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WHY GOVERNMENT MUST EITHER SPEND SHS3.6TN ON TESTING STUDENTS & TEACHERS OR CANCEL ENTIRE ACADEMIC YEAR, NATIONAL EXAMS

By Obilan Abubakar

Weeks since government implemented the closure of academic institutions on March 20, 2020, over the Covid19 threat, Uganda has steadily been proving to be partially successful in combating the Coronavirus pandemic. However, managing the post Covid19 lockdown impact will be an uphill task for the government, and all Ugandans.

While Coronavirus attacks humans by reducing the oxygen levels in the blood and eventually causing the collapse of vital organs and death, it’s preventive measure have led to the shutdown of vital economic organs, including industries and services such as tourism and education.

Uganda seems to be heading to a recession in 2020/2021 financial year. Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and Bank of Uganda project that at least two million people will lose their jobs by the end of the pandemic while 15% of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) will disappear with skyrocketing prices on imports due to scarcity. Uganda’s growth rate too, is expected to fall from 5.2% in 2019/20 to 2.3% in 2020/21. Moreover, all the key drivers of Uganda’s economy: industry, agriculture and services have been affected and they cannot recover overnight.

Consequently, all those whose businesses are crippled and those who will or have already lost their jobs are either parents or guardians to the school going children who may henceforth, fail to pay school fees for their dependents this year. This will direly affect the education sector which is entirely dependent on the health and soundness of the economy.

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Due to economic breakdown of all sectors caused by the lockdown, some private schools may close completely as many parents do not have money and schools may not afford to pay their staff, yet since March this year, many teachers have either received half or no salaries at all.

The other dimension is that although the Ministry of education has intervened by instituting learning through newspapers, self-study materials and televised lessons, such interventions fall short due to the fact that learners were not prepared for the self-study learning approach and there is a glaring dearth of technical support to facilitate self-learning process.

The big question remains as to whether academic institutions should reopen or not owing to the predicament of observing the established measures to contain the spread of the pandemic. Then there is the question of the asymptomatic cases that are potentially spreading the infection to communities inadvertently. Their status can only be confirmed after testing which costs at least $65 (Shs240,000) per sample.

The implication of the above is that, if learning institutions are to resume any time soon this year, all the 15 million learners and staff in all the 23,580 academic institutions will need to be tested, permanently confined in schools and re-tested after sometime until the end of a term/semester.

What remains unclear is whether Government is ready to meet the cost of $975m (Shs3.6tn) to test all these learners and staff.

Having temperature monitors at school entrances may not at all guarantee safety of learners in schools due to the reality of asymptomatic carriers. Also, due to limited school facilities, social distancing will pragmatically be inapplicable to learning institutions.

Unless the Government is planning to earmark some special funding to support mass testing of all learners and teachers as well as clearing education expenses including statutory obligations, academic institutions should remain closed. Otherwise, the education system is poised to experience the worst school dropout and failure rates in the recent history across academic levels. Thus, UNEB, UBTEB, UNMEB and others should plan to call off this year’s national examinations and all academic institutions should be advised to redesign and plan their academic programmes for 2021 academic year unless an affirmative intervention is urgently promulgated.

Obilan Abubakar

The writer is a PhD (Education) student at IUIU

(For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994, 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us at mulengera2040@gmail.com).

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