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Uganda reopens schools after long COVID-19 shutdown

The tale of the two friends – one leaving school and the other joyfully resuming their education – is also the tale of millions of Ugandan children as many returned to classes on Monday after schools were closed for nearly two years due to Covid-19.

The lockdown in the East African country has been the longest disrupting educational institutions globally due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the United Nations.

When the lockdown went into effect, education for 15.5 million students was disrupted, according to Education Ministry spokesman Denis Mujimba.

Mugimba said universities and higher education students have been returning to school in a gradual manner, but kindergarten and lower primary students, nearly six million students, have not entered the classroom until today.

“I’m excited to be back in school,” 16-year-old Rachel told Reuters. “It wasn’t easy for me to be safe at home for so long, but I thank God for keeping me safe.”

“I have always longed to go back to school so that I can fulfill my career dream of becoming an accountant.”

necessary closure

But Ugandan officials predict that a third of the children who were in school when the pandemic began will not return, which could deal a heavy blow to the future prospects of the new generation in a country with one of the world’s youngest populations and already struggling with high unemployment and poverty rates.

In a statement last September, Janet Museveni, Uganda’s first lady and education minister, said the prolonged lockdown was necessary to protect children and their families as Uganda tried to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“We choose to be patient and continue to vaccinate our teachers, learners over 18 and vulnerable populations until we are confident enough that we have provided some protection to a critical mass of our population,” Museveni said.

Mujimba acknowledged that there will be a learning curve for students and teachers to get back on track, especially for a large group of students who have had to give up their studies in the past two years due to lack of resources or supervision of distance learning.

Six-year-old learners will automatically be placed in first grade, regardless of whether they have gone through Kindergarten or not. He said students will also be taught a concise curriculum with tutoring. Under this plan, we hope the students will be able to catch up in two to three years.

School closures, along with other strict measures to stem the spread of the virus, have helped keep Uganda’s Covid-19 death toll low. The country has so far recorded about 153,000 cases of Covid-19 and about 3,300 deaths.

But the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the closure has been long and costly for Ugandan youth.

“Millions of children are at risk of losing the right to education,” said Munir Safi El Din, UNICEF Representative in Uganda. He cited the projection of the state planning authority that a third of students would never return to school.

teenage pregnancy

Dr Joseph Mufwala, Executive Director of the National Trust, said that a large number of these students will not return to school due to early pregnancy and child labor after being out of the classroom for a long time, especially the educated from low-income families or rural areas. Planning Commission (NPA), a government agency. The NPA estimates that up to a third of students may not return.

Mujimba dismissed the figure as an exaggeration, saying it was “terrifying”.

Mujimba told CNN that he confirms the true figure wouldn’t be nearly this high, but that “every fish I manage to throw into the water is important and we know the problem is there.”

Rachel’s friend, Firda, was not among the crowds of young students who returned to classes on Monday.

Freddy was Rachel’s age when classes were closed. Although she loved biology and chemistry and dreamed of becoming a doctor, she said she “buried” that dream to help support her family by finding a job. The strict Covid-19 lockdown in Uganda has pushed many families further into poverty as people working odd jobs have been left without income.

Now Farida fears for her future.

“I’m worried as a girl,” she said, as she waited at the tables. “Without being in school I might be tempted to get married.”

“I’m here working but I know my friends are now going back to school or getting ready for it. This thought sucks energy out of me. I feel a little desperate and angry.”

Another 16-year-old woman in Kayunga town, 65 km northeast of the capital Kampala, told Reuters she fell into the same temptation during the school closure.

Sarah Nakafiro said she was bored and stuck at home when an older man attracted her into a relationship.

Weeks later, her grandmother forced her to take a pregnancy test. She said she spent her pregnancy crying a lot.

The little teen now avoids leaving her grandmother’s house with her three-month-old baby, Somin, due to intrusive neighbours. “People stare at me…when I walk around or go for a vaccination, people ask me, ‘Is this baby really yours?’” Nakaferu said. “.

“I feel embarrassed, I feel angry,” she said.

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