experience, you learn the content, you learn through class interactions, you learn through the environment. Therefore, there is a shortage on what has been learnt by our students and that is likely to transit in later stages when those people mature into adulthood.
What is the efficacy of home schooling as a program rolled out by government during the first lockdown as an alternative to physical school?
There has been ongoing TV and radio teaching sessions, looking at the efficacy of those programs, for me they are really not doing effective work.
Part of the learning process is that there must be concentration, planning and physical engagement between the teacher and the learner. The unfortunate part is, it’s difficult for us to assess the number of learners who are concentrated on that person delivering a class on radio or television.
That has implications on how we upbring our children, people do not have concentration and some learners do not have respect for their own parents, and parents do not have effective command over their children to ask them to take a deep concentration. So, somebody is on a TV teaching but the learners who are at home, prefer watching cartoons.
Has government given adequate attention to the education sector in its COVID-19 response?
The government has done some response but I cannot claim it is adequate attention. Government is trying to do ad-hoc responses here and there, that are sometimes not well thought out with hope that it can yield some results. But I must confess that so far, these interventions have not been effective.
Look at the proposal made by President Museveni during the first lockdown last year to support private teachers. Up-to today, the Shs.20 billion pledged as an emergency response has remained merely in words. Confusion is rotating around the circles of ministry of education. Those people presided over a situation where they made it impossible for any teacher to access these funds, up-to now, no body has got hold of that money.
You are over 350,000 teachers in private schools countrywide. What is your condition currently as private teachers?
Private teachers, wherever they are, are going through hard time. We continue to have cases of colleagues who are losing out on families and their lives. Therefore, the need is real and worsening. We are faced with uncertainty on when schools will resume and private teachers can resume their work.
Therefore, the need for an intervention in form of financial support still exists to go through this difficult times of COVID-19, such that we can see these teachers back to class when the situation comes to normalcy.
Are we likely to see the same number of teachers return to class when schools resume?
That, I must say no. As others exit, there are those who come on board. But most truly, there are some people who have learnt from this experience the hard way and are considering trying out other career options. So, most likely we wont have every person who was teaching returning to class.
Now people realise that whereas you do a job for purposes of living, teaching itself is not a guarantee to living; you can die without help, simply because you’re teaching in a private school. That is what has been sowed into the minds of teachers in the country.
Lastly, what can government do to support private teachers, other than the presidential pledge for emergency fund that has not been delivered, one year later!?
At the very inception of the second lockdown, Uganda Private Teacher’s Union (UPTU) made a call, asking for government secondment for teachers who are teaching in private schools. It is a duty of the state to provide education, so when private schools come on board, they are doing a supportive role, otherwise, this remains a function of the state.
A person who is working as a teacher in private school is definitely a support partner to the government. So, in situations where we have inability by private schools to pay salary, we made a call to government to at least consider moderate pay in form of secondment to cover up those salaries. However, we were told this was not possible due to limited resources to make continuous payments.
Mwamula Juma avers that although there was clear evidence that the private teacher were vulnerable, less than 100 actually received the Shs.100,000 COVID relief that government through the Office of the Prime-minister, sent out as cash relief to vulnerable Ugandans.
In his last address, President Museveni directed that physical school remains closed, however, learning can happen virtually. For Mwamula Juma, resumption of school can happen if government fast tracks vaccination process; with just over 250,000 people fully immunised against COVID-19, out of a target of 22 million people, a number that could still rise, after government mooted plans to inoculate learners younger 18 years, however, amidst dire scarcity of vaccine supplies.