HOW HAS COVID-19 AFFECTED EDUCATION IN UGANDA?

Education is considered to be the powerful tool for growth throughout many sectors in Uganda. The country had even labelled education as a key component for driving social growth, economic development and transformation since becoming politically independent, as well as helping to achieve a more united nation and democratic reforms.

Introduction 

Uganda’s vision for 2040 provides paths to becoming a more prosperous nation and highlights education as a crucial mechanism for economic growth by providing human capital. However, the COVID-19 pandemic poses serious threats to the access of education in Uganda, and innovative solutions are needed to support this sector to ensure the continued education of rural populations.

Uganda’s education system uses the following structure: 

  • 7 years – Primary Education

  • 6 years – Secondary Education &

  • 3-5 years – Further Education 

Students can choose between private and public schools depending on the resources available to them, however, there are significant gaps between school enrolment in rural areas in comparison to urban areas. Students are more likely to complete primary school in urban areas as opposed to rural areas, and around 91% of children attend primary school in urban areas, compared to 85% in rural areas. This gap is more noticeable in secondary education as 38% of children of secondary school age in urban areas attend school, compared to only 14% of children in rural areas. Female literacy rates are much larger in urban areas as opposed to rural areas, and incomes are higher in urban areas as well. Finally, 80% of Uganda’s school-age children live in rural areas that are characterized by a lack of resources for basic living and underdeveloped infrastructure for education and as the pandemic continues, education in poorer rural areas will continue to negatively impact the hardest due to underlying disparities

 

Significance of research topics 

The nation-wide lockdown left approximately 15 million children out of school, but the lockdown will not impact all regions equally. For example, the UN estimates that the pandemic’s impact in the education sector will be greatly borne by low and average-income households in both private and public schools. In addition, the loss of instructional time due to lockdowns will hurt the poorest communities the most because education is a key player in reducing poverty (UNDP, 14). Uganda also has a very young population, with approximately 75% of the population being below the age of 30). Supporting the education sector is critical, because such a larger percentage of the population has the potential to increase capital and improve economic growth. In the age of COVID-19, distance learning has become synonymous with technology, but there are massive gaps in access to technology among urban and rural areas in Uganda, which perpetuates inequality.

Problem area

The resources disparities between rural and urban areas are exacerbated by the pandemic, as rural areas are less likely to have access to the technology needed to successfully implement distance learning. Technologies including radio, television, or and the internet are some of the ways that nation-states are choosing to broadcast educational lessons to reach a wide portion of their population. A survey conducted by The National IT in 2017-2018 found that Ugandan homes had access to the following technologies

  • Radio

  • Television sets 

  • Household telephone 

  • Internet access 

  • Computer 

However, these numbers are reflective of the entire population and do not take into account the differences between urban and rural areas. For example, only approximately 8% of households in rural areas have access to the national electricity grid, compared to 71.2% in urban areas (Lighting Africa). Electricity is critically important in the age of the pandemic, as electricity is needed to power the technologies used for remote learning. This digital divide will have a larger impact in rural areas which will contribute to economic and educational inequality

Few people question the economic benefits of education. As noted in a 2020 World Bank study. In Africa each year of schooling raises average earning by 11.3% for male and 14.5% for female. The world bank education is the main driver for moving people out of poverty potentially “improving youth livelihoods of 430 million people in  Africa” (GPE) the problem in sub Saharan African has the highest rates (49%) of children no being reached due to COVID-19, which results in many economic implications.

While education provides many intellectual and financial benefits to society, school also serves as a place where children develop mentally, physically, and socially. Without school, children become susceptible to many environmental risk factors that may stunt their development. This is especially true for children living in a rural setting where the “digital divide” makes virtual education nearly impossible to access. With “over 15 million children out of school as a result of COVID-19,” a sustainable solution, that provides children with the necessary environment for healthy development, is needed. This generation of young people who are losing access to education will become the professionals of the future who drive and make-up the economy. The technology gap, as well as the absence of other vital social factors school provides, could result in various mental health issues in the population. In order to mitigate the rise of these disorders in Ugandan youth, an action plan must be implemented on a community level to create structure and support.

 

Impact of covid-19 on education Uganda 

School drop out

During this period, many school going children were highly prone to dropping out of school. The government shut down schools for a period of 12 months. And many children lost hope of going back to school to repeat the same class. Based on information received from students, they claimed that much of what they had studied before the pandemic has been lost, that they were unable to retain information because their studies have not been consistent and that returning to school after months-year of lockdown is frustrating because the standards and expectations from the teachers are very high which is a tough adjustment. 

Child marriage/teenage pregnancy.

As the lockdown extended, teenage girls and boys became even more sexually active which has resulted in a rise of teenage pregnancy. Not all cases have been consensual, as in many cases, girls are bribed or offered money in exchange for sex and giving the financial implications that Covid has devastatingly left many families, girls have succumbed to the pressures in order to create better opportunities for themselves and their families. 

The result leaves teenage pregnancy and child marriage. In Bulamagi, one of the sub counties of Iganga, over 600 cases of teenage pregnancy were reported. 

Poverty 

A number of economic actives were shut down and this caused a decline in the household income, leading to extreme poverty among many communities given that the situation already found them living under the poverty line. 

Child labour.

Since children were not going to school and poverty invaded their households, children were forced to engage into work in order to bring income into the household. Some families are being run by single mothers and grandparents. In this case, children started working in sugar cane plantations and stone quarries. This put these children at high stakes of developing some physical and mental injuries. 

Strategies to Improve on this kind of situation

In the support to alleviate the raising challenges that came as a result of covid-19, different organisations are supporting the community through offering psychosocial support and mentorship. As Youth Link Networks, we are also part of the struggle to support our loved communities.

The following strategies have been informed to people from community to household level to support school going children to get the required support regardless of Covid-19.

1. Stay in touch with your child’s school

Many schools are offering lessons online (virtual learning). Review assignments from the school and guardians have been asked to support their children to establish a reasonable pace for completing the work. They were encouraged to assist their children with turning on devices, reading instructions and typing answers.
Parents were asked to communicate any challenges they find while teaching their children to the school representatives. If they face technology or connectivity issues, or if their children were having a hard time completing assignments, someone at the school should know.

However a number of challenges were recorded and one of them was, limited access to communication devices. Most caregivers don’t have radio and phones which are the primary communicating devices that are being used.  

2. Create a schedule and routine, but remain flexible

Have consistent bed times and wake up calls Monday-Friday.
Structure the day for learning, free time, healthy meals and snacks, and physical activity.
Allow flexibility in the schedule it’s okay to adapt based on the day’s activities.

3. Consider the needs of each child

The transition of doing school work from home is different for nursery, primary and secondary students. Parents were informed to talk to their children about expectations and how they are adjusting to being at home versus at school.

4. Look for ways to make learning fun

Through para social workers, parents were informed to have activities like puzzles, painting, drawing and crafting things. Independent play can also be used in place of structured learning. Practise handwriting and grammar by writing letters to family members. This is a great way to connect and limit face-to-face contact. Start a journal with your children to document this time and discuss the shared experience.


6. Create spaces for learning

Many adults have a specific area of the home in which they do work, and it was important to create a similar space for their children. In this case therefore, caregivers were informed that their children will achieve their best work in a quiet, comfortable and dedicated space that is strictly devoted to learning. This space should be a different set-up to where they normally play games or watch television.

7. Make time for literacy

Reading can mean many things. Children can read directions to a game, read a book to a younger sibling, read a comic, read a newspaper story, read a biography, cut up a newspaper and arrange the words into a poem. They can write a letter to a far-off friend or a nearby neighbour who might need support, or draw a picture of what happens next in a story or movie.

8. Maintain breaks

Routines and schedules are important for children even at home. The children will function best with a routine that is as close to normal as possible. Setting alarms similar to those they would encounter at school can be helpful for keeping them on a schedule. Around lunch time, encourage them to get up, get some fresh air, go for a walk or bike ride, or have a snack so that they are not sedentary the entire day.
 

9. This should not be treated as a holiday or vacation

This time at home might feel like a holiday for your children, but it is important to remind them that their education still comes first. Obligations like class assignments, grades, tests and homework are not going away just because they are not physically at school. They should continue having study activities to keep their brain awake.  

10. Remember to schedule bonding time

While this is most certainly not a vacation or holiday, it is important to have some fun with your children while they are at home. This is a rare opportunity to have all this time with your children, so use it as an opportunity to bond. Play board games, spiritually connect as a family and create family meals together.

Note 

The above strategies were taught to parents and caregivers in order to limit on the total loss of education to young people. During this pandemic, many children were prone to quitting education. 

So many organisations have carried out response programs to support people who are being affected. However, there is still need for support, because according to research, only 40% were supported with the highest percentage living in urban areas leaving out rural areas. 

We at Youth Link Networks are having powerful connections with Young People through our “Young People 4 Young People (YP4YP)” project. It cost £110 to engage 6 girls with educational, sanitary care, childcare & family planning and/or farming for sustainability skills. We are working small project by project to create tailored impact in the communities, and we need your support so please donate to our cause today!

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