Education; Schools Demanding an arm and leg from Parents!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Kindergarten, primary and secondary school gates flung open on Monday this week after eighty three months’ Covid-19 induced closure by government, with many including government owned ones across the country seemingly unprepared in physical sense, judging by the photographs published on various media platforms.

The bushy, un-kept compounds, dusty and classrooms under cobweb, some with falling ceilings and wooden struts, doors and windows visibly off their hinges, furniture thrown about were pathetic sights and indictment to administration among school heads and management committees. This is especially so because head-teachers knew, a month ago from previous presidential pronouncements that they would be opening in mid January, and money was actually sent to their respective bank accounts to facilitate preparations.

President Yoweri Museveni had in early December 2021, publicly stated that all education levels and institutions, and the whole economy would be fully opened in January 2022 regardless of Covid19 vaccination levels among teachers, students and the general population following months persuading and cajoling the public without much success to get the jabs for their own safety.

There’s not going to be mandatory testing of pupils and students for covid19 as a precondition for them to return to schools, although some head teachers and their boards had devised this half-clever way to raise funds from the unsuspecting parents and guardians. In some cases schools asked through circulars for fees between 20,000 and 200,000 purportedly for Covid19 testing at the school. 

In other instances, schools directed parents to specific medical labs with whom deals had been struck. All this was an ingenuity to circumvent the ministry of education directive that school fees should not be raised considering the economic and financial turmoil parents had gone through in the last two years of Covid19 lockdown.

Undeterred however, and exploiting previous laxity and internal weaknesses within the ministry of education systems, school boards, PTAs and Religious Foundation Bodies have shown that they don’t have the compassion expected of them for their parents and students. Many foundation bodies especially the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Muslim have shoved rough shoulders and imposed hefty dues under the guise of development projects which should have been halted as the economy recovers gradually.

It borders on insensitivity for schools to ask parents to pay for bank loans rather than negotiating scheduling repayment terms, purchasing school bus or truck, construction of a head teachers house or school parameter wall, all which could be deferred to the future.

And now after two years of lost time, schools have resumed without anything substantially creative or innovative from our scientists for which they have been given undeserved accolades for regurgitating the prescriptions from developed societies whose social makeup is far different from that of Uganda. This should be the time for government provided face masks or waiving school fees for students in public schools but alas. 

It may be stating the inconvenient truth that the stiff-necked Uganda scientists especially at the health ministry haven’t done a thorough job although we had to follow them down their naïve copycat route. The money raised during this covid19 episode appears to have been gobbled because health facilities haven’t substantially improved to deliver the desired levels and quality of services.

While they say that the decision for schools and economy to open is based on science, there is no doubt that move is timely, from social and political perspectives and considerations. With Uganda being the only country in the world, let alone the region, with the longest school closure duration, we could no longer stand the heat, more so when credible explanations have been non-existence or feeble and inconsistence at best.

As talk now turns to how we can live with Covid19 and its various variants of Delta, Omicron and possibly others yet to emerge, the latest sigh of relief will be accompanied by the hope schools and everyday life are back for good with practicing cautious optimism.

As pressure has been growing on the government, President Museveni in is his December 31, 2021 address set out steps how Uganda can begin to live safely with Covid19 and loosen restrictions although he put a caveat that he could lockdown if infections, hospital admission and deaths became threatening. Meanwhile Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng insists the restrictions have helped curtail Covid19 infections and spread, it also mitigated the impacts with positive cases generally on the decline although her updates that appear alarmist rather than settling the minds.

It’s hard to see how vaccination pace improves after the economy opens fully by January’s end, when hesitancy has been rife under lockdown. Many people think that the outlook is better now not due to government restrictions, but because Covid19 isn’t as serious, looking across the region and Africa. A new phase of the pandemic must mean a new approach because surely people can no longer live their lives waiting to hear on an ad hoc basis what the rules will be if government cannot provide timely pro-active advise. It’s important that every person and family develop additional SOPs suitable for their surroundings.