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World Bank Rep Advises Gov’t to Expand Instructional Time When Schools Reopen

Schools in Uganda have remained closed for over 80 weeks, which is the longest school closure recorded across the world, yet the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown which led to the closure of schools is projected to worsen the already waning learning outcomes in the country.
Rosemary Mukami Kariuki

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The World Bank representative in Uganda has advised the Ministry of Education to expand instructional time as one of the means to foster recovery of lost time when schools open their doors to learners.

Schools in Uganda have remained closed for over 80 weeks, which is the longest school closure recorded across the world, yet the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown which led to the closure of schools is projected to worsen the already waning learning outcomes in the country.  

Rosemary Mukami Kariuki,  the World Bank Country Manager told URN in an interview that the government, in addition to the planned prioritization of curricular fundamentals, can as well consider expanding instructional time as one of the ways through which Uganda can make up for the lost learning time. 

According to Kariuki, expanding instructional time can be done by modifying the academic calendar; extending the school day; decreasing the number of days allocated for holidays, or adopting teaching over the weekends where applicable.   

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Instructional time is the amount of time during which learners are taught by a classroom teacher in a school. It can be compounded from the contact hours per day. For instance, in Uganda school time is expected to start at 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in lower classes, while the time for primary and secondary classes is extended up to 4 p.m. running from Monday to Friday. 

In their report titled; towards the safe opening of the education sector in COVID-19 times, the National Planning Authority also suggested adding weekend days to the normal school to catch up on lost learning time. Kariuki, says they have been discussing with the education ministry to see how such proposals can be adopted in the school reopening plan.

She emphasizes that when it is considered, the ministry must ensure that they take advantage of additional time to implement recovery strategies and support teachers’ capacity to implement the strategies to ensure that classroom teaching is more efficient. She, however, notes that expanding learning time might come with some implications which might include paying teachers extra time and also looking for alternative learning tools to complement the physical lesson.    

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Dr Mary Gorreti Nakabugo, an educationist and Executive Director of Uwezo Uganda, notes that everything that would help Ugandan learners’ recover from the lost time is critical when schools reopen. she however adds that expanding instruction or not will be dependent on options that are going to be considered for the reopening.   

Dr Nakabugo adds that if the ministry is going to use the staggered reopening approach, it will be difficult to expand the instructional time.  

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The educationist, however,  has reservations about expanding instructional time. She shares that if the ministry considers this advice from the World Bank, they must account for the fact that long hours of teaching might be bad for learners and teachers. 

“It’s a good idea but we need to approach it carefully to see how we can handle it. Do we increase the learning hours per day? Do we decrease the length of the holiday? but we must ensure that the learner is not overstretched in the name of recovering the lost time,” says Nakabugo.    

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But, Kariuki insists that the ministry must choose an option that is compatible with Uganda’s education system to ensure that learners are not overloaded.   

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Filbert Baguma, the General Secretary of Uganda National Teachers Union-UNATU says that additional school days and hours are very expensive options.

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Godlive Baguma, a  primary school teacher, notes that the proposal will be a way of officially accepting what is already happening in many schools. To him, there is no room for expansion of instructional time as the school has been occupying learners for longer than necessary.

“...Many schools, most especially private and some public schools in urban areas had already expanded the learning time with their lessons running from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the evening. Many schools are also teaching night and morning preps in addition to teaching during the weekend and term x which covers parts of the holidays,” says Baguma. 

Meanwhile, in one of her papers on school reopening, Kariuki also stated that when schools reopen, the ministry needs to implement remedial teaching strategies and ensure teaching at the appropriate level.   With the prolonged closure, the World Bank estimates that Ugandans may lose an average of 0.7 to 1.4 learning adjusted years of school resulting in 600,000 Shillings to 1.1 million Shillings lost earnings per person per year.

Learning adjusted years of school is a tool that helps to reveal the real outcomes learners are achieving considering factors like the number of years of school an average child can expect to achieve by her 18th birthday and what she or he learns, based on globally harmonized test scores.  

Up to now, the Ministry of Education is still tight-lipped on the school reopening planning leaving all stakeholders in the dark on what is going to be done when schools reopen. However, ministry authorities have noted that the school reopening and recovery plan will soon be available to the public.

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