By Joseph Lagen
For the first time in five months, Uganda Christian University (UCU) welcomed students on its campuses for in-person learning. The development follows a September directive by Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, allowing universities to commence physical teaching after education institutions were shut in June 2021, after a second wave of Covid-19.
According to an October 28 letter to all students and staff of UCU, Vice Chancellor Assoc. Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi said freshly admitted first-year students who joined in September would report on November 1 for additional orientation sessions. Mushengyezi said the first-year students would then migrate to blended learning – online and in-person – starting December 4 before they sit for their exams from January 3 to 17, 2022.
“Continuing students who have been studying virtually will report on November 8, 2021, for face-to-face classes in a phased manner,” Mushengyezi wrote, noting that they will then take their examinations from December 4 to 17, 2021.
UCU Communications Manager Frank Obonyo said the institution is not allowing all the continuing students at once because of “escorting potential health risk.”
“We prioritized first years – the rest will have blended studies,” he said.
In early summer, Museveni directed all education institutions to close, starting June 7, to reduce concentration centers that the government argued were increasing infection rates of the pandemic. At the time, the Covid-19 cases in the country had gone up by 137%. It was the second time that education institutions were closed in Uganda as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
In March 2020, Uganda closed all schools to reduce chances of Covid-19 infection on learners. In October 2020, final-year students were allowed back to school for in-person learning as they prepared to take examinations. The rest of the classes, with the exception of lower primary, were allowed back to school for in-person learning starting March 2021. However, that excitement was cut short by a surge in the Covid-19 infection rate, necessitating the closing of schools in Uganda, again after only three months of opening.
On June 18, 2021, the Ugandan government imposed a total lockdown on movement, with the Covid-19 positivity rate at 17% at the time. However, the lockdown was lifted at the end of July 2021, with many of the sectors of the economy being opened for operations. For the sectors that are still closed, such as the entertainment industry and bars, Museveni said in a televised address on October 28 that they will be opened fully in January 2022, whether people go for Covid-19 vaccinations or not.
According to the President, by the end of December 2021, the country will have received 23 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines of two-per-person for more than 12 million people, including 4.8 million frontline workers.
As UCU welcomes its staff and students for in-person learning, the institution has set up its university health facility, the Allan Galpin Health Centre, for vaccination. The condition for in-person learning, according to Government, is that all institution staff and students above 18 years should be vaccinated.
Despite the two lockdowns – of 2020 and 2021 – on education institutions, UCU continued with online learning. At UCU’s 22nd graduation ceremony held on October 22, Uganda’s First Lady and education minister Janet Museveni congratulated the institution for its “robust online education programme” and encouraged the university to share best practices with other institutions.
At a recent virtual dialogue to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on academic institutions, Mushengyezi said UCU had invested in infrastructure of electronic learning and, therefore, “has something to share with other institutions.”
Due to the robust online operations infrastructure, Obonyo said UCU was able to conduct online semesters, plus other virtual activities, such as virtual guild elections, conferences and pre-entry exams for students for courses in law, medicine and dentistry.
The university has locally developed two online applications to supplement the use of tutoring e-services in its operations. These are the Alpha MIS for student registration and the E-Chagua, which the university uses during virtual elections.
Among some of its other virtual activities, from October 14-16, the UCU Faculty of Journalism, Media and Communication (FJMC) hosted the 10th Annual East African Communication Association Conference.