Headteachers of government-funded schools and owners of private schools have met to consolidate their negotiations to convince government to partially reopen education institutions.
During a joint meeting last week, the headteachers of government schools under Association of Secondary School Headteachers of Uganda (ASSHU) agreed with their private school counterparts the Federation of Non-state Education Institutions (Fenei) that at least candidate classes should be allowed to report as earlier arranged. They reasoned that this would enable schools test their capacity to control the spread of coronavirus before the rest of the learners join them.
Fenei leadership was then scheduled to meet the Minister of Education, Ms Janet Museveni, on Friday to share their position but the meeting was later postponed.
“We agreed in principle that schools should at least reopen. We are ready to follow the standard operating procedures. But they [government] should communicate if we are not going to open. Anxiety is a disease. When you leave people anxious, including adults, you are not helping society,” Mr Patrick Kaboyo, the Fenei national secretary, said in an interview yesterday.
Mr Ismail Mulindwa, the ministry of Education basic education director, who also chairs the ministry’s Covid-19 taskforce, said the meeting with the minister had been postponed to this week. He did not give a date.
Mr Kaboyo said demands of private schools differ from those of government-aided institutions.
Mr Kaboyo said their teachers have not been paid salaries since March when schools were closed because there is no revenue being collected from learners as fees. However, their counterparts in government schools continue to receive their salaries.
Last month, the Ministry of Health gave conditions for reopening of education institutions. Later the ministry of Education said Cabinet would discuss the conditions by the Ministry of Health and the Covid-19 taskforce and assess the possibility of reopening schools.
During their meeting last week, the school leaders in both public and private institutions said some of the conditions the Ministry of Health set as preconditions to reopen are impractical.
They say some conditions need only readjustment to cope with the situation on ground to enable them start.
Mr Martine Okiria Obore, the ASSHU chairperson, said while they can improve hygiene by ensuring there is soap and water for hand washing in schools, it will be difficult to implement the recommended 10 pupils per primary classroom and 15 for secondary and tertiary institutions.
He said they agreed with their colleagues in private schools in the Thursday meeting that only candidate classes be allowed to resume with numbers per classroom readjusted to at least 30.
They also want government to provide health assistants and temperature guns to all schools to monitor students’ health daily.
However, he noted that their dilemma remains on how to handle day scholars.
A source at Ministry of Education, who declined to be named, told Daily Monitor that it would be risky to reopen schools without the minimum standards. The source wondered what will happen to the candidates from institutions which will remain closed for failure to meet the standard operating procedures.
While Mr Obore agrees that schools, which lack basics should not reopen until they have fulfilled the requirements, he warned that failure to open will be a punishment to the schools which already have the facilities.
According to Mr Obore, school owners will be encouraged to invest in improving their conditions once they are allowed to reopen.
“The purpose is to lobby for reopening of schools. Some of the presentations from Health [ministry] are too rigid and can’t work. We are thinking of a phased reopening. It will give us an experience of what will happen with the other classes,” Mr Obore said.
On the issue of avoiding crowding at school, Mr Obore said his experience with children is that they easily follow instructions, unlike adults.
Mr Obore said only teachers on the timetable will be allowed to enter school premises and will be disinfected before entering.
Some preconditions Ministry of Health issued for reopening schools.
-Each school to sets up a committee with seven members who will write a daily update report to the district taskforce
-Each class has a student leader for Covid-19
– Each school to recruit a health assistant
– District taskforce to disinfect all institutions which were used as quarantine centres
-Students should be released in shifts for breaks, lunch and going home to limit interaction
-Employ more teachers
– Build more classrooms or have study shifts from Monday to Wednesday and Thursday to Saturday.