By Devin Watkins
Students returned to the classroom in Uganda on Monday after an 83-week hiatus brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government says around 15 million children were affected by the world’s longest school closure.
Despite open doors, authorities have warned that at least 30 percent of students may never return to them, since some have started working while others have gotten pregnant or married early.
Lessons continued via TV, radio, and newspapers, but the national planning authority says these materials may not have reached everyone.
Those with access to decent internet connections were able to access online classes and home tutors, but many poorer Ugandans have not followed lessons in 22 months.
Classes in Uganda resumed in October 2020 but were suspended again in May and June of 2021.
Pope’s education appeal
At the same time as classrooms opened on Monday, Pope Francis reminded the world of the important role education plays in a young person’s development.
“Education holds a special place, since it trains the younger generation: the future and hope of the world,” said the Pope. “Education is in fact the primary vehicle of integral human development, for it makes individuals free and responsible.”
He also told diplomats accredited to the Holy See that the Catholic Church has always upheld the role of education in “the spiritual, moral, and social growth of the young.”
Also on Monday, the Save the Children Fund held up its “Catch-Up Clubs” for Ugandan children.
The charity says the initiative is “an innovative approach to accelerate the recovery of lost learning during the pandemic and help children successfully return to school.”
Each child is assessed and helped to reach the required level of literacy and learning. Cash assistance for struggling families and child protection support are also offered as part of the program.
Save the Children says the education hiatus has led up to one in five Ugandan children to drop out of school.
It now warns that a “second wave” of dropouts could hit the country, as “returning students who have fallen behind in their learning fear they have no chance of catching up.”
The agency’s Head of Education for Uganda, Edison Nsubuga, said in a statement that students who fall behind in their education are less likely to “unlock their potential as adults.”
He added that quality education is essential to help children reach that goal.
“The Catch-up Clubs program is a holistic approach to education that benefits all levels of the community,” he said. “The clubs have been a lifeline for many children in Uganda while the majority of schools remained closed for nearly two years. Without the clubs, some of these children may not be returning to school today.”