Children with disabilities shunned by both teachers and society

By Stephen Ssenkaaba

How poor working conditions; inadequate training affect inclusive education and progress for children with disabilities.

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Passion ruled her job. So every morning, Rose Nnina walked to work just to ensure that her class could receive her much needed attention. For eight hours she toiled in a class of children with different disabilities; persuading them, paying attention to each of them and even walking around the compound to collect discarded tins to use in place of appropriate play materials. Then one day, she threw in the towel. "I have a family to feed," she told me. With only sh300,000 for salary, she found it difficult to carry on with a job that could hardly support her. "I had to put my love for teaching children with disabilities into clear perspective," she says. More trained teachers are walking away from schools that have children with disabilities. Poor pay, lack of scholastic materials and inadequate support networks are partly to blame. But also, the adoption of a broader teacher-training curriculum in special needs at Kyambogo University and other institutions of higher learning has implications for the effective delivery of skills to pupils in schools, writes
Stephen Ssenkaaba in this second part of our series.

The pupils at Masaka School for Children with Special Needs love their studies. They pay attention in class and get involved in class work. However, these pupils learn under strenuous conditions. There are only nine teachers for 100 pupils with disabilities. Out of the nine, only five are trained to handle children with disabilities.

A single teacher attends to 15 or more pupils, far more than the recommended 1:10 teacher-pupil ratio. A typical school day here involves several hours of classwork as teachers take on extra workload to make up for the shortage of staff.

"It is hard to accord the required attention to all our pupils," Josephine Namayanja, the headteacher, says. Attempts to integrate these learners into a mainstream environment at a nearby affiliate school failed. "They couldn't cope," Namayanja says. Of all challenges faced by this school, Namayanja explains; inadequate teaching staff weighs most.

Recruitment and retention of trained special needs teachers is crucial to the successful implementation of inclusive education in primary schools. Yet teachers remain conspicuously absent from schools. All six schools surveyed for this article highlighted lack of trained teachers as one of the major problems affecting the learning process.

In Nakatunya Primary School in Soroti district, only two out of 29 teachers have trained in special needs education. The school has 1,020 pupils, including 45 with disabilities.

At Bishop West Primary School in Mukono district, out of 32 teachers only six are trained. St. Francis Primary School for the Blind in Madera has only nine trained teachers out of the 16 teaching staff, while Salaama School for the Blind in Wakiso district has only two teachers trained to handle children with disabilities.

Schools mostly depend on unskilled teachers, many of whom not only lack the skills to support learners with disabilities and other special needs, but also, because of their inexperience, perpetuate negative and teachers interviewed confessed to finding it too "demanding" and "difficult" to teach in a class that includes pupils with disabilities.

"They are slow learners. It requires a lot of patience and time to teach them, yet we are too busy," one teacher said.

Due the challenges involved in teaching children with special needs, we found that some teachers had given up teaching and found ‘better' jobs. Some headteachers said that some teachers turn down appointments to schools for children with disabilities. The reasons, it appears, revolve around the poor working conditions in some of these schools.


Poor remuneration and lack of scholastic facilities have driven away trained teachers from schools for children with disabilities. Teachers like Rose Nnina, who despite their love for children with disabilities, left her job because of demotivating circumstances.

"For three years after my graduation from Kyambogo University, I put in nearly eight hours of work, teaching children with various forms of disabilities. I was only one of three trained teachers in my school. There was too much work for us," she narrates.

She adds that because of the frustration of working without the required teaching facilities, "I used to go around looking for used tins and discarded materials to make up for the absence of play materials for my class. Soon, those around me started calling me "the mad woman".

Then, the weariness over poor pay. "I never got a regular salary for much of the three years I taught. When I was confirmed as a full-time teacher, my monthly salary was sh300,000. As a mother with a child and a husband to take care of and other domestic obligations to meet, Nnina found it difficult to manage. "I left." She now works as a special needs consultant.

Some teachers have been discouraged by the disability-unfriendly environment in some schools.

Mary Caroline Ademere used to teach in an inclusive primary school in Kumi district until she lost her job under questionable circumstances.

"I applied for study leave to join Kyambogo University for a degree course in special needs and never heard from the headteacher again. As I waited for confirmation of my leave, I started my course in Kyambogo. On completing my course two years later, I returned to find that my job had been given to another person," she says.

Ademere was one of few teachers that had attained skills in special needs and disabilities. Despite her willingness to continue teaching, she was turned away. She is now a special needs volunteer in Gayaza in Wakiso district.

Dorothy Bukenya, a teacher, graduated from Kyambogo University with skills in sign language interpretation. She worked for two years as head of the special needs unit in an inclusive primary school in Kamuli district. One day, her employers terminated her services.

"They said they could not afford to pay me," she explains. Her monthly salary was sh280,000. Today, Nabukenya is a freelance sign language interpreter at Makerere University.


Since 1998 when Kyambogo University adopted a broader curriculum in favour of a more specialised one, its students graduate with only rudimentary skills on handling the three key disabilities of visual and hearing impairment as well as mental retardation. This has reduced the number of specialist teachers with expertise in handling particular disabilities and led to more jack-of-all-trades teachers.

"Not necessarily," says Dr. Okwaput, the acting head of the department of community and disability studies at Kyambogo University. "Since inclusive education caters for more than child disability, teachers today are equipped with skills to address issues beyond hearing, and visual impairment as well as mental retardation. Today, teachers graduate with the skills to handle children with anxiety, trauma, bereavement and several other socio-psychological issues."

Nevertheless, Dr. Okwaput adds that the course gives teachers sufficient working knowledge of the disability skills which can be improved on the job when the teachers interface with affected students.

To produce more trained teachers, the university also runs a long distance training programme in six primary teacher colleges (PTCs). The one-year course involves two-week face-to-face sessions every semester holiday for teachers in the six PTCs and offers rudimentary skills in special needs education.


Kyambogo University, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and Sports, also implements a pre-service teacher training course on special needs in several primary teachers colleges (PTCs) across the country. However, the implementation of this course has been found lacking.

A 2013 report by Dr. Okwaput on special needs pre-service teacher training in PTCs indicates that the course does not prepare teachers well enough to teach in an inclusive environment.

The report highlights limited time allocated to training, use of training methods that are not appropriate in inclusive classrooms, insufficient numbers of teacher trainers in institutions and lack of instructional materials as major obstacles to quality teacher training in special needs.

"Most of the time, the trainees do not get a chance to experience teaching in an inclusive school environment," the report says: "The training also puts more emphasis on traditional subjects in teacher education as opposed to special needs skills. Because of the lecture teaching method used during training, trainees do not get to experience an interactive teaching environment needed in an inclusive environment. Trainee classes are also very congested, with over 500 trainees per one trainer in every class."

Most Kyambogo University trained teachers interviewed felt they were confident enough to teach students with disabilities even though they felt they required more practical skills.

All these issues have serious implications for quality training and teaching offered to pupils out there. Emphasis on proper training, improvement in the conditions of teachers and the right attitudes will help improve matters.


The above issues are not helped by the small number of trained teachers graduating from higher education institutions.

According to the DFID report on inclusive education in Uganda, "only 716 in-service teachers have been trained through the full-time bachelors and diploma courses at Kyambogo University since 1990." Until recently, the only institution with the capacity to train teachers in special needs and disabilities.

The report further indicates that 1,451 were enrolled on the distance courses between 2000 and 2003. This is only a fraction of the nearly 130,000 teachers employed in primary schools in the country. It means that the majority of schools do not have qualified teachers in the field of special needs and disabilities.

[These series have been done with support from the African
Centre for Media Excellence (ACME)]

(This article was first published on Wednesday, November 12, 2014)