By E K Benj
Updated at 17:15 GMT on Monday 25th January, 21
MUKONO- Uganda for the first time joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day of Education. Celebrations were organised by Youth Coalition members for Sustainable Development Goals, geared by James Brian Ntwatwa the President of Incredible Youth International at the Headquarters in Kebembe village in Mukono.
United Nations Resident Coordinator and designated coordinator for Security in Uganda Ms Rosa Malango was the Chief Guest on the occasion attended by several UN officials and Korean philanthropists.
The celebrations began with a panel discussion by some members of Youth Coalition for SDGs on education led by Robert Kigongo under a theme “RECOVER AND REVITALIZE EDUCATION FOR THE COVID-19 GENERATION – THE ROLE OF THE UN IN PROMOTING TRANSFORMATIVE EDUCATION”
In her remarks H.E. Rosa Malango lauded the the CEO & President of Incredible Youth International, Representatives from the Government – SDG Secretariat, Representatives from Civil Society, UN Colleagues, Members of the Youth Coalition for SDGs, Youth from the Community and the Media for participating in this years celebrations.
Malango said the theme “Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation” is timely and that the Youth Coalition for SDGs has come a long way since it was formed during preparations for the UN and SDGs Awareness Month in October 2019 by bringing together youth organizations actively involved in contributing to achieving the SDGs under the auspices of the National SDG Secretariat within the Office of the Prime Minister and supported by the UN system. Since then, representatives from the Coalition, self-made leaders from across the nation, have been involved in key activities including preparations for the UN Emergency Appeal for COVID-19 and its impacts in April 2020, the II National Voluntary Report on Progress towards the achievement of the SDGs submitted to the UN General Assembly in July 2020 and the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) for 2021 – 2025 launched last year.
“As we commemorate International Education Day, we recognize that COVID-19 has created a child rights crisis. According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries across the world. Since the closure of schools in Uganda on 20th March 2020 about 20 million learners in pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have been out of school 10 months affecting their quality of life and their future.” Malango added that COVID-19 has intensified disparities by reducing opportunities for the most vulnerable including learners with disabilities, girls, learners in rural or urban poor communities, refugees and displaced persons. Like in other sectors, COVID-19 has stimulated innovation thanks to concerted efforts of government, development partners, teachers, parents and learners. It has demonstrated the shared commitment to sustain safe spaces for children and youth where they can learn skills, values and substance at community levels which I witnessed during my field visits.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a once in a generation opportunity to reimagine education and empower a new generation. The pace of change is accelerating, with innovations introduced at an unprecedented rate and scale. Uganda, the world’s second youngest nation, must maintain an enabling environment for this much needed generation of digital entrepreneurs, leaders and social innovators. If Uganda is to achieve its national vision and the SDGs it must find ways to invest concurrently in green industrialization and the knowledge economy.” Malango said.
She also noted that the great strides being witnessed in health, agri-business and production require a large community of researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers etc who can exchange knowledge, create jobs, share solutions and empower the next generation.
“Now is the time to bring together communities of cultural and religious leaders, gender and human rights activists, philanthropists and social investors, local and international executives, donors at various levels as well as political and security leaders to have a dialogue on how to overcome the current challenges and transform the current situation. Only then can we work together to mobilize the financial and expert resources required for a balanced investment in education, health and wellbeing, transformational governance, shared prosperity, as well as peace and justice for all.” She emphasized.
She called upon Uganda to seize this moment to rapidly modernize the education system, leveraging digital learning to unlock transformational change at a national scale, reaching every child and young person with quality learning by connecting them to the internet. Enabling every household to improve its quality of life by linking produce to markets and empowering communities to share positive values about tolerance, productivity and good citizenship. This she says will require significant commitment from decision makers in the public and private sectors to support innovation and protect access to internet in this digital age. She added will require updated regulations and debates on guidelines regarding managing access, skilling and learning by the new generation of Parliamentarians. However, must build on good practices and in this vein commended teachers for swiftly devising creative ways to adapt their lesson plans and teaching methods using online tools, mobile phones, television, newspapers and radios even though most had little experience in e-learning in remote communities.
She equally thanked teachers who are delivering self-study packages to learners which are greatly appreciated by parents and studentswith no connectivity.
“Ladies and gentlemen, achieving middle income status, consolidating gains made in infrastructure and sustaining peace will require significant investments in human capital development as well as in modalities to address both emerging threats and opportunities. I invite you to imagine what education can look like for children and young people in this country. We must ensure that civic education is part of critical foundational learning alongside literacy, math, entrepreneurship and digital technologies-specific skills.” Malango said.
She noticed that too many children in Africa, including Uganda – are not developing key skills, in part because African youth are the least digitally connected in the world,Uganda being no exception. “We must build on what we have learned and become better prepared to deal with future risks. The significant efforts we have made in so far is testament that if we work together, we can harness digital technologies to address some of the challenges in the education sector and inspire solutions for many.” She said.
“As the UN in Uganda, guided by our Cooperation Framework we will continue to support implementation of the National Development Plan III inspired by a shared national commitment to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 4 on Education which aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, recognizes teachers as key to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.” She added that empowering teachers to facilitate learning in this COVID-19 induced new normal which will require individual and collective action.
She highlighted some of the efforts in education by three members of the UN in Uganda: through UNESCO and partners. UN continues to support teachers’ professional development, teacher policy development as well as the use of technology for capacity building in education, vocational education and training. To keep children learning at home during COVID-19, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and the National Information Technology Authority introduced a free of charge easy to use digital learning platform – Kolibri – with content approved by the National Curriculum Development Center. Through the strategy focused on building an inclusive digital economy, UNCDF is engaging the Ministry of Education to apply solutions to address constraints related to the delivery of and access to quality education for segments of the population that are at risk of being left behind in Northern Uganda.
As she concluded, Malango reiterated UN commitment to support efforts to ensure that there is access to quality relevant education across this nation, to modernize the education system and to address the digital divide. “I would like to use this opportunity to thank all stakeholders who have invested in education and appeal to all of us to continue to work together to ensure that children, youth and adults can benefit from quality learning regardless of location. May we rise together during this COVID-19 period to reimagine education and learning for all; our African heritage calls on us to place our community at the epicenter of our development and the UN Charter calls on us to place our shared humanity at the epicenter of every journey towards shared prosperity-peace-democracy.” She quoted Nelson Mandela who once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”