Primary, secondary schools and higher-learning institutions in Uganda have been closed since March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. While schools reopened in October for finalist and candidate classes, but with no date announced for the return of other students, both parents and students are living without a clear idea of how long learners will stay at home.
The immediate impact is that students staying home will increase school dropout rates, teen pregnancies, and drug abuse among young people.
The pandemic has stimulated innovation within the education sector, such as ensuring learning continues at home through radio and television programmes.
Most educational institutions are also looking to adopt more distance learning, virtual, e-learning and digital teaching platforms for students. However, many families do not have the devices or internet access that enable children to take part in remote learning.
Teaching and non-teaching staff could also be affected as temporary teaching contracts may be terminated as some institutions resort to e-learning and virtual classes.
The crisis is also worsening pre-existing disparities by reducing learning opportunities for the most vulnerable children, youth, and adults — especially those living in poor or rural areas — girls, refugees, persons with disabilities and forcibly displaced persons. Such learners may end up staying at home.
We can’t rule out that there are possibilities the pandemic has triggered, and these can be leveraged to lift up the education system back to where it was or even make it better. Quite a number of innovations have come to life to reshape and design the future of learning.
Education institutions can leverage on e-learning platforms and tools in the short-run and wait for the conditions to normalise. This will ensure safety for everyone, enable dealing with complex challenges of reopening, coordinate with key actors and chart a clear way for universal reopening.
Education budgets should also be increased to cater for any short comings and uncertainties that lie alongside the pathway to the new normal.
Covid-19 will have lasting effects on economies and public finances thus national authorities and the international community need to protect education financing through the following avenues: Strengthen domestic revenue mobilisation, preserve the share of expenditure for education as a top priority and address inefficiencies in education spending; strengthen international coordination to address the debt crisis; and protect official development assistance for education.
Reinforcing the resilience on education systems to respond to immediate challenges of safely reopening schools and positioning to better cope with future crises.
Governments could consider equality and inclusion; reinforce capabilities to manage risks; ensure strong leadership and coordination; and enhance consultation and communication.
The massive efforts made in a short time to respond to the shocks to education systems remind us that change is possible. We should seize the opportunity to find new ways to address the learning crisis and bring about a set of solutions previously considered difficult or impossible to implement.
However, by focusing on addressing learning losses and preventing drop outs, particularly of marginalised groups and the girl child; offer skills for employability; support the teaching profession by upskilling and reskilling teachers’ readiness.
Patrick Adengo is the managing director at Stalworth Consulting Group E-mail: [email protected]