How upper primary pupils helped children improve on learning during lockdown

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FEATURE– When schools abruptly closed due to the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic, in Uganda, many learners, especially children residing in semi urban and particularly rural areas faced many challenges related to the inability to read and write.

Because millions of learners were out of school for nearly two years, the little knowledge children had gained before the closure of schools disappeared over that challenging period.  

To enable continuity of learning at home amidst the covid-19 setbacks, Mildred Nakibuuka, aged 12 years utilised the lockdown time to assist her siblings, plus other children within the same neighbourhood do revision in specific subjects, they had challenges.

“I was inspired to teach children when I saw my classmate, Rosette Namubiru teaching her siblings how to read and write. Since my brother, Jovan Musisi had challenges in reading and mathematics, I requested my parents to allow me to use the home garage door as a writing board to teach children,” explains Nakibuuka.

Nakibuuka is a primary six pupil at Heather Primary school in Nansana Municipality, Wakiso district and she often woke up at 7.00 am to do domestic work included washing utensils, cleaning the house and compound. Immediately, she was through with house chores, revision lessons began.

 “At first, I only taught my siblings, but later alone, neighbour’s children also joined us and lessons started from 2.00 pm till 4.00 pm. I taught English, literacy one, Literacy two, Luganda, and mathematics,” states Nakibuuka.

Besides Nakibuuka’s support, Ian Mutebi, a senior two-student also helped children to learn how to calculate, divide, multiply and subtract numbers using sticks and stones. 

The two taught seven children of different classes using their past papers and textbooks for the lower primary section. 

Following the closure of schools as a way to curb the escalating cases of Covid-19, the ministry of Education embarked on the nationwide distribution of self-study materials to ensure continuity of learning.

These reading materials were one of the interventions to ensure learners across the country continue with learning during the lockdown. 

According to the Ministry distribution plan for the second batch of the reading materials, a total of 34,230 schools received reading materials and of these, 28,931 were primary while the 5,300 others were secondary.

With this plan, a total of 5,430,529 copies of the self-study materials were to benefit learners in primary and lower secondary. 

 *Impact of home reading materials* 

The head teacher of Buloba Church of Uganda (COU), Primary school, Andrew Ssentumbwe says, though there was a significant impact caused by the reading materials, some learners needed support from either an instructor or teacher to comprehend the concept.

 According to Ssentumbwe, learners who were unable to read on their own could not benefit, however, those who were able to read and comprehend benefited from the self-study materials.

“Though government availed the self-study materials, the big challenge was some learners could not read and comprehend and these are students who had stayed home for almost two years and they had forgotten much of the work, even the basics that could allow them to read and support themselves were lacking,” Ssentubwe Explained.

Besides self-study materials, Buloba COU primary school also received home study reading materials from Integrated Child and Youth Development, (ICYD) Activity. 

The materials printed in different local languages enabled continuity of learning when the ban on schools was lifted.

Ssentubwe also said that these books are improving learner’s performance because they are in local languages. Connecting what is in the books and what the child knows is easye content in the books is connected to the learner’s experience. What learners go through on a daily basis..

Promotion of learners

When the ban on schools was lifted, in Uganda, there was automatic promotion of learners in most schools.

According to Ssentubwe, it was a government policy that whoever was 6 years and ready for primary one should first join primary one whether attended preschool. 

The children who were in primary one, two, and three were supposed to be promoted to the next classes.

“It was not a challenge since work between primary one, two, and three is in a cycle. What children learn in primary one is always repeated in primary two and three. They learn almost the same concept under the thematic curriculum,” Ssentubwe said.

The teacher of Jinja College School, Susan Abawaya, says, the reading materials were effective because they had topics that were supposed to be covered during the lockdown. Most topics in the books supplied were already covered, meanwhile, others were ahead, and had not yet been covered.

Abawaya noted that in April last year, they received home learning materials for humanities and sciences. Books for humanities for senior one were 331, senior two, 324, senior three, 125, and senior four one book. 

Additionally, the school received the same number of science books for senior one, two, three, and four.

To enable continuity of learning for Ugandan early grade learners during the lockdown, the Chief of Party of the United States Agency for International Development, (USAID) Integrated Child and Youth Development, (ICYD), Eileen Mokaya says, the study group program provided early grade reading materials and instructional support to a total of 648,163 learners in primary one through primary four at home and community-based study groups.

Mokaya emphasises that “the study groups not only helped children to access learning while schools remained closed but also helped to prepare learners to return to school after the COVID restrictions were eased.”

So far, from May to December last year, a total of 707,761 local language teaching and learning materials in Luganda, Runyankore-Rukiga, and Runyoro-Rutooro were distributed in 24 districts.

 “Subjecting children to curfew during lockdown was a tug of war. However, to keep my children productive, I used the reading materials printed in the Newspapers to guide them.” Mary Murungi, a mother of six children concludes.

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Juliet Nabulime and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Compiled by Juliet Nabulime

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