Ugandan schools were closed for two years during COVID, now they face more closures – something has to change

Ugandan children have missed more schools due to the COVID pandemic than their peers anywhere else in the world. An estimated 15 million students in the East African country have been out of school for 83 weeks, or almost two years. Statistical models predict a learning deficit of 2.8 years in Uganda due to time lost due to COVID-related shutdowns.

Today, the education system is affected by another public health emergency. At the beginning of November, the government announced that nursery, primary and secondary schools were to close for the year ten days earlier than planned. This is part of its attempt to contain an outbreak of Ebola which by November 16 had killed 55 people; eight were children.

Of course, it is crucial for Uganda to try to prevent the spread of Ebola. The disease has a much higher death rate than COVID. The country’s crowded classrooms and poor school infrastructure, such as poor ventilation and sanitation, make students highly vulnerable to infections.

But young Ugandans have already fallen far behind in their learning because of COVID. And, as the effects of climate change worsen, Africa is becoming increasingly vulnerable to health emergencies, including a number of infectious diseases.

It is therefore extremely important for Uganda to find a way to balance the realities of public health emergencies with children’s right to education. This is a particularly pressing issue in low-income settings where many children struggle to complete their schooling, even outside of emergencies.

The children are already far behind

In a previous study from a larger project called CoVAC (led by Karen Devries, Jenny Parkes and Dipak Naker), we described the many harms and losses Ugandan children and young people have faced due to the prolonged shutdown. schools.

When schools finally reopened in January 2022, one in ten pupils did not show up for school. Some schools had closed permanently.

Read more: Uganda has closed schools for two years – the impact is profound and uneven

The government has tried to support distance education through television, radio, newspapers, downloadable programs or, in some cases, through mobile phones. However, most interventions, especially those that required access to a cell phone or computer, only benefited urban elites who could afford to send their children to expensive private schools.

Almost all of the participants in our study had little or no access to the resources needed to engage effectively with these materials. Girls in remote areas were particularly disadvantaged, as they generally had less access to mobile phones than boys.

Most of the participants in our study were unable to continue their education remotely. They ended up dropping out of school.

Home schooling has become a common practice in wealthy countries. But in Uganda, it was a privilege reserved for a few children from higher socio-economic backgrounds and expensive schools. The majority of Ugandan caregivers must earn an income in any way possible and often lack the time, space and resources to earn with their children at home.

Although schools are only closed for a relatively short period, the loss of ten additional learning days could weaken Ugandans’ confidence in the functioning of their educational institutions. Many Ugandans are struggling to pay school fees for their children and will question the real value of education in light of the current and potentially greater disruptions.

Redesign of the current model

Uganda’s education sector needs to be strengthened so that disruption from future health emergencies does not leave children further behind in their schooling.

This will require an overhaul of how education is governed, delivered and made accessible in emergencies. Uganda inherited its education system from its former British colonial administration. The appropriation of Western and former colonial education systems by Sub-Saharan African countries has been questioned and criticized by many researchers, especially African ones.

The school, it is claimed, was first used as a tool by former colonizers to ‘conquer the African spirit’. It ignored local culture and context with the intention of supporting colonial administration and nurturing exploitative economic structures.

Part of the problem with adopting a universal model of schooling today is that the many inherent flaws of Western-style education are exacerbated in times of crisis. For example, the model advocates a form of schooling limited in time and place. It does not easily adapt to alternative forms of education which allow a more flexible mode of learning in the absence of a functional school.

If adequately resourced and well implemented, alternative ways of learning during school closures can support the most vulnerable children and young people in their educational trajectories and overall well-being. This could take the form of supporting remote learning in a different way, such as the potential for outdoor teaching and learning where there is ample space for social distancing. Nearby teachers could be hired to support small locally organized groups of children in their respective communities.

Another option could be to ensure safe and continuous access to education in a staggered manner under strict hygiene measures. Investments in partnerships with local agencies and community organizations could help facilitate the creation of learning spaces on radio, television or the Internet for children and young people who do not have access to digital technologies. ‘learning.


Some Ugandans have told us they fear schools will be closed much longer than originally announced. This has happened many times during the COVID pandemic. It is also unfortunately likely that Ebola will not be the last epidemic that the country will have to manage.

This is why new strategies and more resources are urgently needed to finally address the deep-rooted social injustices in and outside of education that arise before, during and after public health emergencies. Otherwise, children will be continually at high risk of dropping out of school, making them vulnerable to child labor or teenage pregnancy.

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