Ugandan children lose hope in prolonged school closures during pandemic


Ugandan schools have been closed in whole or in part for more than 77 weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The United Nations cultural agency says it’s the longest break in the world.

Many countries around the world have moved their courses to the Internet. But most schools in this East African country were unable to offer virtual schooling.

Without a school, some Ugandan students got married. Some are faced with unwanted pregnancies. Others have found work.

Efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 have changed the lives of children around the world. This caused difficulties for the parents. It also removed many guarantees.

Aid group Save the Children said the pandemic has led to the “biggest global the urgency of education in our time. The group identified 48 countries, including Uganda, whose school systems are at extreme or high risk of collapsing. Most are in sub-Saharan Africa. This part of the world has long struggled with high dropout rates among students and a shortage of well-trained teachers.

Weeds are growing in a classroom with a roof that was destroyed in a storm just before the coronavirus lockdown on October 19, 2021. (AP Photo / Nicholas Bamulanzeki)

Around the world

Some other countries that have seen long shutdowns have also struggled to teach children. Mexico has poor internet connectivity in many places. She chose to use educational programming on television. The pandemic has been disastrous for children in Mexico. This has led to millions of people dropping out of school as well as an increase in child murders, teenage pregnancies and domestic violence.

In Iraq, virtual learning is “limited and uneven,” the World Bank reported.

Some richer countries have done better. Kuwait’s public schools did not have what they needed to go virtual when the pandemic first hit. All schooling was suspended for seven months. But the oil-rich Arab Gulf state spent $ 212 million to create a virtual school program. The costly effort was considered a success.

Ugandan blockades

Uganda closed its schools for the first time in March 2020, shortly after the confirmation of the first case of the coronavirus on the African continent.

Some classes were reopened to students almost a year later, in February. But a full shutdown occurred again in June as the country faced its first major increase in coronavirus cases.

People work at a gold mining site in the village of Mawero, outside the town of Busia, in eastern Uganda, on Monday October 18, 2021. With schools closed, students work alongside adults, including some of their teachers, at the mine.  (AP Photo / Nicolas Bamulanzeki)

People work at a gold mining site in the village of Mawero, outside the town of Busia, in eastern Uganda, on Monday October 18, 2021. With schools closed, students work alongside adults, including some of their teachers, at the mine. (AP Photo / Nicolas Bamulanzeki)

Today, Uganda is the only country in Africa where schools remain closed.

President Yoweri Museveni announced last week that schools would reopen in January. His announcement comes as the country has seen a decrease in cases of the virus in recent months.

Experts at Johns Hopkins University say the country is now recording an average of 70 new infections per day. Uganda has so far fully immunized about 700,000 of its 44 million people.

First Lady Janet Museveni is the country’s Minister of Education. She rejected criticism that the country is not doing enough to teach its children. In a speech in October, she asked “why our children cannot be safe at home. What happened to the family?

Some Ugandans say the problem is the government hasn’t found an effective way to continue learning during times of lockdown. One suggested solution was to broadcast the lessons on free radios. But this plan did not take place. In rural areas, many children do not have any kind of learning material.

Lost hope

In the Ugandan town of Busia, it was common to see children selling goods on the streets even before the pandemic struck. Things only got worse.

The Associated Press recently spoke with children there. Many of them expressed their desperation during the long lockdown.

Mathias Okwako is one of those children. He is looking gold with other children to pass the time. He wears his school clothes while looking for the precious metal because he has nothing else to wear. He regrets having to work; tiring days leave him little energy to study on his own.

A man shows a piece of metal containing gold at a gold mining site in the village of Mawero, outside of Busia town, on Monday, October 18, 2021. Children often earn $ 2 per day by mining gold, enough to buy a pair of second-hand shoes.  (AP Photo / Nicolas Bamulanzeki)

A man shows a piece of metal containing gold at a gold mining site in the village of Mawero, outside of Busia town, on Monday, October 18, 2021. Children often earn $ 2 per day by mining gold, enough to buy a pair of second-hand shoes. (AP Photo / Nicolas Bamulanzeki)

“No time (to) read books,” he said. “If you try to open a book, you fall asleep and you sleep until tomorrow.”

Children work alongside adults at the unofficial gold mine. Some adults are their teachers. Observers say the risks and feelings of doing dangerous work have led to fights. Some children have broken bones while digging. A typical day can earn just over $ 2, enough for a child to buy a second-hand pair of shoes.

At Owako’s Mawero School, teacher Emmy Odillo said he expects a small number of the 400 students to return next year.

Bosco Masaba is the Director of Studies at Busia Central Primary School. He said he normally saw students on the streets selling fruit or eggs. He has heard that some girls become domestic workers for families across the border in Kenya.

Masaba said: “Some of them have completely given up hope.”

I am Grégory Stachel.

Rodney Muhumuza reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

________________________________________________________________________

Words in this story

virtual – adj. existing or occurring on computers or the Internet

global adj. involving the whole world

qualified adj. have the skills, experience or knowledge to do a particular job or activity

Previous Bellbrook School Board "Fully Confident" in Superintendent Following Special Meeting
Next South Colonie CSD announces 'Stuff the Bus' toddler toy campaign