Schools reopening; Industry faces unprecedented uncertainty
Stakeholders in the education sector will have to contend with some sense of panic and uncertainty for many months to come following the release of a new school time table by the Ministry of Education this week.
The Minister of Education and Sports Janet Museveni who is also Uganda’s First Lady, this week announced that all primary and secondary schools will reopen for the new term on January 10, 2022. The Minister made several other pronouncements that bring forward the dates of reporting to school than is usually the case.
The long-anticipated reopening of schools is part of the measures by the government to reopen the economy after close to two years of closure as one of the steps adopted by the government to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although President Yoweri Museveni had earlier indicated the government would bring down the movement restrictions by January 1, 2022, other factors such as the prevailing food shortage in the country,relocation of teachers, loss of employment by some parents, is likely to cause enormous discomfort to all players in the sector.
Apart from the high food prices, schools have been told they will operate for 14 weeks, a month longer than the usual school term, in what the government says is meant to allow schools to cover the syllabus for those pupils that will be automatically promoted to the next class.
Minister Museveni asked all non-UPE and non-USE schools not to raise fees, saying school administrators need to be mindful of the unfavorable economic realities brought about by the Pandemic.
She added: “In addition, we have guided before that upon re-opening; even as it were after the first lockdown, parents should not be asked to pay higher school fees than what they were paying before school closures.
Janet said that since some of the parents had paid full or partial fees for their children, school administrators were asked not to ask parents to pay afresh.
She said: “We are meant to understand that some learners had already paid up all that term’s school fees. Therefore, for learners of the S.2 Class of 2020 who had fully paid-up schoolfees, should not pay first term’s fees when they report in their former School for the new academic year 2022.”
Some if not all of the Ministry’s recommendations may fall on deaf ears of school administrators, considering the prevailing conditions on ground.
Some of the schools administrators who have spoken with The Sunrise say the recommendations are simply unpractical.
Isa Ssenkumba, one of the Proprietors of London High School in Kabowa has picked issue with the government’s recommendation to extend the school term from 12 weeks to 14 weeks.
Ssenkumba says: “For most of us in private schools, our term is greatly influenced by the cost of feeding. We tend to close whenever we ran out of food. Currently, food is very expensive. It means we shall delay the reopening and closer earlier in order to conserve on food expenses.”
He adds: “Previously we have been operating for 10 weeks and at most 11 weeks. Telling school administrators to teach for 14 weeks in during a time of high costs of almost everything, is unrealistic.”
Minister Museveni asked teachers to report to school two weeks ahead of reopening to prepare lesson plans. This means that teachers have to start to pack their bags almost immediately.
She asked the Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) and relevant civil servants to supervise the reporting exercise and ensure that all teachers have reported as a way to validate their contracts.
According to Ssenkumba, the steepest climb will be faced by private schools administrators who have to hunt for teachers, most of whom migrated for greener pastures, battle with money lenders.
He dismissed the suggestion by the government of tax waivers, saying that very few schools make profit to be able to benefit from the income tax exemption as proposed by the government.
“Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has been to most of our schools and has found that we don’t make profits. So exempting schools from income tax while keeping tax on the vast majority of the inputs high, does not make a lot of difference,”
For Ssenkumba, the whole of 2022 is likely to be a period of gambling for schools as everybody will simply be trying to find their footing in the post-COVID era.