In her own words: Back to school after two years of lockdown

By Sirena Cordova
March 9, 2022

Schools in Uganda have finally begun to reopen after two years of closed doors.  Girls are especially vulnerable to permanently losing their education due to COVID-19, but they’re not giving up. Here are the stories of four girls and young women — all of whom are renewing their hope and excitement for the future.

This story is part of a new blog series called “In Her Own Words,” where you’ll read incredibly powerful stories directly from the experts with whom we work: the girls themselves.

Please note the final story contains a reference to suicide which some may find upsetting.

 

Grace, 16

My name is Grace, and I am a student in lower secondary school. I feel super excited, and I am happy I am back in school — very happy. When I saw my teachers and friends, I was so happy and excited to see them. The first thing I said was thank you for persevering for this long.

The lockdown was not all that easy for me personally. My first experience, it was very difficult, and I tried so hard. I’m thankful that I’m through. I didn’t leave my books because I hoped that the schools would reopen again. I continued to do research. I asked my parents to support me, and they gave me a smart phone, so I googled things.

I actually used TV for my studies during the lockdown, but to be honest it wasn’t all that easy. Here, power might be off, so it was not stable.

Plan International helped girls a lot during lockdown. They organized radio talk shows so that we girls could talk to our peers. They discussed reproductive health rights, and it taught me a lot.

In terms of education, the thing I missed was interacting face to face with my teachers because online they are not there, but at school you feel free to ask questions; you don’t fear. We are behind but I hope that we can catch up. The teachers have organized extra lessons and remedial lessons, so we are behind, but I have hope that we can still catch up.

 

Jane, 18

I like school so much because I want to study very hard and become prime minister of our country. I’m requesting the government not to lockdown our schools again! Boys and girls in Uganda feel so excited to go back to school because they have been away for long, and they have missed a lot of work.

I missed a lot during lockdown. Now that we’re back at school, it will be easier to study. We’re going to catch up with our lessons, do remedial classes and go straight to the teacher if there’s something that defeats us and we don’t understand.

At school we can go ahead with our education. At home, we can’t get together and talk. We improve our English here and how to speak it, spelling and advice.

 

Moreen, 19

My first day back at school was January 10, 2022. I feel so excited that school has resumed and I am going to continue with my studies. The first thing I did when I got back into the classroom was notice that there was so much mess, so I swept the classroom, and I was so excited to see my friends back [at] school.

During the lockdown, it was hard. We were so committed to our domestic work, you couldn’t get time to revise.

I missed a lot — school and the teacher’s explanations. At home you couldn’t get anyone to help you. The best thing about going back to school is that I can achieve my dreams, and my dream is to become a lawyer.

It will be easier to study at school than to be at home where you don’t study. There’s no one [at home] to consult or ask to help you out with something that you don’t know. Like the library — we don’t have a library at home, and at school we have them. We can read some stories, and we have games at school like football and volleyball. You can relax and go play and come back.

Not all girls are going to feel good. My classmate didn’t come back to school because she got married and maybe she is not feeling okay about that. Her other friends are coming back to school but for her — she is not coming back. So, I think it’s not equal, that everyone feels the same way. Though I feel good, someone out there might be feeling bad.

All of the students that have been able to go back to school in Uganda are so excited.

 

Viola, 17

My name is Viola and I’m in [fourth year of secondary school]. I feel good because I was waiting for the school to reopen. The first thing I did was, I found the classroom was dirty, so I swept the classroom. Then, I read a little bit.

The lockdown was not all that good because there was a lot of work to do — domestic work, and you didn’t have time to [study]. Many times, you had to do domestic work.

During the lockdown I did study, because there was some time, I could squeeze in to review my books and the rest for domestic work. In my home, I used a radio to study. The teacher explains things, but I couldn’t see the illustrations or examples; there was no one to consult. You cannot catch up with notes.

I missed the explanations, and the library. At home we don’t have libraries to read stories or to add more to what the teacher has taught. The libraries at school are well-equipped.

Plan International has done a lot at school here. They taught us how to make [menstrual] pads, and distributed buckets and they built a girls’ dormitory.

 

Matthew, secondary school teacher

Most pupils are excited to come back after two years of lockdown. They’re so ready to learn in the classroom. I’m excited, because if you’re born a teacher, you die a teacher!

At first the feeling was not really okay. There were so many consequences for the children stuck at home. One, the lockdown was so unexpected. Suddenly there was no face-to-face contact with the teachers. Two, it has increased teenage pregnancy amongst school-aged children – many of whom are now child mothers and fathers.

Some learners have even committed suicide due to pressures at home, and they lost hope for school. Others fear learning and teachers, others who think they are not good enough now to sit in the classroom.

They are two years behind in the current curriculum, perhaps even more. I would request the time and resources to cover these lost two years. It is a little difficult for them to catch up.

They are not used to sitting in the classroom for a long time, and they have lost that discipline level. They have lost their school materials and resources. Also, they want to isolate themselves. They are fearful, and feel they are not good enough.

There are eight child mothers in the school here who are breastfeeding and learning. They are taken care of. We give them the platform to learn.

We have to guide and counsel those who are facing difficulties. We have to use good methods of teaching and be gender-sensitive towards our pupils who are from refugee and host communities. We have to listen to them and engage them in leadership and give them time to make decisions. The teachers have to be committed, follow the timetable and teach consistently.