SCHOOLS REOPENING! Students body UNSA joins efforts to ‘Keep Schools Open & Safe’

UNSA leaders addressing the press

By our reporter

Ugandan students under their umbrella body, Uganda National Students’ Association (UNSA), have launched the ‘Keep Schools Open and Safe’ Campaign in which they seek to supplement the government’s efforts towards safe reopening of education institutions. Schools have been closed for almost two years since the declaration of the first Covid19 lockdown in March 2020, making learners lose a lot of time. Most of the pupils and students, over 15 million in total, have never stepped in class for 21 months. In his most recent address on Uganda’s Covid19 response, President Museveni announced that education institutions would be fully reopened – and so will be all sectors of the economy – in January 2022. The Ministry of Education and Sports is expected to release a revised school calendar detailing reopening dates and guidelines for institutions ahead of reopening next year. And leaders of UNSA, a body established by the Education Act 2008 with the mandate of championing students’ interests across the country, have announced a campaign to urge the government to safely reopen and keep schools open. Led by their President Yusuf Welunga, the students said there was need for interventions to ensure that schools are not closed again as has been the case before, especially in the wake of the newly discovered Omicron variant. “Learning from the experience of the first attempt at re-opening schools, which led to subsequent abrupt closure, and given the severe disruption that the long closure has had on learners, parents, school and staff,” said Welunga during a press conference in Kampala. “It is important that once the schools are opened up, they run without further disruptions, irrespective of the Covid19 state in the country. Any additional closure of schools will wipe out almost all the gains made in Uganda’s education sector and economy over the last 20 years.” Pleased with Museveni’s decision to reopen schools next year, Welunga says that UNSA and its partners such as Mother’s Union, Scouts and Girl Guides Association, St John’s Ambulance, and Family Comfort Foundation are ready to work with government to ensure that education institutions safely reopen and keep open even in the face of new variants. According to Welunga, the UNSA ‘Keep Schools Open and Safe’ Campaign will be hinged on six strategies: vaccination, school-based Covid19 rapid testing, school-based care for mild cases, school-based intensive surveillance for Covid19, strengthening of screening and testing of students as they report, as well as advocacy for non-punishment of schools for disclosing positive cases. The students have committed to mobilizing about 2,000 paramedical student’s volunteers such as lab technicians, nurses, and midwives who have just completed their studies but are yet to be deployed to get trained in Covid19 rapid testing, asking medical training institutions to teach them how to manage mild cases, as well as deploying them to schools to do screening, active surveillance, case management and provide data on Covid19 in schools. Welunga, his team and UNSA partners also said they would advocate for and support training of all school nurses in Covid19 testing, basic Covid19 management and vaccination; mobilize about 1,000 information technology students to support real time data capture and analysis; and advocate for vaccine access to all students and teachers. “When any student is observed with Covid19 like signs like flu, high temperature etc, and the student shall be immediately tested. If found positive, he/she shall be isolated in any nearby possible facility. An emergency response team shall be sent in to test all asymptomatic contacts to see whether they have the disease,” explained Welunga. The students have now asked paramedical and IT students to “rise up and volunteer to support the campaign.” They also appealed to the Government to improve management of “panic and bad news,” and “not to use lockdown as the first solution” in case of a spike in Covid19 infections. UNSA and its partners also want the Ministry of Health to provide the necessary logistic such as personal protective gears, test kits and vaccines; to prioritize support to schools in its Covid19 response; to support the training of all school nurses in Covid19 testing, basic management and vaccination; to keep schools which report cases open; and to reconsider its decision against interns to avoid manpower gaps in hospitals.

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