Remarks by Dr. Doreen Mulenga, UNICEF Representative in Uganda
It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today for the handing-over ceremony of the long awaited and critical home-learning materials that have been developed to support children during the COVID-19 emergency. Let me start with a word of thanks: On behalf of UNICEF, I want to extend my deepest appreciation to the Ministry of Education and Sports and to our donors and partners, including the New Vision, for bringing us all together.
With generous support from the governments of Denmark, Ireland, and Norway, and with support from UNICEF UK and the Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF Uganda has provided 800,000 dollars to the Ministry of Education and Sports to print and transport home-learning materials to approximately 2.5 million children. The commitment of partners to protecting the future education of Uganda’s children demonstrates the true spirit of solidarity. “We are in this crisis together”.
I am pleased to inform you that the learning materials will be made available to both primary and secondary school children, including refugees, from 48 districts with low education indicators.
Once the funds from the Global Partnership for Education arrive, we hope that the National Curriculum Development Centre will be able to provide these materials to all children in the remaining districts.
While these materials are especially critical now during school closures, they will also be useful in accelerating the pace of learning once schools re-open.
Printed copies will be distributed to children at their home locations with support from District COVID-19 Task Forces, Resident District Commissioners, District Education Officers, and local government structures.
UNICEF staff in Moroto, Gulu, and Mbarara are also assisting districts in their COVID-19 response planning and implementation and will support the distribution of these materials, as well.
UNHCR will take the lead in distributing education materials for refugee children.
The herculean effort of developing, printing, and distributing home-learning materials in the wake of an unprecedented global crisis could not have happened without proper planning and strategizing. I’d like to note that all these materials are in line with the Ministry of Education’s COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, which was developed with support from international NGOs and development partners, including UNICEF.
The Plan includes continuity of learning through the Internet, TV, radio, mobile phones, and of course through the use of the paper copies of these self-learning materials for the most marginalized learners who may not have access to technology-based learning at home.
UNICEF will continue to support districts in making use of local radio and community-based communication channels and structures to support children and parents in making effective use of all these distance-learning tools.
While these materials will support the continuity of learning at home, we need to make all possible efforts to re-open schools to provide a sense of normality for children – normality in the context of our ‘new normal’. I am pleased to learn that the Ministry is preparing guidelines for an eventual phased re-opening of schools, beginning with the graduate classes – P7, S4, and S6, as directed by President Museveni.
UNICEF has been sharing tools, good practices, and experiences from other countries with the Ministry, and we encourage the Ministry to continue engaging all stakeholders at all levels.
As we plan for the re-opening of schools, we need to pay special attention to inclusive and equitable policies and practices, especially targeting the most disadvantaged children, including children with disabilities, children from the poorest families, children who live farthest away from schools, and the Girl Child! Experiences from the Ebola outbreak have shown that vulnerable children may not always return to school if special efforts are not made to bring them back.
One silver lining from the COVID-19 cloud has been that stakeholders are now talking about children and learning – not just schooling. Schools, as we all know, not only teach children reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also provide nutrition, health, and hygiene services, along with mental health and psychosocial support, while reducing incidents of violence against children, gender-based violence, and unintended pregnancy.
And yet, the discussions related to schools and education have exposed the reality that most schools lack even the minimum facilities required to ensure conducive, healthy and safe environments. As we prepare to re-open schools, we need to take this golden opportunity to build back better. Let us imagine a future in which all children in Uganda will finally be able to take full advantage of everything the world has to offer.
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