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Inclusive Education: A Far Dream For Learners With Disabilities In Uganda

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Inclusive Education is intended to allow learners with disabilities to study and mingle with other students within a similar education system.
10 Mar 2022 18:15
A pupil at a Budibugyo-based primary school being wheeled by a classmate during breaktime. Ideally this pupile would have been segregated to study from a school for the physically handicapped. Credit Wambi Michael/URN

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Delay in policy and inadequate financing have been identified as some of the hindrances to inclusive education in the country. The two, coupled with the lack of assistive devices have excluded many children with different forms of disabilities out of school and therefore denied them access to education.  

While inclusive education has been found effective in building inclusive and equitable societies, educationists and experts in disabilities say in Uganda it remains a far dream.  

The concern came at a meeting hosted by the Chevening Alumni Association of Uganda under the theme” Inclusive Education for persons with disabilities in Uganda; Policy, Practice, and possibilities”  

The Chevening Association of Uganda whose members were recipients of the UK government’s Chevening scholarship has identified the need to implement inclusive education to enable learners with disabilities to access equitable education. 

Inclusive Education is intended to allow learners with disabilities to study and mingle with other students within a similar education system. While the education ministry has adopted inclusive education as part of the curriculum, it is yet to fully roll it out as required.

The Ministry of Education is mandated to offer education as a basic human right for everyone including children with disabilities. Furthermore, the right to education is also required under the National Development Plan III and the UN Sustainable Development Goals SDGS).  

 According to the World Bank, in Uganda approximately 16% of children have disabilities, but of those children, only 5% have access to education through inclusive learning and 10% through special school. 

Lillian Namukasa, a Program Officer at the National Council for Disability says while Inclusive learning is preferred because it facilitates social interaction and awareness-raising among learners, schools have not been facilitated to enable it to work. 

“We need adoptive technologies we need assistive devices. And all these require funding but the funding is our major challenge.” said Namukasa.

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While it is estimated that about 2.5 million children in Uganda live with some form of disability, Namukasa says less than two hundred and fifty thousand of them are accessing some form of education.

Some of the disabilities identified among learners in Uganda include multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders, bi-polar, oppositional defiance disorder, blind, visually impaired dystrophy, and deafness. 

According to the National Council for Disability, all those forms of disability have unique requirements yet the majority of schools cannot meet them because of a lack of funding priorities and budget cuts. 

She says in 2020/2021, the financing of special needs education only amounted to only 0.1% of the education sector budget. 

“And this was at the time when we were in COVID lockdown a lot of money was needed to facilitate a learner with disabilities to learn. Children were learning online. We needed adaptive technology which is expensive” She noted.

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The Programme Officer under the Inclusive Education project at the National Union Of Persons With Disabilities(NUDIPU), Luyima Ronald said that Uganda has made commitments to inclusive education. Little is implemented when the Ministers return home.

“Because in 2018, the same commitments which are coming in this summit were said. It was only that they were different ministers but they were the same commitments” Said Luyima

 “We went to London recently and made the same commitments while other African countries are working within their meager resources. We are adding more commitments but we have not implemented the previous ones.

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Luyima, who is also living with visual impairment disability says while there are some learners with disability at primary schools, the number of those that cross to secondary is less than 2% of the Children with disability.

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Studies have shown that visually impaired students comprise the largest share of these students, followed by those with physical disabilities, and learners with autism and multiple handicaps are fewer.

Bugosi Sarah Kiboli, the Special Needs and Inclusive Education commissioner at the Ministry of Education acknowledged the fact that there had been some delays in passing the policy on inclusive education in Uganda.

“The delay for us to have a national inclusive education policy has been because of the resources to work on it, funding and we have also been carrying out consultations. And it is something you will do in one week or one month,” she said.

The policy according to Kiboli is required to provide regulatory direction on inclusion to avoid exclusion.

“So those many things that exclude learners in schools have been listed down, challenges at enrollment, we have listed a number of things at participation because not everyone who is in school is learning” she explained