All educational institutions are closed following the directive by President Yoweri Museveni.
This was in response to the rapid spread of coronavirus – an unprecedented moment in Uganda’s history. But for the millions of students and their parents, what happens now? Missing a term/semester, which is what many educational institutions are looking at, is a significant hit to education. It will take many students a lot of time and effort to catch up.
However, our school systems are not uniform. In fact schools are widely different in their operations and impact on children, just as our students themselves are very different from one another. Children come from very different backgrounds and have very different resources, opportunities, and support outside of school. Whenever educational institutions are closed and education comes to a halt, students from low-income families suffer and experience a setback unlike their counterparts from rich families.
Now that their entire learning lives, as well as their actual physical lives, are outside of school, those differences and disparities have come into vivid view. Some students will be fine during this crisis because they will have high-quality learning opportunities, whether it is formal schooling or informal homeschooling of some kind coupled with various enrichment opportunities.
Conversely, other students won’t have access to anything of quality, and as a result, they will be at an enormous disadvantage. The most economically challenged in our society will be the most vulnerable in this crisis, and the most advantaged are most likely to survive it without losing too much ground.
What will happen if the situation stays like this?
The pandemic is likely to delay standardized testing for current and prospective student’s education institutions across the country. This will have an impact on how academic achievement is measured. The biggest challenge however, is the decision on how and when to reopen the institutions. To have any public health impact, educational institution closings will have to be maintained for the duration of the pandemic.
However, I would like to propose that at some point, educational institutions will have to reopen but with stringent instructions from government.
Educational institutions could change their routines. They could commit to increased physical distancing; more and regular handwashing; daily screening; and increased cleaning. Other measures could include prohibiting mixing in common areas, limiting outside visitors, field trips, and nonessential social events. These are unpleasant steps, but taking these actions might prevent educational institutions from having to take much more draconian measures later.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in some educational institutions in Uganda compelled to suddenly harness and utilize the available technological tools (e-learning) to create content for remote learning for students. Educators across the world are experiencing new possibilities to do things differently and with greater flexibility resulting in potential benefits in accessibility to education for students. These are new modes of instruction that have previously been largely untapped.
However, the reality for the majority of our education institutions is that online learning isn’t an option. Students lack internet access at their homes. There are also not many parents who can afford to stay home from work to help their children. Worse still, many students don’t have computers or devices with which they can actively participate and use in e-learning. In Uganda the majority of the homes have no electricity. These factors make revising notes and increased hours of study by some students almost nonexistent. The post coronavirus educational institution must invest in e-learning if it is to survive. This also applies to parents or sponsors of students too.
Going forward, educational institutions must open up the whole frontier of out-of-school learning by virtue of making sure that all students have access to the technology and the internet they need in order to be connected in out-of-school hours. Students in rural schools and the urban poor don’t have those affordances right now because of budgetary deficits but government must think out of the box to meet this need.
Twenty-first century learning absolutely requires technology and internet. We can’t leave this to chance or the accident of birth. All of our children should have the technology they need to learn outside of school. Shutting down educational institutions should not be an option again. We have to find some middle ground, and that means the government and parents are going to have to act urgently to fill in the gaps in technology and internet access.
Lastly, the notion of a teacher/lecturer as the knowledge-holder who imparts knowledge to their students is no longer fit for the purpose of a 21st-century education. With students being able to gain access to knowledge through easy access to smart phones, tablets and computers, we will need to redefine the role of a teacher/lecturer in the classroom and lecture theatre.
About Author: Dr. Katusiimeh is an Associate Professor – Governance & Dean Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at Kabale University. He is also a Director Rwebiita Preparatory School Sheema Municipality & Chairperson Board of Governors Nganwa High School. He can be contacted on Tel. 0772620852/0704372780 Email [email protected]