According to the Ministry of Education and Sports, inclusive education:
‘ ... embraces modifications in curricular, teaching methods, teaching/learning resources, medium of communication and adjusting the learning environment to meet individual learning needs. It is learner centered, flexible and adjustable to the individual needs and potential of every child. This approach takes cognizance of and seeks to mitigate factors that form barriers to children's participation in learning and development. It is meant to widen opportunity for ALL Children to interact, play, learn, experience the feeling of belonging and develop in accordance with their potentials and difficulties; thereby obtaining good quality of life within their respective environments. It is all about changing attitudes, behaviour, teaching methods, curriculum, environment and allocation of human, material and financial resources to meet the educational needs of all learners.’
According to the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, ‘Inclusive education means that all children in a school, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses in any area, become part of the school community. This ... occurs when children with, or without disabilities participate and learn together in the same classes.’
Special education needs
The concept of ‘children with special educational needs’ extends beyond those who have physical or other disabilities to cover pupils who are failing in school for a wide variety of other reasons: ‘Children with special needs may have mild learning disabilities or profound cognitive impairment; food allergies or terminal illness; developmental delays that catch up quickly or remain entrenched; occasional panic attacks or serious psychiatric problems.’
Special education is operational in Uganda and focuses specifically on learners with disabilities. Learning support is provided in special schools and in special classes (units/annexes) integrated in ordinary schools. According to the Ministry of Education and Sports, ‘Learners with barriers (special needs) arising from disability conditions usually require Specialized support services (e.g. Sign language interpreters, Braille transcribers etc.); Specialized teaching methods; Access to resource rooms and use of specialized technology to access curriculum.’ Despite the fact that all children should be admitted regardless of their different statuses, ‘children with severe forms of disabilities are referred to special schools.’
Inclusive education goes beyond both the traditional and the transitional practices of special education and integration, respectively. The government has made progress in ensuring the delivery of inclusive and quality education for all through the Universal Secondary Education programme and the Universal Primary Education programme, which have led to an increase in enrolment of 4.7% (from 8,264,317 in 2015/16 to 8,655,924 in 2016/17) at primary level and 13.5% (from 1,284,008 in 2015/16 to 1,457,277 in 2016/17) at secondary level.
Uganda is a signatory to a number of international commitments, including the Convention Against Discrimination in Education (1968). At the regional level, Uganda ratified the African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003).
Article 30 (Chapter 4, Subsection 30) of the 1995 Constitution (amended in 2005) states that ‘All persons have a right to education.’ The Constitution further stipulates that education is a fundamental right of all citizens and its provision is an obligation of the State and that a person shall not be discriminated against on the ground of sex, race, color, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability. The Constitution provides for affirmative action for the disadvantaged.
Although the Ministry of Education and Sports drafted an inclusive education policy in 2011, in 2017 it was still under development. Among the main challenges are insufficient funding, weak policy framework, limited data and insufficient training for teachers.
Uganda ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. In parallel, Article 35 of the Constitution provides that ‘the State and society shall take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities realise their full mental and physical potential. … Parliament shall enact laws appropriate for the protection of persons with disabilities.’ Article 32 outlaws discrimination on the basis of disability and Article 34 recognizes the right of all children to benefit from primary education. The 2006 Persons with Disability Act covers key thematic provisions such as rights, accessibility and education for persons with disability.
The 2006 National Policy on Disability aims to promote equal opportunities for enhanced empowerment, participation and protection of rights of persons with disabilities, irrespective of gender, age, type of disability or social, economic and cultural background. Uganda National Action on Physical Disability is committed to ensuring that children with disabilities access education at all levels. Its 2017–19 inclusive education project aimed to increase awareness on child rights and inclusive education; to increase enrolment and retention of children with disabilities in schools; to include sports in primary schools, physical education and co-curricular activities for students with disabilities; and to strengthen collaboration with partners for strategic advocacy and policy/legislative reforms towards inclusive education.
The special needs education programme of the Ministry of Education and Sports was started in 2014 to provide guidance on the delivery of special needs and inclusive education. It aimed, with an expected completion in 2019, to implement a functional assessment model for early identification of children with invisible impairments for subsequent early intervention; develop special needs education specialized skills among key frontline stakeholders in the education delivery network; carry out advocacy and awareness building on special needs and inclusive education; and procure specialized instructional materials for enhancement of special needs education in the country. The programme performed poorly, with several planned activities not implemented. In April 2019, Braille papers and Braille machines for that year had not yet been procured, monitoring and supervision had not been carried out for the 20 schools involved, and the 250 teachers had not been trained in functional assessment.
Uganda ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1985. The Ministry of Education and Sports also adopted the 2015–19 National Strategy for Girls’ Education, which aimed to accord girls the right to equal access, equal chances to take part or share in the education system, and equal education results or outcomes. It also addressed gender-based violence in schools and teenage pregnancy and aimed to engender the school curriculum and learning materials for schools. The strategy covered all education subsectors, beyond primary and secondary, and was a broad national strategy guiding national programming for girls’ education.
Finally, the education sector has developed a number of policies aimed at enhancing gender inclusion, such as the National Strategy for Elimination of Violence Against Children in Schools and the Gender in Education Policy. The 2015–19 National Strategy for Girls’ Education foresaw the construction of boarding facilities for girls in seed secondary schools and hard-to-reach areas, such as Karamoja, Kalangala and sub-counties with 5–10 km walking distance.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous groups
Article 6 of the Constitution provides that the official language of Uganda is English; however, subject to this article, any other language may be used as a medium of instruction in schools as Parliament may prescribe by law.
People living in rural or remote areas
Uganda’s alternative basic education system runs mobile schools for children in cattle camps. Taught in the local language, classes focus on numeracy, literacy, and livestock production and health.
The government has introduced free universal primary and secondary education, but parents need to pay for food, materials, etc. Following the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (operational until 2008), the 2009 National Development Plan and Uganda Vision 2040 became the overarching planning frameworks. The government was drafting a Non-Formal Education Policy to further encourage reviewing of the programmes in place for better access and quality education for educationally disadvantaged children.
Migrants and refugees
Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa: 1.38 million, primarily from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. The 2006 Refugee Act and 2010 Refugee Regulations provide for refugee students to learn alongside nationals. In practice, most refugees attend geographically separate schools, having settled where few nationals reside. National and international processes converged to produce an education sector plan for the 12 districts where most refugees live. The National Policy for Internally Displaced Persons identifies the right of displaced children to ‘the same access to education as children elsewhere in Uganda’. It also requires ‘special efforts’ to ensure full and equal participation in education by internally displaced women and girls.
Orphans and vulnerable children
The Constitution grants special protection to orphans and other vulnerable children.
Special schools fall under the administration and management of district councils, which are also responsible for disbursement of funds to schools and consolidation of sub-county education work plans (Local Government Act of 1997). ‘Special needs schools’ benefit from Universal Primary Education funds.
The Government of Uganda has established a Department for Special Needs and Inclusive Education within the Ministry of Education and Sports. This department is responsible for children with disabilities. It aims to deliver special needs and inclusive education services in a coordinated and adequately resourced manner. Its mission is to provide services to meet the education needs and rights of learners with special learning needs. The department is responsible for:
- Guiding and steering stakeholders in the implementation of the policy in line with government regulations and standards
- Organizing and conducting advocacy campaigns on special needs and inclusive education
- Coordinating stakeholders in the implementation of advocacy campaigns on inclusive education
- Providing adequate special instructional materials and equipment
- Conducting regular updates on best practices for managing/implementing inclusive education
- Conducting training programmes on inclusive education for in-service personnel
- Ensuring appropriate allocation of funds and the adequate recruitment and deployment of personnel
- Ensuring that affirmative action for learners with special needs is implemented in education institutions.
The National Council for Disability was established in 2003 to address complaints of violations of the Constitution.
Evidence suggests lower reliance on non-government organizations for infrastructure development than in the past. Yet, Uganda has improved school infrastructure, with 94% of public schools having basic equipment such as blackboards and chalk. The Ministry of Education and Sports plans to construct more dormitories and facilities in business, technical and vocational education and training institutions that have facilities for girls.
Since 2000, the National Curriculum Development Centre Act has provided for a ‘curriculum that takes into account all levels and types of abilities/disabilities/special learning needs’ and ensures that all the learning materials and teaching methods are friendly to each individual learner and gender sensitive.
Acknowledging the importance of a flexible curriculum and responsive to differences among learners, the Ministry of Education has launched a department at the National Curriculum Development Centre consisting of a panel of 18 specialists in education of learners with special learning needs. In collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development programme UNITY, the panel adopts and modifies the primary school curriculum to suit diverse learning needs and education strategies. The Ministry of Education also distributed supplementary guidelines to schools on the adapted curriculum for learners with special education needs. Another department was established at the National Examinations Board to address the evaluation of learners with diverse needs. In the primary school thematic curriculum developed in 2005/06, teachers were asked to use learner-centred methods and to adapt the direction of lessons to take children’s reactions into account. To this end, teachers received 10 days of intensive training before the new curriculum was introduced nationwide in early 2007.
ICT and learning materials
A number of schools use ICT to increase the inclusion of students with special needs. For instance, at Gulu High School, students who are blind learn in ordinary schools. The non-government organization Oysters and Pearls developed ICT support (e.g. laptops equipped with a screen-reader software which voices text) for these learners. The organization also funded a two-week ICT course to introduce the software to the students and an ICT coordinator supports children to access the software. This school also uses Braille machines on which students take their own notes and which they use for national exams.
District-based Teacher Development and Management System centres play an important role in implementing training in inclusive education. Most of the centres’ coordinating tutors have received training in special needs education and inclusion. These tutors are expected to provide supervisory support to teachers in schools in their area, organize in-service training, develop educational materials and upgrade teacher training centres. In-service training and supervision are limited and many teachers are still not sufficiently able to assist learners in an inclusive school. Non-government organizations have invested in teacher training programmes on inclusion and in health personnel working with schools to identify children with disabilities. Many non-government organizations and donors finance teacher training on inclusive education, including Build Africa, Educate!, Embrace Kulture, Promoting Equality in African Schools and Uganda Society for Disabled Children.
The 2015–19 National Strategy for Girls’ Education aimed to introduce gender training as a comprehensive and an integral part of teacher training curricular and performance review. It pursued the objective of intensifying teacher training in gender equality, especially for science teachers. The strategy likewise aimed to ensure that teacher training responds to the specific needs and interests of girls in schools (e.g. on sexual maturation).
Other indicators exist to monitor the inclusion of girls based on the 2015–19 National Strategy for Girls’ Education, including the proportion of girls enrolling in education institutions at different levels, the proportion of girls participating in science education, incidences of gender-based violence against schoolgirls by region, and incidences of gender considerations in formal and informal curricula (differential learning styles, intra-class teacher/learner relations, educational materials).