While addressing the press in Jinja on Tuesday, the Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) and Deaf Child Fund said government should increase subvention fund and ensure it is constantly given to the schools for the deaf on a termly basis.
Whereas the government of Uganda introduced the UPE and USE programs with a view of promoting education for all, it is faced with a disturbing reality of low enrollment and completion levels especially for special-needs children such as the deaf.
This is fueled by a poor learning environment that falls short of the needs of deaf pupils such as sign language interpretation services, shortage of special-needs teachers and special-needs schools.
During the press conference, Mideasinia Limio Frances, the Head Teacher Walukuba West Primary School, in Jinja district, said that given their unique experiences such as mobility and hearing challenges, special-needs children need boarding facilities, which are not available in most schools like hers.
Explaining the bias of parents against educating their non-deaf children she said, “Some parents look at it as wastage of resources to educate PWDs. Others think it’s a curse. They feel that they are being punished by these children’s presence which is not the case.”
In agreement, James Willy Mupere, the Head Teacher Kyomya Primary School, Jinja district, said parents have shunned educating their children with special needs.
With support from Deaf Child Worldwide (DCW), the Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) has since 2014, been implementing a three-year Deaf Child Education & Empowerment Project (DCEEP) in Jinja district.
In its short lifespan, the project has increased the number of children accessing and being retained in basic primary education to their completion.
Presently, the project benefits close to 200 pupils in the three mainstream schools in Jinja district; (Kyomya Primary School (82), Walukuba West Primary School (72) and MM Wanyange 07.
Pupils in these schools come from as far as Adjumani, Mbale and Gulu, underscoring the long distance children with disabilities (CWDs) have to move to the nearby school.
“Whereas this is encouraging, it speaks volumes about the long distances and absence of schools responsive to the needs of deaf and indeed children with different forms of disabilities countrywide,” said Hanifah Nalwoga, the DCEEP Project Coordinator.
One of the benefits of this project has been teaching sign language to teachers, pupils, and volunteers, which has bridged the communication gap and increased enrollment of special-needs children in schools.
“Before UNAD training, most of us were just gambling. You would meet a child and fail to understand each other. Now when our Deaf pupils talk, we understand. The children also understand what teachers say,” said James Willy Mupere, the Head Teacher Kyomya Primary School.
The project also sensitizes parents on the educational rights of their deaf children and lobbies duty bearers to implement legislations that promote deaf children’s right to education.
It is, however, important that the gains made by this project are sustained. In order to do this, Scovia Nabwire, a teacher at Kyomya Primary Schools said.
She noted that the government needs to motivate Special-Needs Education (SNE) teachers similar to how it inspires science teachers and teachers in hard-to-reach areas.
“Teaching special-needs students is very tasking. You have to stand the whole day, you have to be near the child, you use a lot of description and you end the whole day exhausted because of the extra effort that special-needs teachers put in,” she added.
UNAD activists in this regard urged the government to set up a program to retrain all serving teachers in sign language countrywide.
They called for the need to intensify parental involvement in the educating special-needs children.