This past January, students in Uganda returned to classrooms after nearly 2 years of school closures due to COVID-19. The closure and slow return to school reveals inequalities in access to education as well as countless obstacles to a successful full return. While schools are open again, students and faculty must find ways to catch up on lost time in the classroom. Officials estimate that 15 million students were affected by the closures and about ⅓ of students may not return to classrooms.1 Both students and teachers have taken up jobs during the pandemic to support their families in the absence of school commitments. The added obstacle of school fees weighs heavily on poor families who now depend upon their children for income assistance. Additionally, cases of teenage pregnancy have increased during the pandemic. The issue of inequalities in education and the return to schooling in Uganda is important to WE International and our mission to advocate for those affected by poverty and injustice. Our WE Educate program operates in Uganda and works to eliminate some of these obstacles to education.
Shortly after schools closed in March 2020, the Ugandan Ministry of Education broadcasted lessons on the radio and television for children to continue learning at home. However, this initiative was short-lived due to a lack of funding and support, leaving families and children on their own in terms of their education. At-home schooling options during the closures exposed the gap in education access between the wealthy and poor. While wealthier families were able to hire tutors or access online education programs, children in poor families took up jobs to supplement their family’s income. Similarly, teachers and faculty who were out of work due to school closures began working other jobs instead. Now that both teachers and students are employed outside of the classroom, some are reluctant to give up that income or profession and return to school. It is also especially difficult for low income families who must find ways to pay school fees. Although they seem like a small or inconsequential detail, school fees are a common barrier to education for poor children in Uganda.
Another obstacle to the return to classrooms, particularly for girls, is teenage pregnancy. According to National Public Radio (NPR), 645,000 teenage pregnancies were reported between March 2020 and September 2021, which is likely a lower number than the actual because we can assume there are pregnancies going unreported.2 Now that these girls have children of their own to care for, it is unlikely that they will have the time and financial resources to go to school. Too often the stigma around teenage pregnancy ends educational prospects. Human Rights Watch shines light on the lack of policy and rights protecting girls that do pursue an education while pregnant or after becoming a mother.3 Many girls in Uganda are left behind without access to these resources and protections. Gender equality in education is crucial for the health and development of the individual, families, and entire community.
As Ugandans transition back to schools this past year, our work at WE International is especially important and relevant. The school closures reveal the gaps in the education system and the importance of equal access to education. Children should have the opportunity to learn without worrying about the livelihoods and income of their families. The economic hardships of COVID-19 mean that many children are not returning to school and instead are working jobs to support themselves and their families. At WE International we want children to have the opportunity to learn and consequently have a positive impact on their own lives and their communities. Our WE Educate program sponsors children in the town of Lunyo by covering the cost of their school fees and other necessary supplies. If you would like to help make the transition back to school easier for these children, please consider donating to our WE Educate program. It is because of our sponsors that these children are empowered through education to achieve their dreams and live happy and healthy lives.
Sponsor a Child at this link: https://weinternational.givingfuel.com/we-educate
– Written by Tess Jensen, Intern
- Athumani, Halima, and Esther Ruth Mbabazi. “Photos: Teen Dreams and Disappointments after the World’s Longest COVID School Closure.” NPR, NPR, 19 Feb. 2022, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/02/19/1079899358/photos-teen-dreams-and-downers-after-the-worlds-longest-covid-school-closure#:~:text=Kololo%20Secondary%20School.-,School%20resumed%20in%20Uganda%20in%20January%20after%20the,pandemic%20school%20closure%20%E2%80%94%2022%20months.&text=Children%20who%20are%20able%20to,families%20and%20experts%20are%20concerned.
- Athumani, Halima, and Esther Ruth Mbabazi. “Photos: Teens Dreams and Disappointments”
- Odhiambo, Agnes. “Time to Protect Education for Adolescent Mothers across Africa.” Human Rights Watch, 15 June 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/15/time-protect-education-adolescent-mothers-across-africa.