Ugandan students were delighted to return to school on January 10. Schools had been closed for almost two years – the longest in the world. The government ran out of funds and could not distribute lessons or fund broadcasts after the first months of lockdown. The consequences have been devastating for children across the country. In August last year, the government planning authority calculated 4.5 million of an estimated 15 million students would not return. Enrolment data is not yet available for this year.
UNICEF says the loss of learning through the pandemic was “nearly insurmountable”. Two years after the start of Covid more than 635 million children remain affected. Before the pandemic, 130 million girls were out of school. The numbers are likely to have increased.
One reason students have not returned is because of poverty. During lockdown, students found low-paying work or sometimes started their own businesses to meet the economic gap that has accompanied the pandemic. Their families need that income to survive now and cannot afford to pay the costs of going to school. Others have returned but cannot afford masks, shoes, books or uniforms.
UNICEF is predicting a record rise in child poverty this year and that the need for humanitarian support will reach record levels as the impact of climate change increases.
In Isingiro District, where Christian World Service partner the Centre for Community Solidarity is based, the impact of the lockdown has been most severe for the families of HIV and AIDS affected children.
Director Charles Rwabambari says the students are excited to be back at school. The teachers are doing their best in poor classroom conditions with high student ratios. The students have been enrolled a year above where they were two years ago but many have forgotten much of what they had learned, making teaching more challenging.
Katusiime is one student that has returned. One of Katusiime’s jobs is to walk three kilometres to collect drinkable water from the rock dam each day. She was raped on the way home from collecting water one evening last year. When she got home, she told her grandmother but she was too old and vulnerable to do anything.
In time Katusiime gave birth and now she combines schooling with childcare and looking after her grandmother. She can be found in her year six class, breastfeeding her new baby in one arm while writing with the other. Fortunately the authorities have given permission for this 16-year-old to reenroll at her local primary school.
Primary and secondary schooling are the first steps in achieving gender justice for girls and young women.
February 22, 2022