The ministry of education says there is nothing new to benchmark about from Uganda's neighbours that have been able to reopen schools apart from mobilizing and scaling up on the uptake of the Covid-19 jabs for the targeted groups.
Several educationists and some members of the public have been blaming and calling upon the government to emulate neighbouring countries that have been able to reopen schools for the learners despite the still existing challenge of the pandemic in those countries.
Schools in countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan and DR Congo are said to be operating which made some Ugandans urge the government to benchmark and also reopen.
According to the ministry of education, the only safe and faster way under which schools will be reopened in Uganda is vaccination of the teachers, learners above 18 years of age, non-teaching staff and the elder people of 50 years and above.
While updating journalists on the steps taken by the sector to reopen schools at the Uganda Media center in Kampala, the ministry spokesperson, Dr. Dennis Mugimba says that even the neighbouring countries that Ugandans want the country to emulate just embraced vaccination.
Mugimba indicated that though Uganda started receiving the jabs during the same time with some of its neighbouring countries, embracing of the vaccination exercise has been different, saying many of the neighbours registered a high number of vaccinated teachers compared to Uganda from the very beginning of the exercise.
He says that Ugandans have had a very low uptake of the vaccines citing the first vaccination exercise where teachers were prioritized and out of the 550,000 targeted it was only about 6,000 teachers who turned up for the jab. He attributes this to the negative propaganda mainly on social media propaganda and the poor attitude to vaccines by many Ugandans.
He explains that even with the scaled up mobilization for the vaccination exercise among the same category, the improvement is still wanting in order for the learning institutions to be reopened.
Since August 25, the government has been pushing vaccination drive for teachers, non-teaching staff and learners above 18 years using the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines with intention of attaining a critical percentage in order to reopen learning institutions.
According to Dr.Mugimba this has so far seen a total of 269,455 (49%) teachers vaccinated for their first jab and 96,653 (18%) of the teachers getting their second dose.
Meanwhile the ministry is looking at a total of 730,000 teachers and non-teaching staff to get vaccinated and 310,000 learners in the tertiary institutions above 18 years of age.
However, the same ministry discourages learners in tertiary institutions who might be below 18 years of age from taking the jab as it is not yet approved scientifically for their age despite being at that level of education.
Mugimba says it is on this basis that the director general of health services had to write to local governments asking them to ensure that all tertiary students are vaccinated by the end of September by prioritizing them.
About the strengthening of the Covid-19 surveillance system in schools the same ministry has already trained a group of 54 people who also trained 500 trainers from the local governments, head teachers, city education officers, some few teachers and school principals. The group of 500 was taken through a three day zoom training with focus of empowering them to be able to sensitize school communities on SOPs when they finally reopen.
The issue of reopening learning institutions has remained contentious both at local and at international level. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners on September 16, 2021 resolved to close their digital channels for 18 hours in order to mark 18 months of school closure due to the pandemic.
Approximately 131 million students in 11 countries have missed more than three –quarters of their in-person learning, according to an estimate by UNICEF. Around 27 per cent of countries worldwide continue to have schools fully or partially closed.
In Uganda schools have remained closed since June 6 when the second lockdown was instituted by President Yoweri Museveni following an increase in cases of Covid-19 in the communities and with some cases in schools and this has left over 15 million learners out of school.
However, the country is expecting the president to address the nation about how soon the reopening of all learning institutions will be.