During the closure of schools in Uganda due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a countrywide learning crisis.
Pupils were not developing the foundational learning and skills that they need to be able to complete seven years of education and reach their full potential.
Following the closure of schools, the Ministry of Education and Sports instituted home-based learning via television and radio, and distributed print revision materials.
Despite this great progress, marginalized children – and especially those from rural areas did not have access to television and radio. The majority of the learners did not even have access to the government’s printed revision materials.
In Oyam District, Northern Uganda, prior to the Covid-19 crisis, there was concern about the learning abilities of pupils in lower primary schools.
According to Uwezo’s findings then, only three out of 10 pupils in P3 and P4 in Oyam could read and understand a story. And two out of 10 pupils in P6 and P7 could not read and understand a P2 test
As part of an effort to ensure the children recover from Covid-19 learning losses, at least 12 community learning centres have been established in Loro and Iceme Sub-counties.
These learning centres were established in 2021 by the community with support from the Foundation for Inclusive Community Help (FICH) to support the continuous learning of children during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The main objective was to reawaken the school knowledge and learning culture that had almost died in the learners, especially those of the age bracket of 6-12 years.
“Under our education programme, we could not hold the patience anymore to support the continuous learning of our children. So, we came up with an idea about how children could be supported to continue learning amidst the prolonged school closure and Covid-19 challenges,” says Victoria Anyango, FICH programme officer in charge of education.
“So, we had to begin with what we had.”
Even after the reopening of educational institutions in Uganda, these community learning centres have continued offering educational opportunities to learners during school holidays and weekends.
How the centres operate
Parents identify convenient places for learning such as the church, mosque or any open space which are referred to as learning centres.
Each learning centre supports about 30 children that are recruited within the community to learn basic literacy and numeracy competencies.
Also, parents provide the children with learning materials to go and learn and they are the ones who facilitate the volunteer teachers.
The children now go to learn during weekends for two hours and are given homework to keep them engaged during the entire week since government schools do not regularly give homework.
Volunteer teachers trained by FICH support the learners to comprehend literacy and also to perform numeracy tasks.
Interestingly, FICH established and empowered a village structure called Village Education Committee whose mandate is to handle any education-related issues within the community and school.
This three-member committee consists of the secretary of education in the office of the LC1 and two other members elected from within the community.
Members of the community have formed village savings and loan associations. FICH has given them a revolving fund, where they borrow and return with a 10% interest on any principal amount. 30% of this interest is allocated to the education pool, which they refer to as the Education Trust Fund. This fund goes to support any education-related activity provided it is in the village work plan and budget.
Ms Lillian Alinga, a volunteer teacher at Ongor Learning Centre, Alidi Parish in Loro Sub-county, said the centre has impacted positively on the education of children.
“It has encouraged the parents to support the education of their children, and has also made people understand that education has no age limit,” Ms Alinga adds.
Mr Benson Walter Dila, the Oyam LC5 chairman, thanked the community and the development partner for establishing the learning centres.
“Education is a pillar for development,” he said.
Mr Tonny Ocen Okello, the Oyam LC5 councillor representing the people of Iceme Sub-county, said the community learning centres are helping a lot.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Opio Awelo, the Iceme LC3 chairman, thanked FICH for the initiative.
“This initiative will help the children to rapidly recover from the Covid-19 learning losses,” he said.