IRCU issues statement on management of emerging issues on reopening of schools

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NEWS– The Council of Presidents of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) has today held a meeting at Hotel Maria Flo in Masaka City and came up with a statement concerning the emerging issues following the reopening of schools in Uganda.

In the statement, the chairperson of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), The Most Rev Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu said that whereas the emerging social problems can not be accepted as normal, they need consistent and concerted efforts to be addressed by all stakeholders.

Here below the Informer Uganda is reproducing the statement in full.

The Council of Presidents of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) would like to thank all Ugandans for having been patient since June 2021 when schools and high institutions of learning were closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Inter Religious Council of Uganda is cognizant of the efforts put in place by the Ministry of Education and Sports in reopening schools in a safe manner for all learners and the challenges associated with school fees, automatic promotion, measures for upholding COVID-19 protocols and young people who find themselves in the role of parenthood.

These efforts are commendable on the part of Government as they seek not to leave anyone behind.

As anticipated, the reopening of schools would have challenges given the long period of closure which has impacted on the state of infrastructure, the teachers’ availability, interest and commitment of the learners, parent’s ability to meet the education requirements.

The other critical areas of challenge relate to the learners themselves; would they be de-swayed from the economic activities they are engaged in to concentrate on education! How about those who have become fathers and mothers during this period? 

What kind of psycho-social support, material support to these needs? 

While Government has offered some guidelines for instance, return of pregnant girls back to school, there are practical challenges that are being experienced; the anticipated psycho-social support that these girls need is not available to them in most communities. 

The schools are not equipped to take care of health challenges that may emerge in the first three months of the pregnancy and yet we have this commitment to reduce maternal mortality. 

There are also cases of boy fathers who are now being forced to provide for their expectant baby mothers.

There are girls who were in boarding schools and are struggling to decide whether they will manage the boarding school environment in their condition.

We are of the view that realistic options need to be explored.

There is a sense in which there is shared dilemma on the part of children involved, teachers, school owners, Government, parents, religious leaders given this reality. 

For Government, there are limitations in fulfilling its obligations within the re-entry guidelines.

For teachers, there is lack of skills to manage learners in this conditionChildren are struggling to re-orient themselves back into schools, socio-psych needs and long-term education benefit.

School owners have the challenge of providing adequate facilities for expectant and lactating mothers.

Parents have increased burden in terms of fees and taking care of unplanned, undesired and unsupported grandchildren, living with stigma in cases where incest is involved.

Religious Leaders are challenged in upholding morals in the face of the magnitude of the social issues for which they are also victims.

In addition, we are concerned about the growing polarisation around these issues among stakeholders.

 We are of the view that these issues need to be owned by all stakeholders and should be addressed at different levels.

At National level, the Government has provided guidelines and within these guidelines are commitments which they need to fulfil.

At LC 2 level leaders (Religious leaders, cultural leaders and local government leaders) must take responsibility in collectively engaging the above issues and create mechanisms for addressing these issues. 

In this regard, we are of the view that the proposed parish model expands its mandate beyond economic empowerment to include issues of these nature because these issues affect the much-desired sustainable economic empowerment.

Parents ought to create a supportive environment for children that have found themselves in parenthood and should seek support and accompaniment from relatives, neighbours and professional bodies.

As your shepherds, we recognise the gaps in our ministries and therefore the enormous responsibilities before us.

We are going to mobilise our members at grassroot level, catechists, lay leaders, local pastors and imams into a response team to develop a framework for, Monitoring numbers of pregnant girls involved so we are kept abreast of the magnitude. 

We want them to monitor the challenges related to re-entry of the affected girls and boys, Creating a mechanism for pastoral support to parents, children and teachers;Strengthening chaplaincy ministries in our schools to improve on prevention.

While the above measures are intended to address the immediate challenges, we are convinced that this social problem should not be accepted as normal and calls for concerted, consistent and constructive effort in addressing the root causes starting with a National conversation with all key stakeholders.

FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY

Signed on this 11th day of January, 2022.

His Grace Dr. Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu Archbishop, Province of the Church of Uganda Chairperson, Council of Presidents,

FOR AND ON BEHALF OF THE INTER-RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF UGANDA.