Millions of Ugandan children have stayed home for 20 months as schools have remained closed due to COVID-19 amid measures authorities say are necessary to safeguard the students' health.
This, however, has made Ugandan schools the longest-closed in the world due to the pandemic, according to a UNICEF report.
Global data tracking by the UN agency on the educational impact of COVID-19, shows that schools in Uganda have been shut for close to 20 months and counting.
Classes have been out in the East African country since March 18 last year, with an announcement made by President Yoweri Museveni, totaling nearly 84 weeks.
By comparison, schools were closed for more than 40 weeks in only 12 other African countries -- all of which have since resumed in-person teaching -- while in India, which has a larger population than all of Africa combined, classes were suspended for 73 weeks.
Ugandan first lady and Education Minister Janet Museveni has said the continued closure of educational institutions over COVID-19 is meant to protect young people from the virus.
No school until vaccination numbers rise
With lockdowns ongoing across Uganda, classes are not planned to resume until January at the earliest.
While easing some lockdown restrictions last month, President Museveni said schools would not reopen until enough students, teachers, and non-teaching staff got at least their first jab of a two-dose vaccine.
So far, less than 8% of Ugandans fulfill this requirement, while only 2% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though the country is also currently registering low coronavirus infections and deaths, as well.
Lawmaker Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, however, told Anadolu Agency that proposals to reopen schools after vaccinating roughly 15 million children amounted to "daydreaming" as the country has failed to vaccinate its vulnerable people estimated to number 4.8 million.
Cumulatively, 125,788 cases have been confirmed in Uganda as of Monday, along with 3,200 deaths, according to the Africa CDC.
Disproportionate effect on girls
The continued closure of schools has resulted in a major setback for girls in particular. Even when they reopen, many will have to struggle to resume their education.
Zaituni Sitenda, a teacher in the southern district of Masaka, told Anadolu Agency that female students were among the worst-affected by the pandemic-induced school closure, with a significant increase in child marriages and teenage pregnancies -- up to 45% in some districts such as Kitgum, Ngora, Kyegegwa, Kasese, and Lyantonde.
The government requires pregnant girls not to attend school after the first months of pregnancy until the baby is six months old. Due to this long period, adolescent pregnancy is thought to account for 59% of school dropout cases in Uganda.
Many activists have campaigned for authorities to reopen schools, as the long-lasting consequences of such a long closure on children and their education remain to be seen.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.