A candidate at St Martins Primary School in class. As learning resumes, candidates are not allowed to engage into co-curricular activities. Photo by Christopher Kisekka
Schools in several parts of the country are overloading learners with content as they make up for the time they lost during the 22-months closure occasioned by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Learners lost substantial instructional time owing to the abrupt school closures that started in March 2020, until January 2022, making this the longest school closure across the world. Although some schools engaged the leaders online, hundreds of others, especially those owned and managed by the government did not have any interaction with the learners during the time.
But as learners settle in to have physical lessons, schools have adopted a marathon approach where learners are taught for lengthy periods, lessons start earlier than usual, and end very late in the evening.
Several schools have also disregarded public holidays and weekends.
Agnes Nakintu, a parent, says that her children have been returning home late because they have extra classes on top of take-home assignments in nearly all subjects.
“At school, they are engaged all the time. At home, they are expected to be busy with homework. This is the routine Monday to Saturday. Teachers say that they are making up for the lost time,” the parent complained.
But Teachers have told our reporters that they have increased the learning load given to learners because many of them are still struggling to regain their full academic potential, after returning to classes from the long COVID-19 lockdown period.
According to teachers, the students are learning at a slower pace than they were expecting, which is affecting their academic performance. Hamza Lubowa, the Director of Studies at Buddu Islamic Secondary School in Masaka City, reported students are back late and they are still struggling to catch up with the learning, which is affecting their performance.
Uthman Lubega Basajjanaku, the Headteacher of Luwero Muslim Secondary School attests that they are trying to recover lost time through introducing early morning and late evening classes. Lubega however justifies this by saying that they want to ensure that learners pass.
Salim Maudhe, the Director of Studies at Kampala High School, says the panic is majorly in candidate classes. Maudhe says they are sure that the other classes will be able to catch up as they still have time when compared to the candidate classes.
He says the other classes are also given extra lessons in the morning at 7;00 a.m. and after classes in the evening for an extra one hour before they go home at 6;00 p.m.
Thomas Kitandwe, the headteacher of Kampala Quality Primary School, says the school adopted the abridged curriculum and they are trying to plan their time well to ensure that the learners do not miss out on all the activities they have to do in a term in the name of recovering content.
Kitandwe explains that most of the learners came back when they were almost forgetting about what they had learned despite a few who continued having classes online and coaching. “We are budgeting our time well to ensure that we bring them back on track. We may not be able to cover everything at the end of time but we could have jump-started them,” he added.
Observations and inquiries made in several schools within Mukono and Buikwe also show that schools have not considered creating space for resting periods for activities such as PE, ART, and MDD within their timetables posted on the notice boards.
Brian Kakaire, the Head Teacher for Science High School, reveals that given a limited period of studying more so for candidates, schools have no other alternative than overloading them. He adds both teachers and learners are under pressure and panic to complete the syllabus.
Godfrey Bwabye Kigongo, the Head Teacher, Jessy Jonny primary school says although they have increased the teaching hours, they have decided to incorporate several various activities such as PE and music in-class lessons with their teachers trained tactics of assessing when learners require spending time outside class.
Prior to school reopening, the Ministry of Education had anticipated that this vice might happen in schools and sent out an earlier warning to school managers as part of the reopening guidelines.
The ministry also created an abridged curriculum to ensure that there is a uniform coverage of content in all schools to avoid over and under load being subjected to both teachers and learners. The said curriculum set out the required period a learner should be subjected to and also indicated when the lesson should begin and end. But this has fallen to the deaf ears of school managers.
Ketty Lamaro, Permanent Secretary at the education ministry, says they acknowledge the fact that students need some catch-up learning, compelling education systems to deploy and scale up targeted interventions quickly to help pupils bridge their learning gaps and improve learning but reminded teachers and school administrators that students are not robots.
Lamaro says schools should desist from marathon academic lessons and drills but rather consider every aspect of learning including co-curricular activities and following the required period for each learning area as advised by curriculum designers.
In a recent interview, Elizabeth Kisakye, an educationist and child psychologist, noted that pumping children is dangerous as learners’ brains are stretched which will later affect their performance and general mental wellbeing. Kisakye noted that learners needed to be given a break, reminding them of a famous saying; work without play made John a dull boy.
“Schools are fond of subjecting learners to academics all the time. This tires their brains. and it has an impact on their development. At the time a child reaches university the brain is already tired. These teachers are causing mental fatigue to our children and this is a far-reaching effect,” Kisakye added.
Professor Peter Atekyereza, an educationist and sociologist at Makerere university, also wonders at the current state of teaching. Prof Atekyereza says that back in the days learning started at 8;00 a.m. and by 4;00 p.m. learners were already going back home.
“…I don’t think that today’s children who study from 5 am to 9 pm are better than learners of the good old days. We need to rethink this phenomenon. Learning is not a punishment, education should have a purpose and it’s not all about academics, when will the learner get soft skills? When will they rest? when will they practice what they have been taught?” Prof Atekyereza noted