It is time to regard education as a humanitarian response.

My little son is now of school-going age, but there is little I can do for him. My nephew and sister-in-law, who are now (2021) supposed to be in P.1 and P.5 respectively, are also stuck at home. They are unsure of when they will return to school. Since schools were closed in March 2020 as a measure to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus, they have learned little. We tried to print for them homeschooling resources and buy newspaper pull-outs. But in reality, there is little learning since they only concentrate when one or both of the parents are at home.

At the beginning of Covid-19 lockdown last year, the government-initiated distribution of learning materials, but their approach has been a huge failure. I will not go to the details of that here.  

 All of us know that the impact of this prolonged school closure due to Covid-19 will be with us for many years to come. Top among this is the significant drop in girl’s enrolment from primary to university, and this even becomes scarier in the STEM area. There is no doubt that this closures will further deepen gender inequalities in education and world of work. I suggest that maybe it is time to consider education a humanitarian response.

According to Google free online dictionary, the word “humanitarian” means “concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare.” Since time immemorial, education (both formal & informal) has been a big role in shaping peoples’ lives and their communities. In Uganda, the education sector is huge, both in times of size (employment/business) and how much it contributes to the national GDP. As such, there are many people, businesses, and activities that revolve around schools.

The start of the new year has been very dull, not exciting as the years past have been. There has been no national exam results to look up to. No back-to-school shopping and the stress (and excitement) that comes with it. Truthfully, both parents and their children are tired of the endless school closure.

There had been some hope (and good reason to believe) that schools would open for all after the election season. But that hope vanished fast, upon hearing the news the president (or is it the Minister of Education & Sports) that schools will remain closed for at least another 3 months. But generally, on the issue of school reopening for everyone, there’s been  a lot of uncertainty, confusion and insufficient news.

This state of confusion got me thinking. How about we parents took things into our own hands, without relying on the government? Why don’t we take the idea of homeschooling to another level? How about we conclude that we should now intervene on “humanitarian “grounds? How about if NGO’s got involved, in the same way they respond to other emergencies? How about parents sent their children to neighbouring countries? What if we started thinking of education as an emergency that requires a humanitarian response?

For me, the ultimate power to overcome human challenges (or call the problems) lies with the people themselves. Failure by government to intervene when expected to do so will only drive people into new solutions. We all know that children are desperate for education. During this covid-19 times, education is now an emergency, and should be categorised as a humanitarian response, not just a social service.

While I wait for the authorities to fully open schools, I have to keep my own “school” at home open, and learning must continue. I know it is quite challenging to balance being a teacher and parent in your own home. But children are the future. So, we really have no choice. After all, the children are ours, and the government only takes a subsidiary role. For in the end, if they are not educated, the government loses less than I do.

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