By Stephen Ssenkaaba
KAMPALA - There is need for better funding for special needs education in Uganda, Edson Ngirabakunzi, the Executive Director of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda has said.
Special needs education has been on the agenda of the government of Uganda for more than twenty years.
While in the past it mostly referred to children with disabilities, today it covers a much wider scope to include any situation that presents a barrier to accessing education for children of school-going age.
There is need for more funds to be allocated to special needs programmes, including the support to leaners with disabilities as one of the sure ways of realizing education for all.
“Without enough resources, the quality of many children with special needs will be greatly compromised,” he said recently in an interview at his office in Bukoto.
“Enough resources mean that schools will have scholastic materials and that more teachers to support learners will be allocated to this very critical area.”
Currently, special needs education receives sh2.06bn of the entire education budget, which, Bakunzi says represents a mere 0.12% of the allocation to the education sector.
Compared to last financial year, this represents a reduction, Bakunzi said. “We need an increase to at least have 1% of the education budget.”
Over the last decade or so, government has put more emphasis on enrolling children with special needs into an inclusive environment. Under the inclusive arrangement, all mainstream schools are expected to admit and teach pupils irrespective of their abilities or disabilities.
‘We are trying our best’
Apart from those with severe disabilities whose unique cases might require special schools, all children with disabilities are expected to be fully integrated into ordinary schools.
This is in line with the government’s Universal Primary Education (UPE) which seeks to provide equal access to education to all children by 2015 as stipulated in the Education for All (EFA) policy.
However, schools continue to struggle with inadequate facilities and teachers, making education for special needs learners more complicated.
Whilst acknowledging the constraints in funding, the government reaffirms its commitment to supporting special needs and inclusive education.
Francis Akope, the principle education officer for inclusive education at the ministry of education and sports had this to say.
“We are trying our best within the available means to support special needs and inclusive education.”
He said that for now where possible, inclusive education will be encouraged and where special schools are available, they will be encouraged.
In some schools, special needs annexes will be encouraged in ordinary schools that practice inclusion to support learners with special needs.