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Can Gov't Draw Lessons from International Schools to Reopen Schools?

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Mirian Ndyanabo, the headteacher of the British School of Kampala says that although international schools are somehow different, they have a lot in common with all other schools, especially since they handle students and teachers in one locality at the same time.
Social distance is critical in all classes.

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12-year-old Nathaniel Kamoga from Nansana municipality has been at home without any form of learning for the last 10 months. This is as a result of the unprecedented closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kamoga, one of the 15 million learners, looks forward to the re-opening of schools but neither his parents nor authorities at the education ministry can provide an answer for the many uncertainties surrounding the reopening.   

But, even though millions of learners remain home, their counterparts in International schools were operating on full scale and learners have already returned to school for a new school term, with regular physical teaching and learning activities.   

Mirian Ndyanabo, the headteacher of the British School of Kampala says that although international schools are somehow different, they have a lot in common with all other schools, especially since they handle students and teachers in one locality at the same time.    

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Social distancing remains one of the giant blocks towards the re-opening of schools as inspection reports have shown that whereas schools might meet most of the standard operating procedures, many don't have enough space for all children at the set social distance.   

To achieve a minimum social distance, the school, which operates throughout the day, decided to have a staggering learning system where students in selected classes are expected at school at different time zones. According to the system, candidates are expected to report to school every day, while other classes report, every other week. 

  Ndyanabo notes that the group that is not at school is given tasks to accomplish, which stretches from academic and other life skill-based assignments presented for assessment upon returning to school.  

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The adopted system helps the school to have enough space where at most, 16 learners occupy a room. However, in their different classes, learners don't necessarily sit two meters apart.   

Our reporter observed the same at Vienna College, Namugongo, where each class had about 24 students seating at least a meter apart. At Horizon International School, they use a hybrid with some learners attending physical classes while others use the online option. Godfrey Ssekitoleko, the head of the primary section, says they decided to use two different learning options to adhere to the spacing specifications. 

Joe Billy Kisozi, an educationist and teacher trainer says that they have erected some more temporary structures so that more learners can be allowed back to school. 

"International schools' standard is high. These are schools which are critical when it comes to standards but we can benchmark and localize, for instance with a staggered system we can have at least more three or two classes back to school on all levels," says Kisozi. 

Kisozi also notes that schools might use other means like staggering lessons of the same class under the same system. For example, if a class has 100 learners, they might be divided into three or four groups and each given contact hours or days. Learners at international schools have already adopted to the staggering learning system.   

Cedrick Mwijukye, a student in Year 11 says that it’s better for him to attend school for some days and then be given some time to keep him busy another day than studying online or stopping classes entirely.  

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A similar idea had already been mentioned by the education ministry while re-opening schools for the candidate classes. However, it remains packed as the narrative and discussion on school re-opening seems to be shifting towards the expected COVID-19 vaccines.  

According to the Ministry of Health, the earliest Uganda can get vaccines will be in April. When the vaccination period is factored in, schools might re-open in June or July after one and half years of closure.   

Ndyanabo says that the government needs to consider all the available alternatives instead of extending the re-opening of school. Citing an example from how learners could attend school during the war-ravaged times in the 1980's, Ndyanabo says the sooner the ministry takes a bold decision, the better. 

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Ndyanabo thinks these can be best handled for boarding students if they tested and then placed in a bubble where they are not interacting with strangers. The same approach is being used in many other countries.   How do learners play or socialize while at school?   According to the Ministry of Education SOPs, playing was banned in schools during the times of COVID-19. However, British School of Kampala has already come up with exciting games which learners can engage in both indoor and outdoor.

Since the phased re-opening of schools for candidate classes, over 150 learners have tested positive. All the cases in boarding schools were handled using set protocols of schools alerting nearby health centres, who then pick the student for treatment.