By Emmanuel Lubaale
Uganda has been in an education crisis since long before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted educational institutions and halted formal learning nationwide. According to a pre-pandemic study by Uwezo Uganda, 61% of Ugandan students from Primary 3 to Primary 7 couldn’t read a simple story and 48% couldn’t perform basic maths operations.
The last time many school-going children in Uganda attended a class was in March 2020, before the country went into full lockdown. Furthermore, 6% of the children who were meant to be in P3 were found to be two years behind their studies compared to the year 2018. It is also estimated that While 58.5% of the girls aged 4-16 in the Central Region were able to read words in English, only 31.1% of girls of the same age in the Eastern region were able to do so. And despite efforts to broadcast learning materials on Ugandan radio, television and printouts and the assumption that parents would act as learning support, very few children were able to continue their studies. In fact, in rural areas, where there is little access to online learning and little capacity among students’ parents to provide at-home tutoring, children were disproportionately affected by the halt in learning.
This situation is bleak. Yet despite these conditions, it has been fascinating to hear how RELI members in Uganda have innovated to address these challenges. These interventions range from learner and teacher focused initiatives to community-based projects. Some have forged partnerships with digital firms to create software that uses interactive voice response technology to provide daily mathematics lessons. Others launched community engagement programmes that identified qualified community members to deliver in-person small group lessons in basic literacy and numeracy in underserved communities while others created community learning centres in collaboration with state and non-state actors. Another organization launched a virtual teacher training initiative that has delivered training through radio and other online tools particularly conference calls working closely with the District Education Leaders and Centre Coordinating Tutors. These innovative efforts demonstrate the power and potential the RELI network wields in facilitating enhanced learning outcomes for Ugandan children.
The multi-sectoral approach also means that we can have others share and deliver on our vision and mission. At the same time, there is a real commitment among RELI members, to share and learn together. This often looks like making necessary connections, on each other’s behalf, to ensure that we are all able to engage with the right government ministries, agencies and departments in order to achieve our objectives. Given the efforts that the network has put into investing in insightful research pieces, spending up to three days in the same room with senior officials to attending impromptu meetings convened by the Ministry, there is every reason to believe that as Uganda re-opens schools after a two year shutdown, RELI will continue leading the way in convening sector actors to strengthen collaboration, sharing, learning and to shape policy and practice and ultimately ensure that more students all over Uganda gain access to the education they have missed out on even in the years prior to the pandemic.