Joint Press Statement on the Future of Education for Uganda’s Children midst the COVID-19 Crisis
Education Advocacy with A Difference (EAWAD), International Aid Services, Oxfam, Save the Children, PaCT Uganda, World Vision and Partners call on government and other stakeholders to prioritize continuity of learning and protection of children in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The closure of schools to contain the COVID-19 pandemic has seen over 15 million children including 600,000 learners in the refugee settlements in Uganda have their education and school attendance disrupted. This number contributes to the over 1.6 billion children globally who have missed school as a result of COVID-19. The fear of broken futures for children due to learning disruption, school dropout, and various forms of violence against children, becomes more glaring with each passing day. It is estimated that 2 million girls in Sub Saharan Africa will not go back to school as a result of teenage pregnancy and child marriage directly linked to COVID-19. A similar situation faces boys and other marginalized children who are locked up in child labour, while others are engaged in other illicit activities that might deter their return to school.
Concerned about the aforementioned challenges, child focused organizations convened a 3-day virtual national dialogue on the future of education and children. The dialogue, which was held under the theme, “Education amidst COVID-19; Reflections from the Past, Realities of the Present and Perspectives for the Future” aimed at finding strategies for education continuity and child protection given the lessons drawn from the 2020 school closure.
Like many parts of the world Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc in many communities in Uganda. The recent surge in cases of infection is only the tip of the iceberg. A research conducted by World Vision reveals that this crisis puts children and young people at high risk of hunger, isolation, witnessing and or experiencing violence at home and in their communities, child labour, early marriage and online risks.
The social and economic impact of the pandemic on vulnerable households has and will affect the continuity of education for many learners. In 2020, Uganda registered a 20% increase in cases of violence against children according to the National Child Helpline. Violence compromises the mental, physical and psychological health of a child and definitely impacts on their learning. As a result, the number of children dropping out of school is likely to rise and yet the rate of over 1 million school dropouts reported each year is alarming by itself.
While making her opening remarks at the dialogue Hon. Sarah Mateke Nyirabatshisi, the Minister of State in charge of Children alluded to the need to invest in the wellbeing of children stating; “children are the foundation for the much-needed skilled human capital our country is yearning for to drive its economy and make it competitive in the region and world over.”
The child focused organizations appreciated government and other stakeholders’ efforts to support the continuity of education during the lockdown of schools however there are still major gaps in remote learning that need to be addressed to avoid learning loss and prepare the sector’s resilience to future pandemics.
Delivering his opening remarks on behalf of World Vision, Mr. Richard Rumsey, Programme Quality Director urged stakeholders to “find solutions and scale up interventions that will facilitate our children’s continued learning even while at home.” He said that the existential threat of COVID-19 is a temptation to pull back and retreat adding that “Whilst it is tempting to do so, we cannot afford to retreat during this pandemic because the cost of inaction for the current generation of children is way higher than the cost of action- we are called to act.”
It is important that government and other stakeholders remain responsive to these realities and ensure children continue to learn, by ensuring that learning materials reach every child and all children are supported to learn. Children living with disabilities must be equally supported.
The Child rights organizations called on government to consider child protection service providers as essential workers and ease restrictions for their operation to enable them continue to attend to cases of violence against children. They highlighted the urgent need to popularize and implement the current Ministry of Education and Sports Re- entry Guidelines for Pregnant girls to allow girls who got pregnant during the school closures to return to school.
The dialogue comes at a time when the 3rd wave of COVID-19 is sweeping through the African continent. The uncertainty surrounding the manifestation of this virus can only be averted by an increase in vaccine access and uptake. Oxfam in Uganda has called for increased equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all teachers, including those in refugee settlements, to enable safe re-opening of schools. Oxfam has also urged the government to prioritize increased budget allocation to the Education sector, particularly Education in emergency and set up contingency capacities to mitigate and manage risks like the pandemic on Education. According to Oxfam, these measures will go a long way into maintaining access to learning and improving the welfare of teachers including those teaching in the refugee areas.
While providing Accelerated Education Program (AEP) to refugees in the West Nile and Western regions, Save the Children has found this type of learning helpful to fast track learning of overgrown children and children who have been out of school due to different circumstances. AEP approach renders a promise to millions of children in different circumstances such as young parents to catch up on their education. Save the Children is calling on government to consider adopting accelerated learning into the national school catch-up program, signing off the double shift guidelines and re-adjusting of school construction guidelines to allow semi-permanent structures as ways of providing more need space in schools for social distancing. Save the children believes that such measures can support safe school re-opening
The future of our children lies in their education! We must take bold decision to help children in Uganda catch up on the 1 year 4 months of lost learning.
EAWAD- Patrick Kaboyo, Technical Advisor- firstname.lastname@example.org
International Aid Services- Juliet Namukasa, Country Director- Juliet.email@example.com
Oxfam in Uganda– Francis Shanty Odokorach, Country Director- Francis.Odokorach@oxfam.org
PaCT Uganda- Godfrey Kinaalwa Ssemakula, Executive Director- firstname.lastname@example.org
Save the Children- email@example.com
World Vision- John Wilson Tereraho, Education Technical Lead firstname.lastname@example.org