The Irish Times

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Uganda reopens schools for first time since March 2020.

Uganda has reopened schools for the first time since March 2020 after the world’s longest Covid-19 related school shutdown, affecting 15 million children. Up to one-third of students may not return, authorities say.

“We can’t let this happen again. We must keep schools open for every child, everywhere,” the UN children’s fund Unicef said in a tweet on Monday.

“The Embassy of Ireland wishes the best of luck to all students returning to school in Uganda today!” tweeted Uganda’s Irish embassy. “As chair of the Education development partners’ group, Ireland remains committed to supporting the sector, providing an additional €1.8 million to support safe reopening of schools.”

During the period that schools in Uganda were shut, aid organisations reported a rise in the levels of child labour.

Children interviewed by The Irish Times began making bricks, breaking stones into granite or selling masks or snacks on the streets to support their families. One 10-year-old, Moses, sold eggs for 500 Ugandan shillings (€0.12) each, while 13-year-old Omara Mark Desmond sold face masks for 1,000 Ugandan shillings – work that he said left him too tired to study at home in the evenings.

The number of teenage pregnancies also rose, raising questions about whether young mothers will be helped to return to education.

“Schools and churches must construct reasonable accommodations for pregnant girls and breastfeeding benches/corners to accommodate girls in [the] post-Covid era,” tweeted Ugandan human rights lawyer Primah Kwagala. “Motherhood should not bar any girl/woman from exercising the right to education.”

While Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni initially promised to provide free radios to each home so children could learn remotely, this was not followed through. The shutdown further increased the gaps between children from poor and wealthy families, who have access to the internet or even private tutors.

Some classes opened temporarily in late 2020 but then closed again. The government has said children will restart school in a class above where they were 22 months ago.

The leadership of the East African nation of roughly 46 million people has been criticised for using Covid-19 as an excuse to repress its citizens for political reasons. Public transport was banned for months, political opponents were arrested and accused of spreading disease, and a curfew of either 7pm or 9pm has been in place for most of the pandemic.

Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world, but its leadership also banned food distributions not organised through the government, saying anyone who carried them out would be charged with attempted murder. Critics said this was another attempt to stop the opposition from currying favour ahead of the highly disputed January 2021 elections, in which Mr Museveni – who has been in power since 1986 – won another term.

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