FCA expands work in Ukraine closer to the front line
Education rehabilitation work begins in Kharkiv, in addition to ongoing projects in northern Ukraine and Kyiv region.
FCA UKRAINE is expanding to Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, which has suffered serious damage during the Russian invasion. FCA’s education work in Ukraine, which began in 2022, has up to now been focused on Chernihiv and Zhytomyr in northern Ukraine and the region of the capital, Kyiv.
In Kharkiv, FCA plans to rehabilitate schools damaged during the war, equip bomb shelters and invest in psychosocial support for schoolchildren and teachers.
“Expanding our work to Kharkiv is a big step. It means that in the future we will be working closer to the front line of the war and in an area that was liberated only a few months ago,” says Patricia Maruschak, country manager for Ukraine.
In Kharkiv, teaching still takes place remotely, as face-to-face teaching is still considered too dangerous due to ongoing conflict. However, FCA’s work is already looking to the future.
“We want to make sure that the school’s bomb shelters are equipped and functional when the schools are able to open their doors again for classroom teaching,” explains Maruschak.
Psychosocial support for schoolchildren and teachers
The expansion to Kharkiv is part of an EU-funded training project, which also includes FCA’s partner organisations Save the Children International, People in Need, and War Child Holland.
The first schools renovated with EU funds are already in operation in Chernihiv in northern Ukraine. In two schools damaged during bombing, windows were replaced and interior damage repaired. As a result, 1,500 pupils have been able to return to education. At the beginning of summer, more school repairs will be completed.
FCA’s education work goes further than physical repairs, however. Our projects emphasise caring for the mental resilience of Ukrainians in often difficult situations, where children have had to leave their homes, family members are at the front, or loved ones have died. In Chernihiv, FCA has organised psychosocial support activities and training for schoolchildren and teachers. Similar work will go ahead in Kharkiv as well.
Foundation’s donation secures the learning of kindergarten students
FCA has also supported Ukrainian educational institutions in purchasing equipment to assist classroom learning. At the end of April, with the support of the Pirkko and Tarmo Vahvelaisen Foundation, FCA gave electronic tablets to three kindergartens in the Kyiv region. An educational application was pre-installed on the tablets, specially developed for children under the age of 6 in kindergartens with age-appropriate tasks for learning.
The tablet with its applications contains more than 1,800 different tasks and games, which allow young children to study both with kindergarten staff and at home with their families. The app also works offline, so learning can continue even during an air raid in a bomb shelter.
Quality education is a super power, which stems from a genuine desire to build a better life and to help others do the same.
The right to quality education is an essential requirement if we want to reduce poverty and create jobs, achieve economic growth, equality and stable democracies, and combat climate change. Once you have an education, no war or crisis can take it away. It is therefore essential that we invest in education that is accessible to all children and young people – including girls and young women, and vulnerable children and youth, especially those with disabilities.
For children living in areas affected by conflict, crisis and disasters, schools offer a safe environment. 222 million children and young people living in areas affected by crisis need support for education.
We believe that the very fact that access to education is one of the priorities of many countries’ development cooperation programmes – including that of our country of origin, Finland – it should be more strongly reflected in the allocation of humanitarian assistance.
Education must adapt to a changing world
Education is increasingly important in an ever-changing world. It provides people with the knowledge and skills they need to better adapt to new environmental demands and to solve new problems. Similarly, education plays a key role in instilling democracy, human rights and sustainable development. In most parts of world, climate change is currently not even mentioned in the curriculum.
In African countries, some 10-12 million young people enter the labour market every year, but only three million new jobs are created. Vocational education and training or entrepreneurship training remains on the sidelines in many developing countries. There is a significant mismatch between young people’s skills and employers’ needs.
In order to improve access to quality education, more attention should be paid to teacher training and the well-being of teachers. Sadly, however, teachers are rarely consulted when efforts are made to create better education and training programmes.
Vocational education and training must also evolve
Increasingly, jobs are being created in sectors for which vocational training is non-existent or insufficient, such as creative industries, digital transformation and the green transition.
FCA, as a longstanding expert in the education field, has much to offer in several areas, including vocational education and training, investment in new industries, and teacher skills and competence development. Our roots in Finland and the high regard Finnish education standards are held reflect that expertise. Finland’s educational expertise and its school system have gained recognition worldwide. Education is a priority in Finland’s development policy, and there is a broad consensus among Finns that support for education is essential. We know that to achieve the best results, it is important to bring together civil society organisations, the private sector and public sector organisations.
We know that to achieve the best results, it is important to bring together civil society organisations, the private sector and public sector organisations.
At FCA we pioneer vocational training in the creative industries and circular economy livelihoods. We are urging governments, including Finland’s, to invest more in technical and vocational education and training, especially those that offer youth a chance to earn while they learn.
Our vision for quality education
We want to push forward the role of education and training in development cooperation with updated strategies to focus on youth and digital and green economies.
Many organisations focus on primary school aged children, which is essential, but we want to ensure access to quality education to all and that means supporting youth and adults as well.
Quality education won’t happen without properly trained teachers. We also want to focus on teacher skills, competence development and support for teachers’ work. These are areas that are currently unaddressed in international education cooperation and where FCA and Finland has something to offer.
Each year, we supported between 245,000 and 350,000 children and young people to go to school.
With the help of our support, a total of 2,700 disabled children accessed education or continued their schooling.
In addition, we invested significantly in the development of inclusive education as part of teacher training in several program countries.
We trained nearly 20,000 local teachers around the world in our countries of operation.
Through long-term advocacy work, career counselling was included in Cambodia’s national education strategy. FCA trained the first study counselors in the country.
In 2022, we supported education in Ukraine amid crisis caused by the ongoing war. We trained teachers to provide psychosocial support to children and organised summer activities for around 6,000 children in the Chernihiv region, a part of Ukraine that was shortly occupied by Russia at the start of the war.
Girls in class boost boys’ grades in a Syrian school
Although the crisis in Syria has disappeared from headlines in recent years, the need for help remains extensive. A boys’ school supported by Finn Church Aid opened its doors to girls in the countryside of Hama. The new set-up was a challenge to the pupils, teachers, and families alike, but the efforts have been rewarded.
THE JOYFUL NOISE is deafening. In the countryside of Hama in western Syria, around 30 girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 14 have packed into a tiny classroom.
The situation might seem ordinary, but in today’s Syria, it’s a rare one. The war has dragged on for almost 12 years, and during its course, girls and boys have gone to separate schools. School directors assure that this hasn’t always been the case; before the war, girls and boys sat in the same classes. During the war, rules and practices became stricter.
Together with the EU humanitarian aid, Finn Church Aid supports a former boy’s school that has taken on girls in 2022. FCA support refurbished the school and provided teacher training. 380 girls took part in remedial lessons organised in the summer, and now there are approximately two dozen girls in the school of 400 students.
The school staff say that the reforms has filled the classrooms with cheerful energy and positive competition. A teacher and two students share their experiences of life in wartime and how the school experiment that brought girls and boys in the same classrooms has broken the ice in the community.
“Now I even have boys as friends”
“My family didn’t flee; we stayed in this region throughout the conflict. In 2018–2019, we spent a year sheltering below our house, for about 20 hours a day. I was 11 years old, and I was afraid when I heard helicopters, missiles, or shells. One of them hit our house, and my brother blacked out. We had no water or electricity. My father had a small store, and we emptied it in a year.
My girls’ school was closed that year. Once my father tried to take me to a school in another district, but that didn’t work out. Everyone was scared, and there weren’t any teachers. We dropped education for that year.
I think my situation is better now than it was before. The atmosphere in the mixed school is happy. Previously, when I was attending an all-girls school, it was difficult for me to talk to boys. Now I even have boys as friends. My school friends Ahmad, Muhammad, Ali, and others are part of our group of friends. I used to just be friends with the boys in my family.
Initially my family was concerned that the boys in school would harm me. However, this experience has strengthened the relationship I have with my family. They trust me, and they think that their daughter can go to a boys’ school and look after herself.
What do I think about girls’ education? Education is my right. Studying, working, and travelling are women’s rights. We have exactly the same rights as men. Our place isn’t just at home. I hope to become a doctor or an engineer.” – Student Foton, 14
“I suppose they are strong women in a way”
“My family and I left our home, when the battles in our region were really intense. We fled and took nothing with us. Throughout the entire conflict I was really scared because of the shells and missiles. I still have anxiety thinking someone might attack us.
Finn Church Aid organised revision lessons in our school. The sounds of the war have been playing in my head for a long time, but the activities gave me something else to think about and helped me forget about the horrors.
This is my school, and it used to be just us boys here. We were all somehow similar. Now we boys want to prove that we’re smarter than girls. We compete for good grades in front of the teachers. We try to be polite and respectful towards the girls. Things can often get tough among the boys, but now there are girls in the classroom, too.
During this experiment, we boys have gained more self-confidence. I’m used to thinking that girls are shy. When they came to our school, I noticed that girls are confident. I suppose they are strong women in a way.
I don’t mind continuing like this at all, studying together with girls. I have to admit that it hasn’t been very easy. I sometimes feel a little shy and think that it would be better if they went back to their own school. But would I really want that? No, no, no! They boost study motivation for us boys. – Student Turki, 13
“Now girls and boys are classmates, friends, and colleagues”
“A lot has changed in Syria during the war. In many respects, rules have been forgotten, and sometimes groups of people don’t respect each other. During the war years, we have lost plenty of opportunities and been left behind in global development.
We have to fix our ways of thinking in terms of gender issues as well, because we must be able to accept each other. It’s important to start driving the change here at school. Why? As a teacher I want to think that all of my students will move on to university studies. At university, women and men study together. That will be difficult, if these young people have never done anything together before.
It’s great to have girls in this school. Unlike before, now we have activities and teaching that bring boys and girls together. I’ve noticed that after the initial awkwardness they’ve started talking to each other. They treat each other normally: sit and learn next to each other, without having to constantly interpret the situation. Now they are classmates, friends, and colleagues to each other. The ice has somehow been broken.
Girls tend to do better in school than boys but, bringing girls in the former all boys’ school has showed boys are now improving their grades. FCA support refurbished the school in Hama, western part of Syria, and provided teacher training. 380 girls took part in remedial lessons organised in the summer, and now there are approximately two dozen girls in the school of 400 students. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA
As an English teacher I must say that the reform has had its share of challenges. The girls who joined the school hadn’t really studied English before, and I’ve had to revise everything from the beginning.
Ultimately, this situation has been really useful. Based on my experience, girls tend to do better in school than boys. A new situation, in which the girls and boys take the same classes, creates positive competition between the students. The boys have improved their grades and overall performance.
Education plays a significant role when we plan a future for Syria. Children spend more time in school than at home, and a teacher is like an extra parent to a child. Everything starts at school: we can impact the child’s ways of thinking, help them develop their skills, and thus also have an impact on the direction Syria takes and how reconstruction proceeds.” – Teacher Najah Kasem
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki Photos: Erik Nyström
Ugandan delegation benchmarks Finland’s education system ahead of reform
The Ugandan Education Policy Review Commission consisting of researchers, educationists, economists, policy analysts and former ministers, arrived in Finland as guests of Finn Church Aid. During the week-long visit, the delegation visited various educational institutions and met Finland’s top experts in education.
THE FINNISH EDUCATION system received plenty of praise from the Ugandan experts who visited Finland as guests of Finn Church Aid in late September and early October 2022.
“The educational environment encourages and supports learning.”
“The teachers seem to love their job and be proud of their profession.”
“The teachers are highly educated and have good pedagogical skills, including in preschool education.”
“Vocational schools teach skills that help find job opportunities.”
During their week-long stay, the delegation visited a Finnish daycare and kindergarten centre as well as comprehensive and vocational schools and met with local authorities.
The aforementioned quotes are from a discussion meeting held during the visit, where the members of the commission were reflecting on what they’d learned.
The reason for their visit is a fundamental one. Uganda is planning a wide-ranging educational reform, which would increase the quality and effectiveness of its education system.
In regard to the reform, the Minister of Education and Sports and First Lady of Uganda, Janet K Museveni, appointed a Commission comprised of Ugandan education experts. The primary function of the Education Policy Review Commission is to draft a new policy framework for education and sport in Uganda that would replace the current Government White Paper on Education of 1992.
Thus, it’s possible that there will be a nugget of Finnish expertise in the Ugandan school system in the future. The commission also plans to benchmark education systems from other countries to broaden their knowledge and understanding before submitting their recommendations. “Many things in Finland inspire me. One is the structure of education and how it has been built from early childhood all the way to a doctoral degree. All Finns I interacted with seemed to understand this structure,” says Monica Abenakyo Monge, a member of the commission.
Quality education at the core of FCA’s work in Uganda
The delegation says that the Ugandan school system is battling against a diverse range of challenges, including inadequate funding, weak school-level management structures, inadequate availability of learning materials, and large class sizes. A major issue is also the availability of teachers in disadvantaged areas and a lack of accommodation for teachers in rural, hard-to-reach areas.
The delegation emphasised that there is much to learn from the research-based Finnish education system. Currently, the most important goal of learning in Uganda seems to be more academic. Poorly performing students don’t receive the support they need, leading to them being left outside the system.
FCA has operated in Uganda since 2014, focusing on improving comprehensive and secondary education, particularly in the immense refugee communities. FCA’s work particularly highlights the importance of the quality of education arising from trained teachers, carefully prepared curricula, and safe learning environments.
“The Commission’s visit also supports the efforts of FCA, as it gives us an opportunity to shape Uganda’s new education policy,” concludes Wycliffe Nsheka, the Country Director for FCA Uganda.
Vocational education looks into the future
Recently FCA has particularly concentrated on supporting vocational education in Uganda, as professional skills and entrepreneurial competence improve people’s opportunities to make a living for themselves and their families. In Uganda, companies are in massive need of trained employees, and hence there is educational collaboration with the private sector.
Visiting a Finnish vocational school was a particularly memorable experience for the delegation.
“What especially stuck with me was the thought that vocational schools teach for the future. We tend to stay with the past and use traditional methods that are no longer suitable in today’s world. Training people to meet the needs of the labour market is also very important,” Monica notes.
Could Finns learn a lesson from Uganda?
“The environment is different. Finland has gone through all kinds of things in its development to what it is now. I’ve imagined what it would be like to teach here. Nothing could stop me, but would you survive in a challenging learning environment? If a Finnish teacher visited my school or village, they would understand and appreciate my efforts,” Monica says.
The visiting delegation also included the Commission chair and former Minister of Education, Hon Nuwe Amanya Mushega as well as commission members and experts Hon John Mwoono Nasasira, Jacklyn Arinaitwe Makaaru, Prof John David Kabasa, Lillian Nabiryo, Monica Abenakyo Monge and Proscovia Kasemire.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki
The tenth UN International Day of the Girl Child will be celebrated on 11 October
The United Nations International Day of the Girl Child calls attention to the fact that girls’ access to education also helps families, communities and society. In Somalia, Finn Church Aid works to promote girls’ access to education and their inclusion in peace work.
HAWA, 16, does not take education for granted. In Somalia, studying is something many young people Hawa’s age can only dream of. Hawa’s dream is to learn English properly.
“That way I could talk to all kinds of people,” she explains to Finn Church Aid (FCA) at her school, Mama Gedia.
For children and young people in poor and fragile Somalia, there’s very little room for dreaming. Decades of conflict have left the country practically devoid of infrastructure. To make matters worse, the country is gripped by a devastating and protracted drought that threatens food security.
In September, the World Food Programme warned of a risk of famine in the region. The war in Ukraine is disrupting grain imports, inflation has more than doubled the price of food in some places, and local conflicts and terrorist attacks weaken the security situation. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes due to violence, or lost their livelihoods as a result of the drought. All of this contributes to a cycle of poverty.
Without external assistance, Hawa would not be able to go to school as her parents can’t afford school fees. With FCA’s support, they can pay Hawa’s school fees, learning materials or school uniforms.
Hawa calls her teachers her role models. She appreciates their encouragement and the high quality of teaching provided.
“I’m full of energy and I want to use this opportunity to get an education,” she says. “When I grow up, I want to work for a humanitarian organisation.”
THE TENTH UN International Day of the Girl Child will be celebrated on 11 October. While attention over the past ten years has been called to the importance of offering girls more opportunities, much work remains to be done. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have further increased the burden on girls and threaten to reverse progress already made.
But, as the UN points out, with adversity comes resourcefulness, creativity, tenacity, and resilience. On its theme day website, the UN points out that hundreds of millions of girls have shown time and time again that given the skills and the opportunities, they can be the changemakers driving progress in their communities.
Finn Church Aid works to support girls’ access to education by distributing school uniforms and supplies to those in the most vulnerable position. FCA also supports parents’ livelihoods, organises awareness campaigns, builds schools and classrooms, and supplies furniture and teaching materials.
“In Somalia, the education sector is facing enormous challenges, starting with teachers’ competence and the lack of a sufficient and accessible school network”, says Ikali Karvinen, FCA’s Country Director in Somalia. “School buildings are in poor condition, groups are too big, and teachers lack proper training.”
While overcrowded classes are a problem in many schools, dropping out of school is another big issue, Karvinen says. In most cases, dropping out is associated with poverty. From an early age, children have to help their families to earn a living.
IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES, girls are in a particularly vulnerable position for various reasons. According to Karvinen, there are cultural and traditional as well as structural reasons for this. Girls’ education is not considered as important as boys’, because girls are expected to stay at home and help parents with household chores and with earning a living.
Many families refuse to send girls to school because the journey to school is unsafe. FCA is contributing to making schools safer. In Hawa’s school, Mama Gedia, FCA created a channel that pupils can use to report threatening situations to teachers.
For girls, some of the reasons for dropping out can be very simple: the lack of hygiene facilities or single-sex toilets can be a significant issue for teenage girls. To reduce dropout rates among girls, it is important to provide relevant health information, organise proper sanitary facilities and make sanitary pads available.
In Karvinen’s opinion, it’s also crucial to raise community awareness of girls’ rights to education and the positive effects it has on families, communities and the entire country.
“Generation after generation of dropouts and a growing number of people with no education will generate an intellectual deficit. This will make the country increasingly dependent on external aid provided by international organisations, both on a shorter and longer horizon.”
LUL MOHAMED NUR, headteacher at Mama Gedia school is one of the 16-year-old Hawa’s role models. According the school principle, there are now more girls than boys in the school.
“This is the result of our tireless campaigning to make families understand why sending girls to school is important. It seems that the community has heard and accepted our message.”
Abdullahi Moallin Ali, chairman of the community’s education committee, agrees that campaigning significantly contributed to the change in attitudes. More and more families decided to send their children to school after they found out that they don’t have to pay school fees or pay for school uniforms or learning materials.
Children themselves can also feel nervous about going to school. 10-year-old Suleqo thinks it is important that all children regardless of gender have access to education, and she wants all parents to give their children equal opportunities. At first this little albino girl was reluctant to go to school herself.
“At first she resisted, but now she’s used to going to school and she likes it,” her mother Hamaro Mohamed Nur explains.
Because of her albinism, Suleqo’s vision is impaired. Her teacher placed her near the blackboard so that she can see what teachers write.
“Suleqo became much more interested in school after she received her school uniform and learning materials. Now she has plenty of energy and she really likes her teachers,” Suleqo’s mother says.
ACUTE CRISES tend to divert attention from long-term goals. In Somalia, famine threatens almost seven million people, or half of the country’s population.
Karvinen emphasises that while the help of the international community is vital in an acute crisis, it is equally important not to lose sight of the long-term objectives.
Finn Church Aid’s work focuses on peacebuilding; this includes supporting the national reconciliation process and inclusive local government. Other key focus areas include the promotion of education and livelihoods. In Somaliland, FCA has supported two vocational schools with the incorporation of career counselling and entrepreneurship education into the curriculum. With support from FCA, students have been encouraged to pursue entrepreneurial activities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, FCA built learning facilities in hard-to-reach areas and provided training to teachers to allow children to stay in school. FCA helped build 10 new temporary schools and 16 renovated classrooms in the cities of Baidoa, Hudur and Elbarde. Almost half of the students in these schools are girls.
Peace work does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of something bigger, Karvinen underlines. FCA works to promote the inclusion of young people and women in peacebuilding by organising events that give marginalised groups an opportunity to be heard. FCA also supports the BAYWAN network of women’s organisations in southwest Somalia.
THERE IS ALWAYS hope, even in the face of famine, violence and insecurity. FCA’s Karvinen underlines the importance and impact of small changes and improvements. A simple way to improve safety in schools is to build a fence around the area and to have access control in place.
“School is the safest place for many children. Being at school protects children from being exploited as child labour or ending up in the hands of terrorist organisations.”
According to Karvinen, children who go to school enjoy learning new things, which increases their satisfaction and creates optimism about the future. Education makes children and young people better equipped to make healthier choices in life. The repercussions are significant: as people become healthier and more educated, they will be able to accept responsibility for services, security and respect for human rights in their country.
Education can also empower girls to put an end to harmful traditional practices. During the COVID-19 lockdown, there were reports of an increase in female genital mutilation.
“Educated girls and women are instrumental in the fight against this human rights violation,” Karvinen notes.
Providing educational opportunities for girls is of paramount importance.
“An educated woman wants her children to receive an education. This is the virtuous cycle that FCA wants to reinforce,” Karvinen concludes.
Your donation allows Finn Church Aid to e.g.:
distribute school supplies and school uniforms to children
provide income opportunities for parents so that children can go to school
organise awareness campaigns designed to help parents understand how important education is for their children
build schools and classrooms, supply blackboards, desks, textbooks and teaching materials for schools
“I am already eager to try out all these new techniques in practice” – 71 Ukrainian teachers and psychologists honed their skills on how to deal with trauma
School is an important meeting place where children can get help dealing with issues that weigh on their minds. That’s why we train Ukrainian teachers and school psychologists on psychosocial skills.
71 TEACHERS and school psychologists received training on mental health and psychosocial skills in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine. Finn Church Aid organised the training in cooperation with the local educational authorities.
The trainer was the experienced psychologist, consultant Koen Sevenants. The two-day training included lectures, discussions, role-plays and group work. The goal was to strengthen the readiness of staff working in Ukrainian schools to deal with children and young people who have had to go through traumatic experiences due to the ongoing war.
“What is valuable here is that we work with a coach who is an understanding person with experience internationally from working with people, particularly children, of different backgrounds who have gone through various traumatic events,” explains psychologist Liudmyla Lozova, who participated in the training.
The training covered the effects of trauma on children and adults. Trained teachers and school psychologists were introduced to different tools, which they can later use in their own work.
”The information is conveyed in a manner that’s very easy to perceive. I am already eager to try all these new techniques out in practice,” Lozova continues and says that she has already found similar trainings useful in her own work.
Psychologist Iryna Lisovetska says that she has been working as a volunteer psychologist ever since conflict started in the Donbass region in 2014. She has already worked with, for example, internally displaced children, soldiers and the families of fallen military personnel.
”Now, having gone through the war personally, having spent some time under shelling and bombardments, we empathise with those people we are assisting much better. Both adults and children,” Lisovetska reflects.
She says that she participated in the training because she believes that the new skills will be useful later in her work of responding to the trauma created by the ongoing war.
Missile strikes hit the area during the training
Education in emergencies is at the core of FCA’s work. Children and young people who live in the middle of conflicts benefit from the continuity and sense of belonging that schools bring to their everyday life.
School is also an important meeting place, where children can find support from adults and seek help in dealing with stressful issues. That is why it is important that school staff – such as teachers and psychologists – have adequate tools to address trauma.
Yannic Georis, FCA’s emergency response manager in Ukraine, who followed the training on site, says that based on the feedback, the participants were very satisfied with the training and its contents.
“The atmosphere was good, and the feedback was 99 percent positive. We are still going through the feedback, but at first glance the participants seem very satisfied,” he said.
The invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 and has lasted for more than four months. There are currently no Russian troops in the Chernihiv area, but Russia carried out missile strikes in the area during the training.
“One participant had to leave the training in tears because her home was on fire. In addition, the home of one local staff member from FCA was damaged in the attack in the nearby Desna area,” Georis describes.
Finn Church Aid and the city of Chernihiv recently signed a cooperation agreement, thanks to which educational work can continue in the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine. In the next phase of the education response work, summer activities, such as sports, arts and games, will be organised for up to 15.000 children in the area. For this FCA has ensured that teachers will be trained to also respond to children who have further need of psychosocial support.
According to Ukrainian estimates, bombings have destroyed and damaged more than 1,800 schools. The students are currently on summer vacation, but classes are supposed to start again in September.
After two years of closures, Ugandan schools reopened and refugees eagerly returned to classrooms
Schools were closed in spring 2020 as Uganda went into lockdown due to COVID-19. Over fifteen million children were out of school, including more than 600,000 primary and secondary aged refugee students.
ISAAC MUNYUZA’S favourite subject is biology, and he dreams of becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, for the last year, he has been working as an unskilled labourer while schools in Uganda were closed to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Schools were closed in June 2021 as the country went into lockdown following a second wave of COVID-19. Over fifteen million children were out of school, including more than 600,000 primary and secondary aged refugee students.
Munyuza, who is eighteen, fled Congo with his parents and siblings in 2014 following the war that left hundreds of people dead and others injured.
“Life was hard in Congo. We were always terrified that soldiers would come and kill us. Because of the uncertainty, we decided to cross the border into Uganda and seek refuge,” he says as he sits on the doorstep of his home in Kyaka II refugee settlement in Western Uganda.
“Now I will be able to walk to school”
Munyuza is one of the students that will be joining Bukere Secondary School on January 10th 2022 when schools reopen. The new school was constructed in Kyaka refugee settlement by Finn Church Aid (FCA) with funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
“My new school has a laboratory so I will be able to do my practical lessons from there,” he adds.
“Bukere secondary school…its closer to home. Now I will be able to walk to school and arrive on time before classes start. I used to reach late at my former school because it was far, and I had to walk a long distance. Sometimes I would even miss school,” says Munyuza. Prior to the school closure, Munyuza was studying from Bujubuli secondary school which is about ten kilometres away from his home.
The new secondary school will help reduce the reduce the number of students in the classroom which is expected to be huge in January 2022. This is because each grade will have a double cohort of students that couldn’t move on to the next grade due to the pandemic.
“Construction of more classrooms to cater for the big number of students is underway, and we are equipping teachers with knowledge and skills to handle large classes once schools resume. We have given teachers, parents and learners psychosocial support to mentally prepare them for the reopening,” says Dennis Okullu Ogang, FCA´s Education Specialist.
“At Bukere Secondary school we have already enrolled over 250 students to attend senior one, two and three.” says Vallence Tukacungurwa the Head Teacher at Bukere Secondary school.
Schools with special support
During lockdown, FCA ensured that over 70,000 children at all levels could continue learning by providing home learning/self-study materials developed by the National Development Curriculum Centre (NCDC) to students. Children from vulnerable families were supplied with radio handsets and, teachers conducted live radio lessons. Home learning was further supported by small community learning groups and home visits.
Still, many students faced significant barrier to their education. Over 90,000 girls under 18 years have become pregnant while under lockdown according to a United Nations Population Fund 2020 report on teenage pregnancy and FCA is working hand in hand with the government to allow them to attend school.
“FCA is also rolling out the Ministry of Education ‘s policy on prevention and managing teenage pregnancy in schools in Uganda so that schools can accept girls who became pregnant during school closure by supporting them with counselling through the school system so that they can continue with learning” says Okullu Ogang.
One of these measures is a collaboration with the nearby health facilities so that they can assist in case of an emergency.
Another measure that aims to help these and other students complete their studies is the condensed curriculum for primary and lower secondary students. Funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (EU/ECHO), this will allow refugees and Ugandans who are now over school age to complete their studies.
Significant resources have also been spent so that children with disabilities will be welcomed into the classroom.
“We have established schools with specialized facilities for children with disabilities. We have set up a full-fledged Special Needs Education (SNE) School in Adjumani and an SNE specialised school in Kyaka refugee settlement to cater for children with severe disabilities. We have also recruited and deployed teachers who are specialised in SNE,” says Okullu Ogang.
Preparing for a safe return to the classroom
“Our teachers have been moving around the settlement sensitizing the community about the Standard Operating Procedures directed by the Government of Uganda to curb the spread of COVID-19. We have also mobilized to ensure that teachers get vaccinate,” says Tukacungurwa, adding that they have been informing people about the services available at the new school.
Preventing COVID-19 takes more than just talk and so FCA has provided equipment like infrared thermometers/temperature guns, handwashing stations, sanitizer, soap and facemasks to over one hundred schools and Early Childhood Development Centres within the refugee settlements.
“We have also trained school surveillance teams comprising of students, senior management members and teachers to be able to fully monitor adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures at the schools,” says Okullu Ogang.
FCA has done everything that they can to make sure that schools continue to be safe spaces for children to learn and staff are proud to open their doors again to classrooms. The staff at Bukere Secondary School have gone even further by making their school are pleasant environment to learn.
“Currently we are in the process of beautifying the school. We have planted trees, slashed the compounds and are cleaning all the facilities like the classrooms which have been unused for quite some time,” says Tukacungurwa.
Standing at the doorway of his new classroom, Munyuza appreciates their efforts. “I am excited to go back to school. I like my new school,” he says.