Nursery schools and other Early Childhood Development Centers (ECDs) will not be closed permanently. Their reopening however is dependent on the arrival of the much-awaited COVID-19 vaccines and their rollout.
This pronouncement comes amidst fears that the Ministry of Education had banned nursery schools, and advised that learners start their education cycle in Primary One. The Ministry had announced that pre-primary schools will remain closed because the learners in this category are prone to respiratory infections.
It added that because many of the pre-primary institutions are day-based, they cannot observe standard operating procedures yet there are a lot of interfaces between learners, teachers and parents which could increase the risk of infections. This implied that an estimated three million children aged 3-5 years who were enrolled in nursery schools would remain home until further notice.
But Patrick Muinda, the Assistant Commissioner of Information Technology and Communication says that nursery schools will reopen but only when teachers have been vaccinated against the virus. “ECD centres have not been permanently closed. We have been advised to delay the re-opening of ECD centres/nursery schools primarily because children/toddlers are super-spreaders of the COVID-19 virus.
It is feared that a child contracting the COVID-19 virus may carry it with very high viral loads endangering their teachers. It is therefore envisaged that the time for re-opening ECD centres is dependent on how soon teachers in these nursery schools will be vaccinated,” he said.
Uganda has ordered 18 million doses of vaccines both from within the COVAX facility and from Serum Institute of India, one of the approved manufacturers of the vaccine. The first vaccines from the COVAX facility are expected to be delivered at the end of February 2021. However, it is not yet known when vaccinations are likely to start in the country.
According to the Health Ministry, an estimated 550,000 teachers and other essential workers will be among the first persons to get the vaccine in the first phase. But due to delivery delays, the officials from the ministry of health say the vaccines will likely not be delivered by the end of February or even March 2021.
Dr Alfred Driwale, the programme manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization says that it is not yet clear when Uganda will get the vaccines that it ordered. “Western countries made orders of these vaccines when they were still being tried. Some of their orders have not been met. African countries like us are at the back of the line for the vaccines,” Driwale said.
Meanwhile, several parents that we spoke to intimated that the long wait has become a hindrance for them. Roger Tayebwa, a vendor in downtown Kampala says the delayed opening of the schools had forced him to take his daughter to an unsafe working environment. “My business is suffering because I now have to look after my four-year-old daughter. I don’t have a maid so I have been going to work with her but it is hard running a shop in Kampala with a child running around,” he said.
According to UNICEF Global Guidance on Re-opening Early Childhood Education Settings published in September last year, re-opening of ECDs presents a number of advantages to both the learners and parents. On the side of the learners, it provides learning opportunities and emotional support, yet it also offers reliable childcare options for parents.
The guideline says if ECDs open, the schools should focus on creating safe and clean environments for children by carrying out regular disinfecting of surfaces touched by children. In terms of social distancing, it recommends that a distance of at least one meter be left between learners in a child-friendly manner.
“Increase spacing between tables, chairs of places on the carpet or mat where children sit,” it reads in part. In addition to this, it recommends that entry into the school is limited to staff and that sick children or members of staff remain home.