May 18, 2024
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How 2021 Changed Uganda’s Education System

Students will be required to observe COVID-9 standard operating procedures, such as wearing of face masks when schools reopen to avert the spread of COVID-19

This article was first published on Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021 had been anticipated as a year for the education sector recovery. Several plans for reopening had been proposed, from phased reopening, to staggered and later, both.

The phased reopening plan had been proposed to manage the multiple cohorts of classes, as well as ensuring that the COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) are observed in schools.

Some classes, such as nursery, P1, P2 and P3 have never been to school since March 18, last year. The proposed reopening then had given hope to parents that these would finally see a teacher. However, these plans were dropped following the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the country prepares for full reopening of the economy, including schools, next month, Martin Kitubi brings the major highlights of the education sector for the year ending.

2021 started well. In January, Cabinet set conditions to be followed by the education ministry to open schools.

Cabinet had resolved that school reopening for non-candidate classes should be informed by the epidemiology of the pandemic. The epidemiology of the pandemic refers to undertaking studies on the behaviour of the pandemic for a given period.

Cabinet also ordered the education ministry to update the COVID-9 standard operating procedures (SOPs) for schools to reopen. The SOPs were supposed to communicate with the then epidemiological situation, in collaboration with other stakeholders.

The education ministry was also required to institute appropriate school disease surveillance systems with clear reporting and large-scale testing capacity to quickly detect and isolate cases.

In the same month, the Government awarded 2,205 scholarships to Senior Four leavers to study nursing, midwifery and other health-related courses in all its institutions across the country. Another 707 privately financed students were admitted to the same institutions. The scholarships, the first of their kind in Uganda, were given to students pursuing certificates in nursing, midwifery, comprehensive nursing and psychiatric nursing.


In February, the education ministry reviewed the SOPs as required by Cabinet, after which the schools’ reopening schedule was released. As part of the plan, semi-candidate classes of P6, S3 and S5 were to report first, but in a phased manner.

At first, Cabinet had indicated that promotion to the next class would be based on attendance and continuous assessment of classwork and assignments.

Within the same month, the education ministry also inaugurated an interim team of experts to oversee the implementation of the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) policy.

The policy is aimed at, among other things, facilitating the review of the current laws and generating appropriate legal framework to harmonise the TVET sub-sector. In addition, government issued a plan to recruit 3,096 teachers for 83 schools.

The recruitment was aimed at boosting the policy of having at least one secondary school in every sub-county. Unlike in the previous recruitments, this time round, the beneficiary teachers will have to commit to work at their duty stations for at least three years.


Government issued guidelines for schools exams. As part of the guidelines, the education ministry suspended beginning of term, mid-term or end of term examinations, but rather assessment based on class exercises and out-of-class assignments.

In addition, government issued a plan to vaccinate teachers. The health ministry also asked the education ministry to submit a list of teachers, who would then receive jabs.

In March, government announced that they had spent over sh30b on installing and equipping Information Communication Technology (ICT) laboratories in over 1,000 rural-based institutions that included government-aided secondary schools, tertiary institutions and universities. The move was intended to increase access to information and ensuring digital training.

On the unfortunate side, over 2,000 students of Makerere University were reported to have dropped out following the outbreak of the coronavirus. This was attributed to financial constraints that worsened due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, Makerere University’s vice-chancellor, indicated that the pandemic affected the students’ ability to pay tuition after a number of parents lost their jobs.

In the same month, Makerere University announced that they were to cut undergraduate admissions by 3,000.

During the announcement, the university also indicated they would scrap undergraduate diplomas and certificates as part of the university’s 10-year strategic plan for the year 2020-2030.

Subsequently, the university says it will increase the admission of graduate students from 13% to over 40% over time. The new reforms will include restructuring of undergraduate programmes, where some will be merged, and others become course units for related programmes.

The reforms will also see the university reduce the about 100 programmes offered at the university to 60 courses.


As part of the implementation of the lower secondary school curriculum, the education ministry announced that it was set to distribute new instructional materials for students in lower secondary school classes. The lower secondary school curriculum was launched in 2020, but the distribution of new materials had been hampered by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Under the curriculum, the number of hours students will spend in a classroom were reduced to six, from nine. In addition, the subjects to be taught were reduced from 42 to just 20.

This implies that instead of classes running from 8:00am – 4:00pm, teachers will have to start 8:00am and end at 2:50pm.

According to the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), the remaining time will be used by students to either develop own projects, research or develop talents through playing. The new curriculum for lower secondary schools, the Uganda Certificate of Education, will account for 80% of marks a student gets at O’level.

The other 20% will be accumulated right from Senior One through the continuous assessment system, which will be adopted next year.

Under the new curriculum, each class will have a different textbook and specific content to be covered at each level.

These will be classified as book S1, S2, S3 and S4 and that it will cut across subjects to be taught in a particular school. Under the new syllabus, schools will also have teachers’ guide textbooks to facilitate learning. Grace Baguma, the director of NCDC, explains that the new O’level curriculum emphasises skilling, as well as focusing on the learner as opposed to the teacher.


In May, the Uganda Allied Health Examinations Board (UAHEB) indicated that all those involved in examination malpractice would be ordered to repeat a year.

These were part of the set tough penalties for tutors and candidates during examinations. The tough penalties were introduced to make examination malpractice a risky practice, as well as curbing it.

Dr Joseph Agondua, the executive secretary of UAHEB, said if a candidate is involved in examination malpractice, he or she will repeat the semester. As part of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) manifesto implementation, the government announced that the education sector had scored 80% of its targets. The score was based on its commitment to the people of Uganda, laid down by the NRM when it was re-elected into power five years ago.

The performance score was revealed by the director of the Manifesto Implementation Unit, Dr Willis Bashaasha, after presentation of the education sector’s manifesto performance by Mrs Janet Museveni, the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, at State House, Entebbe.

In the same month, the education ministry announced a plan to revamp all the struggling traditional schools. According to the plan, which will be implemented in a phased manner, the schools will get revamped, focusing on the different needs.

Alex Kakooza, the then education ministry permanent secretary, indicated that they had already sent a team to a number of traditional schools to undertake a needs assessment.

The needs assessment would then inform them on what facilities would be set up at each school. Regarding the COVID-19 fight, academic institutions were accused of hiding cases. This followed an announcement by the health ministry that over 803 cases, including one death, had been recorded from 29 academic institutions in the country.

Without revealing particulars of the institutions, Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director general of health services, said secondary schools led with 11 cases, followed by nursing schools with 10, primary schools with seven and primary teachers’ colleges (PTCs) with one. One case was recorded in a tertiary institution. The 803 cases were recorded between April and May 18.

Students attending a lecture. Some Ugandan students may require remedial lessons after returning to education institutions next year


In June, a 42-day lockdown was imposed to curb the surging COVID-19 cases and schools were also affected. Classes such as P1, P2 and P3, that had been planned to report to school that month in a phased manner, were abandoned.

In the same month, a section of proprietors of private schools petitioned the President, indicating that over 1,000 schools were set for auction due to accumulated bank loans, as well as debts from suppliers and moneylenders. The proprietors of private schools and institutions appealed to President Yoweri Museveni for a bailout.

Dr Waako Muzinge, the secretary general of the National Private Educational Institutions Association, said due to the abrupt closure of schools, the majority of private schools were unable to repay their bank loans, which have accumulated to over sh5 trillion.


After a 42-day lockdown, the government embarked on discussions to reopen academic institutions. During the release of Senior Four examination results on July 30, 2021, Mrs Museveni revealed that the Government plans to re-open schools, “but in sequenced fashion”.

This was intended to ensure the safety of children, as well as teachers. At the release, English and agriculture emerged the best done subjects. After the release of the 2020 Uganda Certificate of Education results, it was discovered that English and agriculture were among the subjects where students performed well.


In August, the Government embarked on consultations to reopen schools. In a letter dated August 27, the permanent secretary, Ketty Lamaro, notified different stakeholders of a virtual consultative meeting to deliberate on proposals on the reopening of education institutions to complete the 2020 academic year.

In her letter, copied to Mrs. Museveni and the health ministry permanent secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, Lamaro invited the education secretaries of schools’ foundation bodies and the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) for the meeting, scheduled for today.

The ministry also announced that 1,600 needy students were to benefit from the students’ loan scheme. For the first time, also final year students in higher education institutions, who have been struggling to pay tuition fees, would benefit from the scheme. The loan scheme was started in 2014 to increase equitable access to higher education in Uganda and also support highly qualified students who may not afford higher education.

To date, a total of 11,187 Ugandans have benefited from the scheme since its inception. Of these, 9,632 have or are pursing undergraduate degree programmes, whereas 1,555 have enrolled for diploma programmes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

These enrolled at the 22 (public/private), as well as 36 diploma awarding technical institutions. In terms of gender, the male beneficiaries stand at 7,862 (70%), whereas their female counterparts are 3,325 (30%). In a bid to ensure continuity of learning, the education ministry also announced that materials worth sh48b were to be procured.

According to the ministry, the materials were to be distributed to learners in lower primary classes and upper secondary schools. The lower primary school classes include Primary One to Primary Four, whereas the upper secondary cover both Senior Five and Senior Six. These had never received reading materials during the first batch.


As the country discussed when schools would reopen and how they would open, the National Planning Authority (NPA) predicated that an estimated 7.4 million children were to join P1 if schools remained closed up to 2022. The planning body was predicting the uncertainties if the planned phased reopening had been abandoned.

According to NPA, the 2020 P1 cohort is estimated at 2.4 million children, while that of 2021 cohort is estimated at 2.5million. The 2022 cohort is likely to add another 2.5 million children at P1, bringing the total to 7.4 million learners.

This implies the number of teachers at this level must triple to cater for the growing numbers.

According to the 2017 annual school census report, the average pupil-teacher ratio in primary school in Uganda was 42.7, implying that each teacher taught about 43 pupils. With the surging numbers and the different cohorts, it means that a teacher will now take care of 126 learners.

For Senior One, the 2020 cohort is estimated at 503,000 learners, while that of 2021 is estimated at 580,000, bringing the total to 1.08 million students. In addition, both the 2020 and 2021 S5 cohorts have an estimated 113,000 and 115,000 students, respectively. At the tertiary level, including universities, the average intake per year is about 70,000 students. According to NPA, if the 2020 cohorts remain stuck in P1, S1 and S5, the country will need an additional 62,000 classrooms, and to recruit 73,700 additional teachers.

These estimated demands are pegged on 53:1 pupil-classroom ratio and 1:43 teacher-pupil ratio. The country will need an estimated sh4.31 trillion to set up the infrastructure. In the same month, government announced that finalists pursuing medical and health programmes can reopen. This was informed on the fact that most of them need practicals and the pandemic would offer the best practical for the students.


President Yoweri Museveni announced that both primary and secondary schools will reopen in January 2022.

During his address, he also indicated that universities and other tertiary institutions would reopen to physical classes to non-candidates, on November 1, 2021.

The President also said schools reopening would be informed by vaccination of both teachers and support staff. He added that students aged 18 years and above should get vaccinated against COVID-19 and tasked the education and health ministries with co-ordinating the exercise. In October, universities started private admissions. Admissions for privately sponsored students for the academic year 2021/2022, at both public and private higher institutions of learning, have started. The Government announced that Shimoni Core PTC had been transformed into a higher institution for teachers, call it a teachers’ university. The institute became the Uganda National Institute of Teacher Education (UNITE). This was part of the plans to implement the National Teachers’ Policy that recommends a degree as a requirement for one to teach in the country. This covers all levels of education from nursery to higher institutions of learning. With the announcement, the ministry also stopped the recruitment of S4 leavers into Primary Teachers’ Colleges.

Going forward, only S6 leavers will be admitted and enrolling for degree programmes. As part of the plan, the education ministry phased out 23 of the 46 government-aided PTCs in the country. Under the arrangement, the ministry will only retain the core PTCs, which are located in different regions across the country.

The retained core PTCs will become degree training institutions for primary and secondary school teachers under UNITE.

Accordingly, Shimoni Core PTC will change its name and become the proposed Uganda National Institute of Teacher Education (UNITE), a higher institution of learning for teachers. The core PTC functions of Shimoni have been transferred to Sancta Maria Nkokonjeru PTC, which becomes a Core PTC. Under the arrangement, the five National Teachers’ Colleges (NTCs), including NTC Unyama (Gulu), Mubende, Kabale, Kaliro and Muni (Arua) will become UNITE (Shimoni) campuses.

According to the plan, teachers would then upgrade for postgraduate programmes at UNITE (Shimoni).

Jonathan Kamwana, the commissioner for teacher education and training at the ministry, explained that the ministry is already designing a well-detailed plan on how the transition will be handled.

Kamwana said the ministry has suspended the selection exercise for the teachers’ colleges, which was to be conducted next week. In addition, the ministry will conduct a qualification assessment of the current staff at NTCs to ascertain whether they are fit to teach degree holders.


On November 1, universities and other tertiary institutions reopened for physical classes. Universities were tasked with implementing a blended learning system of both physical and online to ease congestion, as well as curb the spread of COVID-19. Most universities indicated that the focus was on completion of the syllabus and that with the exception of finalists, continuing students would study for a month and write their end of semester examinations.


In December, the education ministry released the school calendar. According to the calendar, all academic institutions, including nursery schools, will reopen fully on January 10, 2022, the education ministry has confirmed. (Refer to graphic)

School Fees

The education ministry has ordered schools to charge the same fees as it was before closure. In addition, schools have been barred from charging S2 students who had cleared fees before they reported to school in June, when the second lockdown was announced. Those who had paid half or part of the fees, the ministry says, will only clear the balance.

“We are meant to understand that some learners had already paid up all that term’s school fees. Therefore, learners of the Senior Two class of 2020, who had fully paid school fees, should not pay first term’s fees when they report to their former school for the new academic year that starts January 2022,” the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Mrs Janet Museveni said.

“We appeal to schools to be mindful that these learners are coming from families that have also been facing a tough time, just as much as the schools have been,” she said.

Progression Of Learners

According to the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Mrs Janet Museveni, all learners will progress to the next classes without assessment.

However, she guided that only learners who are at least six years of age shall be allowed to join Primary One.

By the time schools closed for the second COVID-19 national lockdown in June 2021, she said learners in P4, P5 and P6 had already completed their exams. The above learners, according to Mrs Museveni, are automatically promoted to the next respective classes, that is P5, P6 and P7. In addition, she said P1, P2 and P3 classes of 2020 shall become P2, P3 and P4 respectively in 2022. She noted that there will be remedial lessons for P1, P2, and P3 classes during first term 2022 to recover critical content for the previous class.

“Senior One and Senior Two classes of 2020 shall be progressed to Senior Two and Senior Three, respectively. Remedial lessons shall be provided to these classes during the first term of 2022, especially that they had been beneficiaries of home study materials,” she said.

For S3 and S5 class cohorts of 2020, these shall progress to S4 and S6, respectively once schools reopen. In addition, the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) has been instructed to release the 2022 examinations calendar.

“UNEB shall release its calendar for the end-of-cycle examinations to be conducted in 2022 and when candidates shall be registered now that the school re-opening calendar has been defined,” Mrs Museveni said.

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