Warning: Trying to access array offset on value of type bool in /usr/www/users/urnnet/a/story.php on line 43 Growing Number of Special Needs Learners Remain Classroom Tourists Amid Device Shortages, Policy Delays :: Uganda Radionetwork
Esther Kyozira, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIP), said although more learners are in classrooms, it has been established that their presence in school is more about passing time rather than gaining the education necessary to unlock their full potential.
Uganda has witnessed a
significant surge in the enrollment of special needs children within its school
system in recent years. However, schools are struggling to adequately address the
unique learning requirements of these learners, leaving them feeling like tourists
in their own classrooms.
Esther Kyozira, the Chief Executive
Officer of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIP), said although
more learners are in classrooms, it has been established that their presence in
school is more about passing time rather than gaining the education necessary
to unlock their full potential.
"The past was marked by a
troubling practice where parents would often lock away their children with
special needs, denying them their fundamental right to education," Kyozira
said speaking at the 3rd National Special Needs Education Symposium which
is centered around the theme of "Ensuring
Inclusive Education: From Theory to Practice."
She added, "But now, with
parents increasingly recognizing the importance of sending these children to
school, it's disheartening to see that many of them are still not receiving the
education they deserve. It's almost as if we've moved them from one confined
environment at home to another, with the same lack of meaningful learning
Kyozira added that the majority lack assistive devices, which excludes many
children with different forms of disabilities from school with many left with no option other than dropping out.
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Assistive devices play a crucial
role in bridging the gap between the abilities of special needs learners and
the demands of the classroom. These devices, which include speech-generators, communication apps, hearing aids, and Brailles, empower
students to actively participate in their education.
Sarah Ayesiga, the Assistant
Commissioner in charge of Inclusive and Non-Formal Education in the Ministry of
Education, acknowledged the significant challenges surrounding the availability
of assistive devices for special needs learners. She pointed out that many of
these devices come with a hefty price tag, making them unaffordable for most
parents. For instance, hearing aids alone can cost as much as 3 million Ugandan
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However, Ayesiga noted the
funding constraints faced by the ministry, saying that the Special Needs
Education department receives relatively minimal funding. Despite some
increased attention and funding with the arrival of Janet Museveni as the
Minister responsible for the sector, the resources are still insufficient to
address the pressing needs adequately.
Ayesiga further explained that,
with the limited resources available, the ministry has made efforts to procure
some devices for learners. However, she also described the frustrating dilemma
they often find themselves in. For instance, in the case of blind learners,
they may be provided with Braille machines, but other necessary supplementary
items might be unavailable, rendering their efforts less effective.
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Ismael Mulindwa, the Director of
Basic Education, said the ministry is dedicated to addressing challenges for
special needs learners. He adds that they have started a study to determine the
cost of educating one special needs learner, considering different
disabilities. This study helps understand unique needs and costs, enabling
tailored interventions and resource allocation for quality education.
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Compulsory Special Needs Training for All Teachers
Another significant challenge
that has been looming is the shortage of teachers equipped to handle special
needs learners. Mulindwa highlighted a promising reform in teacher education
aimed at addressing this issue. he said the ministry plans to implement
mandatory modules on handling special learners in all teacher training
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This move represents a crucial
step towards ensuring that future educators are adequately prepared to work
with special needs students. While these modules had already been incorporated
into the curriculum for primary school teachers and at national teacher
colleges under the government's oversight through Kyambogo University, teachers
at other levels, trained by different institutions, were lacking this essential
Kyozira welcomed this
development, emphasizing the importance of preparing special needs teachers for
the challenges of inclusive education. She added special needs teachers are
primarily associated with special schools but as inclusive education becomes
more prevalent and special needs students increasingly enroll in mainstream
schools, it has become imperative to equip teachers with the necessary skills
to support these students effectively.
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Inclusion Misunderstood as Policy Delays for 13 Years
Kyozira highlighted the
increasing number of schools that have opened their doors to special needs learners
due to the growing emphasis on inclusive education. However, she also
emphasized that the term "inclusive education" had been somewhat
misunderstood and misused by many, who often limited it to the physical aspect
of accessibility, such as installing ramps and allowing special needs learners
to study alongside their peers.
Kyozira noted that inclusive
education goes beyond the practice of having special needs learners study in
the same classrooms as neurotypical learners. She placed the blame for this
misunderstanding on the prolonged delay in the development of an inclusive
education policy by the government, which has been ongoing for the last 13
"The policy was intended to
articulate a comprehensive understanding of inclusive education and delineate
its crucial elements. It aimed to clarify the roles and responsibilities
expected of different stakeholders, including parents, educators, institutions,
and assessment bodies. Yet, for years, the ministry has grappled with its
completion, a delay that has significant implications," she added.
Around 2010, the government
began developing special needs and informal education policies, but funding
issues halted progress. Later, due to advocacy and stakeholder pressure, these
policies were merged into the inclusive education policy. However, despite
promises, the government has not yet issued this policy, causing anticipation
among many who hope it will address pressing issues in special needs education
and inclusive practices.
Mulindwa provided a positive
update on the status of the policy, stating that the Ministry had recently
received a certificate of financial implication for the inclusive education policy.
h added that this development signifies that the policy is now ready for
presentation at the cabinet level, where it is expected to be deliberated upon
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Assistant Commissioner Sarah
Ayesiga, is optimistic about the policy and sees it as a potential game-changer
for inclusive education. She points out that a key focus of the policy is
improving the teaching and assessment of special needs learners, an issue that
has persisted for a long time. Sarah believes that these learners have been
unfairly assessed using the same criteria as "normal" learners by
In Uganda, around 2.5 million
children live with various forms of disabilities, as per a 2014 UNICEF assessment. These
disabilities encompass conditions like muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis,
epilepsy, Down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders, bipolar
disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, blindness, visual impairment, and
deafness, among others.
For education, children with
special needs in Uganda can attend three types of schools: special schools,
units integrated into mainstream schools, and all-inclusive schools that
accommodate both disabled and non-disabled children. There are currently 17
special schools, 84 integrated units, and 27 all-inclusive primary schools. At
the secondary level, there are five special schools, 10 integrated units within
mainstream schools, and 26 all-inclusive schools.
Although Uganda has set an
ambitious goal of achieving universal access to basic education in Sub-Saharan
Africa, the World Bank has noted that children with disabilities in the country
have not fully benefited from these efforts. They still encounter obstacles in
accessing education, healthcare, and employment, which hinders them from
realizing their full potential.