Schools Embrace Virtual Engagements in the Face of COVID-19

President Yoweri Museveni ordered the closure of schools as one of the measures to control the spread of coronavirus, which, according to experts, moves faster in large gatherings. At the time of the closure, the learners were just half way into the term which started on February 4, 2020 and was due to end on May 1, 2020.

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Schools in parts of Kampala and Wakiso is devising means to virtually engage children following the premature closure of educational institutions in the wake of the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease-COVID-19. 

President Yoweri Museveni ordered the closure of schools as one of the measures to control the spread of coronavirus, which, according to experts, moves faster in large gatherings.  At the time of the closure, the learners were just halfway into the term which started on February 4, 2020, and was due to end on May 1, 2020.  

Many of the schools are now adopting digital platforms to engage their learners amid the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19. They are using social media applications, emails and learning packages to engage the children during this time. 

Innocent Mulondo, the head of the upper section at Taibah Junior School, Kawempe, notes that the school has since opened an email for each learner where learning materials in forms of notes and questions are sent on a daily basis. The questions are then answered and sent back to the teachers, for assessment and guidance. 

Mulondo notes that in this system they trust the parent to be the supervisor and ensure that learning takes place. He adds that school is also currently recording tutorials in form of videos and audio which they will send via the same channel. 

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Some other schools have decided to issue reading materials physically and revision tests which are picked by the parents from the school, and returned after a given period for assessment.  

This is the mode which had been preferred by Kabojja Junior School, according to a circular sent out to parents at the close of the school on Thursday. However, this was changed following an incident on Monday in which teachers were arrested after they were found at the school premises.  The teachers had reportedly gone to the school to prepare the revision tests for the children. 

The school has since sent messages to parents indicating that teaching materials can be obtained from the school’s Mobile application which can be downloaded from google play store. 

In the countryside, most of the schools purchased a number of take-home material from educational material service providers which were given to learners at cost. Uganda Radio Network has learnt that some schools are opting to use social media platforms mostly WhatsApp as a tool of learning at this moment.   

Katende Progressive Vocational Secondary School in Mpigi district is taking up this model. Although Dr Yusuf Kyeyune, the school director, couldn’t explain how they intend to use this application, he observes that all they want is to keep their learners in engaged during this period.  

“The core purpose of this intuitive is to ensure that learners are kept busy. Using these platforms, we will make them busy and that is our main objective,” Dr Kyeyune obverses. 

Ivan Kizito, a Senior five class teacher at Kisubi Mapeera Secondary School, notes that they are also using WhatsApp to share reading materials with the learners. He, however, notes that the only challenge is that not all students can be online at the same time.

"We thought of using WhatsApp since most of the students can get access to this application. We send notes and questions. Student send feedback and when several learners ask a question from the same area then a teacher records a video offering further explanation. Despite the challenges, we hope to always improve as we get used to these system," explains Kizito.   

According to the Assistant Commissioner of Basic Education Dr Tony Mukasa Lusambu, the ministry has already communicated to all secondary schools which have been running e-learning to take advantage of this period to ensure that the platform is fully utilized by learners. 

Dr Lusambu also adds that they encourage schools to come up with many other effective ways of how they carry out teaching using modern technology.    

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The educationist, however, worries that accessibility to the internet and the hiked prices of data bundles might limit the effective use of the said platforms. He further worries about the in inequities as some schools have countless resources to share with parents and caregivers yet other schools have very little.    

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In the same development, parents seem to be welcoming the several initiatives put up by schools.  

Brenda Namuwonge, the parent with learners in candidate classes, notes that it would be difficult if there wasn’t anything to keep learners preoccupied. She, however, notes that some parents might fail to offer close supervision. 

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Information obtained from The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) indicates as of March 20, over 1.2 billion learners were home as governments all around the world closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the global pandemic.  UNESCO observes that at this moment there should be efforts to provide immediate support including solutions for inclusive distance learning.