Remote Learning Program Puzzles Govt, Experts Call for Process to Re-open Schools

Without funding, the homeschooling program seems to be hitting a dead-end but Muyingo says that they are going back to the drawing board to come up with a new plan that can offer a form of continuous learning to over 10.2 million non-finalists up when the government will fully reopen the education institutions.
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The Ministry of Education and Sports is currently puzzled on how to implement the proposed remote learning programme for out-of-school learners as their efforts to secure funding have been by rejected by parliament.  

Last week parliament declined to approve 336.8 billion shillings' supplementary expenditure request for the purchase of over nine million radios to facilitate the homeschooling and long-distance learning programme after the Budget Committee, rendered the purchase of radios as an ‘unwise decision’.  

The State Minister for Higher Education John Chrysestom Muyingo says the decision has since frustrated government’s efforts of ensuring that learners get access to learning at a time when in-classroom learning is not yet allowed to non-finalists.  

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Without funding, the homeschooling program seems to be hitting a dead-end but Muyingo says that they are going back to the drawing board to come up with a new plan that can offer a form of continuous learning to over 10.2 million non-finalists up when the government will fully reopen the education institutions.   

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Education Institutions closed in march as one of the means to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the school environments leading to an unprecedented long holiday ever registered. As months in lockdown piled up, several educationists, parents and student leaders requested that the government declared a dead year and concentrate all the efforts on school reopening after strengthening the system.    

However, the ministry declined the position arguing that this would clog the education system thus coming up with a COVID-19 response and recovery plan and later developed a framework for the provision of continuous learning to more than 15 million learners in the school system.  

At that time, the government proposed that lessons be delivered through print and self-study home packages, recorded lessons, and live presentations on radio, televisions, and online uploads to be sent to learners through mobile phones. Subsequently, on April 20, the ministry sent out the first batch of self-study materials. However, with over 6 billion spent in printing and distribution, a handful number of learners accessed the materials.  

In May, the ministry of finance's Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit-BMAU issued a report casting doubt on the efficiency of a remote learning strategy for out-of-school learners saying that the strategy was not inclusive as it proved to lock out some learners given the digital divide between urban and rural areas. It also warned that the expected parental support was limited to give the illiterate levels among parents. 

In July, the government secured a grant of 55.8 billion Shillings from the Global Partnership in Education-GPE programme channeled through the World Bank to facilitate the COVID-19 Emergency Education Response project by the Ministry of Education and Sports.  

On the said funds, the National Curriculum Development Centre-NCDC was allocated the the bigger share and had to spend 1.9 billion Shillings to develop self-study materials, 2.6 billion Shillings to establish a Printery, and 20.8 billion Shillings to print and distribute second self-study materials.  

Over 2.2 billion Shillings is also included to support the procurement of airtime on radio and TV stations to air lessons to support learning, provide transportation for teachers from homes to radio stations and back to their homes, and provide facilitation for teachers to prepare and deliver lessons on radio and TV. But, this specific project did not cover the planned distribution of radios and TVs to families. 

However, up to date, the said the second phase is yet to kick off. During an interview with this reporter last week, Ismael Mulindwa, the Director of basic education at the Ministry of Education and Sports and chairperson of the education COVID-19 task force said that the distribution would start soon. 

“Those materials are soon getting ready. I may not specify the dates but we are soon going to start the distribution using the existing structures of the local government and COVID-19 task forces,” Mulindwa told Uganda Radio Network.  

However, new information from minister Muyingo indicates otherwise. The minister notes that printing has not taken place blaming the delays to lack of funds for print and distribute the materials. He also claims that the said funds are part of the supplementary that they were requesting for which is not true. 

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But, some educationists think that with the procurement of radios appearing to be shelved, the government shouldn’t waste more resources on the homeschooling program but rather start to discuss on how to reopen schools.  

Filbert Baguma, the Uganda National Teachers Union Secretary General, notes that from day one the program to buy radios was a far fetch non-applicable idea which government had insisted to undertake. Baguma says the government should focus on the reopening process given the fact there is proof that efforts for continued learning at home are not feasible.    

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His assertion is based on a recent survey by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank, dubbed “the Uganda High-Frequency Phone Survey on COVID-19”, which shows a big challenge by the government to ensure that all students access studies as schools are still locked.  

The survey also indicates that some school-going age children have lost interest in studies having spent over seven months without any form of learning. Basing on this, Baguma says that even if the programme is reconsidered. 

Issa Matovu, an education consultant, also carries nearly the same perception, he notes that the ministry should cling to the idea of radio but rather strengthen the existing mechanism and also embark on long term investments in research and information technology for education.  

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