Digital learning as schools stay closed in Uganda: Children raise a red flag.
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Children are calling upon government to ensure regulation of the digital learning platforms to safeguard them against harmful content as schools stay closed in Uganda. This comes ahead of the international day of the Girl child on11th October 2021 under the theme: Digital generation, our generation. It is now two years since schools were closed by government as a preventive measure against further spread of COVID 19, leaving many children with no access to physical classes, an opportunity to socialize with their peers, and stuck in homes. Addressing journalists ahead of the International Day for the Girl Child, the Children revealed that some digital platforms subject them to unpleasant content which distracts them from learning and therefore undermine their right to education. Paula Stacy Nakimuli, a member of High Sound for Children (HSC) Media club says whereas digital platforms would be an option for learning during the covid19 pandemic, the platforms are not entirely safe especially for the girl child. “Oooh those ads pop up while having a lesson, last time I was having my lesson Yes I admit…there was a porn ad, some can click on it to watch, exposing children to harmful content”- Paula recounted Joshua Muraya, another member of the HSC Media club, called on the government to ensure that online content is suitable for children to secure the digital learning platforms if they are to enjoy their right to education. “These ads are not really suitable for our young age, and these can really disrupt the lessons that are being conducted. I call out to the ministry of ICT and national guidance because they have to oversee making sure websites and apps where platforms are downloaded are safe” Joshua appealed Besides safety, the million-dollar question is who benefits from the digital teaching option? Ali Kiggundu is a senior two student at Kingstone High School and a member of the HSC media clubs. He explains that most children both in rural and urban areas cannot access the digital learning platforms including radio sets. Kiggundu paints a picture of a parent who must make a tough decision either to buy batteries for a radio set in order for a son/ daughter to attend a learning session on radio when the household has no basics like food or salt. This is not to mention that some households have no electricity but even those that have, many of them cannot afford electricity or even lack power. He goes on to indicate that accessibility to the digital teaching sessions is not only inaccessible to those in the rural or poor setting but it is equally a challenge for those in the urban areas as internet connection is not a guarantee coupled with the expensive internet Data. Noreen Fatima Alexandria another child who spoke to the media does not miss her words; she says that digitized learning is not enabling all Children to enjoy the right to Education in this Covid19 Pandemic. Her justification is that some children are sitting at home and not learning because the digital teaching is very expensive, schools are asking for a lot of money to avail these digital teaching services. “Digital teaching is not fair for all children across the country; students who cannot afford the digital teaching services are going to be subjected to the same assessment at the end of the school term with those who are studying via digital platforms” Noreen intimated. “Some of us go to government schools and a few of us go to private schools, you find that even private schools charge a lot of money like they charge 200,000 for the digital class per month which is very expensive, and if it expensive for this parent in the urban area then what about those in the rural area” Noreen adds. Godfrey Busobozi, the chairperson of the Coalition of Uganda Private School Teachers Association who concurs with the children’s concerns, says it is high time the government rethinks and ensures regulation of these digital platforms which are not compatible with Uganda’s situation for the enjoyment of the right to education. In his capacity as a teacher and a parent, Busobozi asks whether stakeholders including parents, guardians, teachers, and policymakers, really know the how to navigate the platforms. “Just as the children testified, who filters the content, the ministry of ICT, the ministry of Education doesn’t have control over those digital platforms to ensure that children do not consume adult content?” -Mr Busobozi asks. Busobozi further wonders whether there was any sensitization for the children across country on how they can use the gadgets in this era of e-learning and whether the government designed programs specifically for use in this kind of education. “If we are not careful and we do not pay attention to this e-learning, we are likely to cause a lot of problems that what we are solving”-Busobozi warns It is against these experiences that the children urge relevant government authorities to ensure all children enjoy their right to education by availing practical modalities instead of relying on Digital learning that is not applicable for most Ugandan children.