Children Board the School Bus. The school in under investigation by the Ministry of Education over claims of corporal punishment faced by pupils for scoring below a certain percentage mark
The Ministry of Education and Sports is moving to introduce tough regulations to control school learning hours, homework and the practice of learners carrying heavy school bags.
The plan was disclosed by the minister of education and sports Janet Kataha Museveni during a press briefing held at Nakasero state house on Tuesday afternoon.
Mrs Museveni noted that in the past she has been saddened by scenes of young boys and girls moving on roads late in the evening carrying heavy school bags.
The concerned minister says that she has learnt that many learners are collected from their residences as early as 4;00 a.m., put onto school shuttles and return at 8;00 p.m. with a huge load of homework.
She adds the ministry has time and again warned schools to desist from the practice but it has instead increased. Mrs Museveni says this has now forced her to refer the matter to the ongoing education policy review commission to advise the ministry how this can have been prevented.
“By the time this child is done with homework, having dinner and going to bed, it is way after 10 p.m. And the cycle is repeated the next day; unknown to the parent, guardian or teacher, you are negatively affecting the mental, physical, and spiritual health of this young person,” Mrs Museveni noted.
According to Mrs.Museveni, children below the age of 18 years need 8 to 10 hours of sleep as recommended by scientists. She says the failure of children to get enough sleep contributes to poor performance in school and is also associated with children being overweight, depressed among other challenges.
The first lady however notes that even before the regulations come in place, schools should ensure that learners are released not later than 5p.m to give them time to safely return to their homes.
She further recommended that parents take their children to schools within their localities to avoid the early morning and late night movements.
This is not the first time the Education ministry has tried to address the above mentioned issues. In 2017, shortly after Mrs. Museveni was handed the education ministry, she asked parents to stop exposing their children to early morning shuttles. However little has changed since then.
According to the national school guidelines, school time is expected to start at 8; 00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. But this is not happening. Dr Kedrace Turyagenda, the Director of Education Standards says this rule is being abused by many private schools, and currently spreading to public schools, in the name of teaching learners to pass.
“Our curriculum has set the learning time, but many schools are abusing it and parents seem to be rushing to these schools thinking that they are the ones that teach, it is absurd and needs to be checked this time around,” Dr Tueyagenda noted.
During a conversation after the event, one of the officers tried to defend the schools noting that they are fast tracking the syllabus given the fact that learners lost a lot of learning time during the two year COVID-19 lockdown of schools. Dr Turyagenda however maintained that learners need to be given time to relax and free their minds.
“We expanded the learning time by two weeks in each term to recover lost time so resting time should be respected as these learners are not robots,” the educationist commented, shutting down her colleague.
Similarly, the Uganda National Examination Board -UNEB Executive Director Dan Odongo also expressed concern over the heavy bags that learners carry to and from school which to him is unhealthy and uncalled for.
Giving an example of his granddaughters, he said in the past he was surprised after meeting one of them with a heavy bag loaded with lots of books. “These young girls carry big bags; there are homework books, classwork books. this madness should be brought to a stop,” Odongo noted.
Several countries like India and Rwanda have already banned homework for classes I and II, and moved to prescribe schoolbag-weight-limit for specific classes. The said countries were stirred by health concerns after studies showed that young children were set to suffer chronic back pain, hunched backs and other spinal problems as a result of carrying heavy school bags.