Young people can help in designing tools for inclusive homeschooling and also train others to navigate through technological gaps in education in Uganda says Felix Onan Olindi
The President of Uganda closed all schools and educational institutions in 2020 owing to the raging pandemic. To me, this marked the beginning of a systematic death of a generation.
It seemed like our leaders did not appreciate Nelson Mandela’s perception of education. He believed that education was the greatest tool for the transformation of any nation, with Uganda not excluded.
Whilst the reason for the closing was obvious- to stop the spread of the COVID-19, our elders forgot that there was a more dangerous virus killing our generation. This virus is illiteracy.
In Uganda, only one in four children who start primary school makes it to secondary school. Even when 90 per cent of children attend primary school, only about 40 per cent are literate at the end of primary school while less than 25 per cent complete secondary school.
This disparity contributes to continued poverty, as those without a secondary education have lower chances of pursuing careers.
Education is power.
Education can give citizens knowledge, skills and confidence to build a better future. With it, they can be better and responsible citizens, who can ably and meaningfully contribute to nation-building.
In Uganda, many people are competing for a limited number of good jobs, and without a decent education, it is very hard to get one or have the confidence to initiate your own business instead. This makes education very necessary for a developing country like Uganda.
President Museveni has always traded the narrative of development especially through Vision 2040. But lest I be misguided, will the illiterate populace appreciate this development? It is also important to note that even when classes have resumed in January 2022, the effects of lengthy school closures do not disappear overnight.
If hundreds of young girls can get married during the third term holiday, a two month period, how sure are we that hundreds of young people did not give up on their dream, circumstantially got married or contemplated other dire options like a suicide after schools were closed?
Irreversible impacts of school closures.
According to UNFPA Uganda, a total of 354,736 teenage pregnancies were registered in 2020, and 196,499 in the first six months of 2021. When many of these girls get pregnant, their mental well-being is at stake.
Almost all of these girls confess to having been traumatised after realising that they are pregnant, and waking up to rejection by their families and the men responsible for these pregnancies. In the worst-case scenarios, they think of suicide as a relief. This statistical presentation is a saddening epilogue to the pandemic.
From mid-June 2021, nearly 15 million pre-primary, primary and secondary school children were locked out of school. Inclusive of 2020, some children lost over a year of school learning years. The situation was worsened by the fact that many children did not have access to alternative learning opportunities via radio, television, the Internet, and community/home-based interventions.
Even with the reopening of schools in January, many children, especially from the most deprived families have not been able to return to school due to COVID induced financial constraints.
The majority of the children were not learning at home even when they had access to alternative learning methods. According to a UNICEF Uganda report, it was estimated that only 10 per cent of primary and secondary school children had access to some form of alternative schooling. This shows the gap widened by these alternatives. Owing to the gap, numerous kids went on the streets and started doing odd jobs. Others got lost in drugs and a loose lifestyle.
It seemed that was the life our leaders were comfortable having these kids live without realising their potential.
At one instance, the President said ‘school administrators were interested in money more than life’ which was ironic, and sardonically laughable. When has money ever replaced the facility and need for life? It was an open accusation that these people who groom our nation walk in and attest to naked villainy.
Addressing the technological gap.
Closing schools is never the best solution as it does not protect the interests of young people. However, when school closure is required to protect the well-being of people, it should have been done after addressing the digital and technological gaps in learning.
In such dire times, leaders must invest in ensuring that every citizen can at least use the internet since the world is going digital. This will make learning more inclusive, and fascinating for the learner’s themselves.
Leaders can not do this alone, they have to engage the very young people that these initiatives are meant to serve.
Young people can help in designing tools for inclusive homeschooling and also train fellow young people on how to navigate the technological difficulties in these initiatives. They need to be empowered, to be given a voice, to be listened to.
Felix Onan Olindi is a 19-year-old Ugandan Climate and literacy activist. Until recently, he was working on the Youth Futures Project, a collaborative research study between Restless Development and Cambridge University that is investigating the impacts of climate change on the working lives of young people in Uganda. He is a writer, poet and speaker. He believes that words can change the world and encourages the use of arts to call for public action towards climate change.