There will be no social distancing when schools reopen – Museveni

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President Yoweri Museveni

Kampala, Uganda | URN | There would be no need for social distancing when schools resume in November this year and January 2022 as planned by the Education and Sports Ministry, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has revealed.

He was responding to concerns raised by the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) regarding the government’s preparations ahead of the scheduled reopening of education institutions during celebrations to commemorate the International Teachers’ Day held at Kololo ceremonial grounds on Tuesday 12, October 2021 afternoon.

Through its general secretary Filbert Baguma, UNATU noted that as the planned school reopening draws closer, the government needs to look at means of expanding the existing school infrastructure and recruit more teachers.

He explained that this would help schools to manage learners efficiently assuming that social distancing would require more spacing and subdivision of classes thus creating the need for human resource to suit the recommended teacher-pupil ratio and workload.

In his response, President Museveni said there is no room to worry about increasing the number of classrooms and recruiting more teachers. Banking on the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination, Mr Museveni said that if their target of inoculating teachers and non-teaching staff among other categories listed, some of the SOPS for schools particularly social distancing would be revised.

Social distancing is one of the measures put in place by the health ministry to contain the spread of COVID-19 in educational institutions. According to the SOPs, learners were required to sit at least two meters apart, which limited space in many schools. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was already a challenge of crowding in classrooms with some hosting as many as 70 and 100 learners.

To deal with the problem during the pandemic, the government adopted the staggering approach where a selected group of learners would attend school and occupy all the available space before another group could come in. However, the staggered approach also failed with clusters of COVID-19 cases recorded in many schools triggering the second school closure in June this year.

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From her view, the Education Minister Janet Kataha Museveni noted that even without COVID-19, there has been a need to recruit more teachers. She noted that they have already discussed the issue in the ministry and engaged their finance counterparts to resolve the problem.

Apart from expanding the existing school infrastructure and recruiting more teachers, UNATU has also been suggesting that the Education Ministry invests in research during the pre-reopening phase, the resumption and the post-reopening.

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Baguma says research would help the ministry to make decisions based on scientific evidence rather than guesswork to avoid the trial and error approaches that might create setbacks. Conversely, the teacher’s union also called for better financing of the education sector at the time of recovery.

They also called for the timely disbursement of government grants to educational institutions and warned against budget cuts to the sector. Baguma implored the government that as the school reopening nears; this would be the right time to release funds to schools to pave way for their rehabilitation to reduce the pressure on headteachers.

The president disagreed with UNATU’s proposals on increasing funding and avoiding budget cuts to the education sector noting that there might not be enough funds to facilitate UNATU’s prayers more so when there are competing demands that are equally important and also supplementing the education sector.

The Teacher’s Day is an annual event observed on October 5 but Uganda postponed the celebrations because the President who had confirmed to be chief guest was out of the country on official duty.