Ramp up online learning to avoid career stoppage, unemployment, forced marriages

By Eriah Lule
The Uganda Christian University (UCU) Vice Chancellor has asked government and schools to follow the online learning path that his institution has taken in order to reduce effects of covid-related lockdowns on studies. As of late September 2021, Uganda has had two lockdowns occasioned by a spike in the coronavirus positivity rate in the country. Each lockdown has included the shutting of in-person learning in schools.

UCU Vice Chancellor Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi is urging institutions to consider a rigorous shift towards online distance learning and service delivery so that future lockdowns do not affect operations and learning.

“We have invested in infrastructure of electronic learning and have something to share with other institutions,” he said, adding that such a move will not only keep students from lagging behind because of the pandemic but also enable them to continue studying on their own time.

With Uganda’s second 2021 lockdown in June, many institutions of higher learning, as well as elementary schools remain closed. Only a handful, including UCU, have continued with classes, through electronic means.

Last year, the government shut down schools in March and only opened for in-person learning for final-year learners seven months later. It was not until March this year that schools were opened for in-person learning, only to be closed again three months later.

Mushengyezi emphasized UCU’s commitment to “pioneer in innovation and learning with community outreach.”

He spoke during a recent virtual dialogue to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on academic institutions. The virtual event was held at UCU’s Principals Hall on the main campus in Mukono.

The dialogue, which brought together national and international organizations, was organised by the UCU Alumni Association together with the university’s Student Guild and in partnership with external organizations. The European Union (EU), Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development and ActionAid were among the organisations that participated in the event.

Online dialogues are part of the activities that the UCU alumni association is embarking on as part of its community engagement activities.

One of the panelists in the dialogue, Rose Namayanja, a former Ugandan minister and the current deputy secretary general of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, said many students have dropped out of school as a result of the lockdown. She said the Government was working at developing sustainable digital learning structures for schools in the country.

Rose Namayanja, a former Ugandan minister and the current deputy secretary general of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, speaks during the dialogue session.
Rose Namayanja, a former Ugandan minister and the current deputy secretary general of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, speaks during the dialogue session.

“Many students have resorted to hawking, others have succumbed to forced marriages and teenage pregnancies, due to the lack of digital structures to keep them studying during lockdowns,” Namayanja noted.

The UCU Alumni Association General Secretary, Julius Oboth, urged government to provide soft loans to schools so they can make plans to re-open. He also rooted for tax holidays for all private education institutions, calling on government never to close schools again because such a move “cripples the education sector.”

Ezra Byakutangaza, the president of the student leaders in Uganda, urged government to initiate loan schemes to enable students to purchase learning tools such as laptops, which are needed in online learning. This, Byakutangaza said, would ease the burden on schools that are unable to afford computers for every student.

Elizabeth Ongom, a representative from the European Union in Uganda, said the EU is in the process of drafting projects that will inspire innovative practices for the education sector not only in Uganda, but the whole of Africa.

In order to keep children in school, Naiga Shuburah Kasozi, a representative from Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, called for concerted efforts from all stakeholders.

“It’s not only the Government, but everyone’s responsibility to keep children in school,” she  said. “So we should de-campaign actions that push our children out of school as the Government is finds a better plan for them to study.’

UCU Guild President Agaba Kenneth Amponda reminded people participating in the dialogue that a conversation about schools without factoring in the other people who benefit from its operation was an incomplete discussion. He argued that by opening schools, security personnel, chefs in catering departments, cleaners, and other people who provide support services in schools will also be able to find employment.