As schools in Uganda prepare to reopen after a prolonged period, the UK and Ireland have partnered with UNICEF to support two key activities which aim to support safe and sustainable reopening. The focus will be on school-based surveillance for early identification, reporting, and management of emerging COVID-19 cases in schools, and the secondary focus will be on mental health and psychosocial (MHPSS) wellbeing training to support teachers and children to readjust. These are critical activities which can have a lasting impact on the system, enabling it to remain open and continue to provide education for the country’s children.
The UK has provided £450,000 (UGX2,153,403,038) to UNICEF towards the initiative. In addition, Ireland has provided Euro 1.8 Million (UGX7,200,521,083) to UNICEF for the overall Government of Uganda school reopening strategy, a portion of which is used for school-based surveillance and MHPSS in Karamoja region. The initiative has been prioritized by the Government of Uganda under its School Re-opening Strategy, and it will be implemented jointly by the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Ministry of Health in districts and schools across the country. The training is covering all schools in the country.
Speaking at the opening of the training, Kate Airey, British High Commissioner to Uganda, said “I sympathise with my Government of Uganda colleagues who have had to make really difficult decisions over the last two years. I like all Ugandans were relieved when the Government announced schools would be reopening on the 10th January. Regaining the ground lost will not be easy – and ensuring this is essential not just for our children on an individual level, but to ensure Uganda’s economic development. Without investment in human capital, without schools remaining open, I fear Ugandans will start to fall behind regional peers. Uganda must therefore now create a system to ensure that can enable schools to remain open, and education can carry on without further interruptions.”
Getting children back into school and learning is a priority for all three partners and this support comes at a critical time to support Uganda in its recovery.
These are critical activities which can have a lasting impact on the system, enabling it to remain open and continue to provide education
Speaking at the same event the UNICEF Country Representative, Dr. Munir A. Safieldin said, “”I share UNICEF’s respect for all head-teachers and teachers present here. Others can support, but only you can keep the schools safe and ensure that children receive the quality education they need and deserve. We are aware that there are many challenges, and your task at the forefront of this effort is among the most difficult. However, if anyone can make this happen, teachers can. The future of a generation of children, and the future of the country, is in your able hands.”
Cormac Shine, Chargé d’Affaires at the Embassy of Ireland, said: “Ireland is proud to support Uganda’s efforts to safely reopen schools, and implementing effective surveillance is crucial to ensure a safe learning environment for students and staff alike. Along with our development partners Ireland remains committed to supporting education in Uganda, and the safe reopening of schools is a landmark achievement after a challenging few year.”
The initiative will result in up to 40,000 schools nationwide (both public and private) being capacitated via district officials to effectively track and manage COVID-19 cases and support students and teachers on re-entry.
UNICEF has worked with the government and development partners on continuity of learning and safe school re-opening for the last two years. UNICEF’s support has included sharing of global knowledge and best practices, provision of self-learning materials, radio, and TV lessons for continuity of learning and parenting education.
Apart from the nationwide School-Based Surveillance training, UNICEF is also providing selected schools with infection prevention and control supplies including handwashing materials and tents for the safe re-opening of schools.
Since March 2020, the UK has provided distance learning via radio to an estimated half a million lower primary and secondary children, and in 2022 intends to provide catch up classes directly to 250,000 children.
Ireland has been a strong supporter of Uganda’s education sector for more than fifteen years, with a long-standing focus on investing in bursaries in Karamoja. Since June 2021, Ireland has chaired the Education Development partners group, and has maintained its support for the sector throughout the pandemic with continued investment in primary and secondary schools, vocational training, and bursaries with a variety of partners including UNICEF, Enabel, and Straight Talk Foundation.