According to the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) 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 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 also 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 on learners with disabilities specifically. Learning support is provided in special schools and in special classes (units/annexes) integrated in the ordinary schools. “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” (p. xiii).
Inclusive education focuses 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 (USE) Programme and the Universal Primary Education (UPE) Programme which have led to an increase in enrolment by 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: Sub-section 30) of the 1995 Constitution (amended in 2005) states that “all persons have a right to quality education”. It stipulates that education is a fundamental right to all citizens and its provision is an obligation of the State and that a person shall not be discriminated 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.
Despite 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 has ratified in 2008 the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). 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 recognises the right of all children to benefit from primary education. The Persons with Disability Act (2006) covers key thematic provisions such as rights, accessibility and education for persons with disability.
The National Policy on Disability (2006) aims to promote equal opportunities for enhanced empowerment, participation and protection of rights of persons with disabilities, irrespective of gender, age, type of disability and social, economic and cultural backgrounds. Uganda National Action on Physical Disability is committed to ensure that children with disabilities access education at all levels. Its Inclusive education project 2017-2019 aims to increase awareness on child rights and inclusive education, to increase enrollment and retention of CWDs in schools and 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 Need Education Programme (2018-2019) of the Ministry of Education and Sports started in 2014 to provide guidance on the delivery of special needs and inclusive education. Its aims 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 being implemented. In April 2019, Braille papers and braille machines for that year were not yet procured, monitoring and supervision were not carried out for the 20 schools, and the 250 teachers were not 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 National Strategy for Girls’ Education (NSGE) (2015- 2019) that aims to accord the girl child the right to equal access, equal chances to take part or share in the education system and equal educational results or education outcomes. It also addresses gender-based violence in schools and teenage pregnancy and aims to engender the school curriculum and learning materials for schools. The Strategy covers all education sub-sectors, beyond primary and secondary sectors and is a broad national strategy that guides national programming for girls’ education. Finally, the Education sector has developed a number of policies aimed at enhancing inclusion of gender, such as, the National Strategy for Elimination of Violence Against Children in Schools, and the Gender in Education Policy. National Strategy for Girls’ Education (NSGE) in Uganda (2015 – 2019) foresaw the construction of boarding facilities for girls in seed secondary schools, hard to reach areas, e.g. Karamoja, Kalangala and sub counties with 5-10 Km walking distance.
Ethnic, linguistic 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 by law prescribe.
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 (PEAP) (operational until 2008), the 2009 National Development Plan and Uganda Vision 2040 became the overarching planning frameworks. The Government is currently drafting the Non-Formal Education Policy to further encourage reviewing of the programs in place for better access and quality education for the 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 (2005) 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. It is responsible for children with disabilities. The Department 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 educational 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 Act was established in 2003 to address complaints of violations of the constitution.
Evidence suggests lower reliance on NGOs 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 Vocational Education and Training institutions that have facilities for girls.
Since 2000, the National Curriculum Development Center Act (2000) provides for a “curriculum that takes into account all levels and types of abilities/disabilities/special learning needs” and ensures that all the learning material, teaching methods are friendly to each individual learner and gender sensitive.
Acknowledging the importance of a flexible curriculum, responsive to differences among learners, the Ministry of Education has launched a department at National Curriculum Development Centre consisting of a panel of 18 specialists in education of learners with special learning needs. In collaboration with USAID – UNITY, the panel adopts and modifies the primary school curriculum to suit diverse learning needs and educational strategies. The Ministry of Education also distributed to schools supplementary guidelines to the adapted curriculum for special education needs leaners. Another department was established at the National Examinations Board to cater for the examination of learners with diverse needs. In the primary school thematic curriculum developed in 2005/06, teachers were asked to use learner-centered 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.
ICTs and learning materials
A number of school 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 NGO Oysters and Pearls developed ICT support (e.g. laptops equipped with a screen-reader software which voices text) for these learners. The NGO also funded a 2-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 the students take their own notes and which they use for national exams.
The district-based Teachers Development and Management System Centers plays an important role in implementing training in inclusive education. Most of the Centre 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 Centers. In-service training and supervision are limited; and many teachers are still not sufficiently able to assist learners in an inclusive school. NGOs have invested in teacher training programmes on inclusion, and for health personnel working with schools to identify children with disabilities. Many NGOs and donors finance teacher training on inclusive education: Build Africa, Educate!, Embrace Kulture, PEAS and USDC
The National Strategy for Girls’ Education (NSGE) (2015-2019) aims to introduce gender training as a comprehensive and an integral part of teacher training curricular and performance review. It pursues the objective of intensifying teacher training in gender equality, especially for science teachers. The Strategy ensures that teacher training responds to specific needs and interests of girls in schools (e.g. on sexual maturation).
Uganda has a national monitoring report in education published twice a year. Some indicators linked to inclusive education monitored in these Annual performance reports include “parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintile and others such as disability status, indigenous peoples and conflict affected, as data become available) for all education indicators on this list that can be disaggregated”; “extent to which gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels in national education policies, curricula, teacher education and student assessment” (p. 185); the “proportion of schools with access to “adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities” (p. 186).
To monitor the inclusion of girls based on the National Strategy for Girls’ Education (NSGE) (2015-2019) other indicators exist, 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 school girls by region, incidences of gender considerations in formal and informal curriculum (differential learning styles, intra-class teacher/learner relations, educational materials.