IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Lockdown in Uganda had a significant impact on young people’s learning and livelihoods

21 October 2020

A new UCL Institute of Education (IOE) working paper reveals that lockdown in Uganda had a significant impact on young people’s livelihoods, leaving many families without financial means to purchase basic goods like sugar, salt or soap.

Empty Ugandan classroom. Image: Dr Simone Datzberger.

The effects of loss of income were most marked among those who were most disadvantaged, including young women and men already out of school before the lockdown.

The research, led by Professor Jenny Parkes (Department of Education, Practice and Society), analyses data from mobile phone interviews with 34 young Ugandans (mainly aged 16-19 years) on how response measures during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda affected their lives. The interviews are contextualized within longitudinal biographical narratives of these young people that have been developed since 2018 as part of the Contexts of Violence in Adolescence Cohort Study.

The young people interviewed who were still enrolled in school suffered from the loss of education. For many of them, the costs associated with secondary schooling were already hard to bear, and the school closures may lower their chances of completing secondary school. With many of them due to take public examinations later in the year, there was anxiety about payments needed when schools reopen, whether they could afford repeating years if they fail or are unable to retake exams, and whether the loss of family income during the crisis would stop them from being able to return to school.

Gender influenced experiences of the lockdown in several ways. Some young people perceived domestic violence to have increased in their communities, particularly affecting women and girls, and aggravated by men’s loss of income and employment. The lockdown restricted young people’s social lives, with fewer opportunities to meet up or stay in touch with friends. However, this was particularly marked among girls, who often remained confined to their homes, and some, who had moved from urban to rural communities during the lockdown, spoke of loneliness and missing the support of friends.

Boys were more able to maintain contact with their friends than girls, as they had more access to mobile phones and in some instances still found ways to meet up with their friends in community settings.

The report offers several recommendations for policymakers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international development partners and agencies, including:

  • Tailoring approaches to combat the impact of the lockdown according to young people’s gender, age, socio-economic status, and location (rural, peri-urban and urban)
  • Providing additional economic support, particularly for those in low-income households
  • Providing additional resources to help young people return to schools when they reopen. Along with waiving fees, governments could consider reducing drop-out through providing free school meals, and additional subsidies for those who are at a high risk of being unable to continue their studies due to the combined effects of schooling costs and economic insecurity caused by COVID-19.

Professor Parkes said: “Despite the depth of concerns that these findings show, within the narratives of the young people interviewed for this study, there was also a remarkable sense of endurance and self-reliance among families facing multiple pressures under lockdown.

“However, at the time of the interviews, there were few examples of young people receiving governmental support. This suggests that the diversity of effects of the crisis on young people, which these findings highlight, need much more careful consideration so that the policy and practice implications for government and non-governmental organisations at national, regional and local level are understood and taken forward.”

The study was conducted as part of a broader research project: Contexts of Violence in Adolescence Cohort Study, with partners from UCL Institute of Education, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Raising Voices, and the Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit, funded by the Medical Research Council.



  • Image credit: Dr Simone Datzberger