Evolution of education and other related services for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and other persons with special needs (PwSNs) in Uganda has taken similar stages like in all other countries in the world. The first phase is one where by PWDs and PwSNs received no formal recognition and support from the Ugandan communities. This is the phase that maybe defined as zero (0) stage. At this phase, PWDs and PwSNs were neglected, discriminated and given all forms of derogative labeling. Local demeaning, negative and derogative terminologies were assigned to different categories of PWDs and PwSNs by particular ethnic groups in Uganda. Most of these terminologies were abusive and associated to evil spirits, curses and bewitchment. As such, no section in the entire Ugandan society believed PWDs and PwSNs deserved the right to education, social services, justice, marriage, association with ordinary people and even the rights to determine what they deserved. Therefore, PWDs and PwSNs received and deserved zero attention and services from the society.

Colonial Era

Uganda was declared a protectorate under the British rule from the late 19th century till it got independence on the 9th October 1962. During that period, the western formal education was introduced to favour only ordinary children while ignoring those with disabilities and special needs. Provision of education for children with disabilities and other special needs was only to be initiated and shoulder solely by the Christian missionaries, whose inner motives were to display the spirit of benevolence. Their efforts were reinforced at a much later time by the Ugandan independent government. The introduction of provision of education for learners with disabilities and other special needs is as described below.

Provision of Education for Learners with Visual Impairment (VI)

Efforts to make provision of education for children with visual impairment (VI) can be traced from the late 1950s. The foundation for the future development of programme for the blind was laid under the auspices of the defunct British Empire Society for the Blind (BESB), which later became the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (RCSB), later renamed Sight Savers International (SSI). In 1954 the Uganda Foundations for the Blind (UFB) was formed. One year after this development, the first school for the blind was built in Soroti (then Teso) District, through the joint efforts of the Ministry of Education, Teso District Education Committee and the UFB. The day today running of the school was the responsibility of the Franciscan Nuns of Soroti. In 1962, at Wanyange Girls Secondary School, the first attempt to integrate blind and sighted pupils was made by establishing a unit in the school. This was later transferred to Iganga secondary school. In 1968 at Iganga Secondary School, a training center for teachers of the blind was established. The Center ran courses for teachers of the blind until 1988 when training for Special Needs Education teachers was started at the then Institute of Teachers Education, Kyambogo (ITEK) this too, was later in 1996 transformed to the Uganda National Institute of Special Education (UNISE) within Kyambogo, Kampala.

Special Needs Education Pioneer Students in Uganda at the Institute of Teacher Education Kyambogo (ITEK) between 1988 to 1990 posing for a photograph after their lectures. These included Ms Nakalule Juliet, Musibala Peter, Late Nicolas Kibuda, Kizito, Late Irene Labogo, Peter Kabara, Asher Bayo, Rose Munialo, Elia Paul Njuki, Late Boniface Kujok, Daniel Alenyo, Christopher Oketcho and Olinga.

 Education of Learners with Hearing Impairment

Education for children with hearing impairment was started in 1958 when the Uganda Society for the Deaf (USD) was established. In the same year, lip – reading lessons for multi-racial children were started at the Aga Khan Mosque at Old Kampala and later transferred to Mengo Primary school. Through various efforts of the USD, a full primary School was later established next to Mengo primary school. In the same year, in the then Teso District (now Ngora), a full primary school was set up for the Deaf. The school still exists to date (2019). The Uganda school for the Deaf in Mengo was transferred to Ntinda in 1988 east of Kampala and it still exists to date.

Education of learners with Physical (Motor) impairment

The Uganda Spastics society was formed in 1968 at Mengo by parents of children with spasticity. This was in line with the establishment by the society, in 1969 at the same place (with the school) for the purpose of providing education for children with cerebral palsy, although it was, and has still remained composed more of the children who have suffered with polio. Another society, known as the Uganda Society for the Physical Handicapped was also formed in 1987. Gradually, more associations or societies were formed and schools established for such categories of learners.

Although the initiatives of establishing special schools and units for children with disabilities and other special needs were made by non-governmental organizations (NGO), the government eventually stepped in and in 1973, a Department of Special Education headed by a senior Education Officer was introduced in the Ministry of Education, with the mandate of supervising all activities related to running of Special Education. This was later transformed into a bigger status thereby becoming the current the Department headed by a Commissioner for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. At the district level, the Inspectors of Schools in charge of Special Needs and Inclusive Education were also appointed.

Education of children with Mental Retardation (these days referred to as children with Intellectual Impairment or Cognitive Impairment)

Regarding this category of children, some attempts were made in the early 1970s, shortly before the political events that culminated into the 1972 expulsion of the Asians from Uganda, the Victoria Nile School in Jinja had started providing some education for Asian children with Intellectual Impairment. These services ceased on the exodus of the Asians. Another attempt was made – this time by an indigenous NGO called Mercy Children’s Centre (MCC) in 1979 in Kampala. The new School did not progress much due to the little attention paid to it by some parents, teachers and the School administration. MCC was later absorbed into the mainstream School – namely Nakasero Primary School, kampala. In 1982, an Association known as the Uganda Association for the Mentally Handicapped [sic](UAMH) was formed. UAMH did all it could to expand units for children with Intellectual Impairment all over Uganda.

Education of children who are Deaf-Blind.     

While most of the categories of children with disabilities and other Special Needs as listed above were provided with education earlier, some were not but later, a little attention was paid to children with multiple impairments especially those with deaf blindness impairment. in the year following the formation of the Uganda Association for the Deaf Blind (UADB) in 1993, the association collaborated with Buckley Primary School, Iganga, to establish a unit for the deaf blind there. Although the School was a day school, an arrangement was made to accommodate Deaf Blind children at the School.

Government’s Role in the development of Special and Inclusive Education and related services for Persons with Disabilities in Uganda.

According to the government white paper 1992, the government of Uganda issued a policy declaring it’s full intention to assume full responsibility to support Education for PWDs and PwSNs in Uganda. This policy led to numerous measures adopted for implementation. The establishment, for instance of secondary schools for the Deaf in Wakiso, Mbale, and that of the Blind in Gulu stems out of this policy.

From 1992 the Ugandan government, in collaboration with the Royal kingdom of Denmark through the Danish international development Agency (Danida) set up a National teacher and other professional training programme for Special Needs Education and Rehabilitation leading to formation of UNISE, which today has become the faculty of Special Needs and Rehabilitation. Teachers and other professionals have been and are being trained at Certificate, Diploma, Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree level. Hopefully, from the 2020/2021 academic year, a Ph.D. program in Special Needs Education is to be introduced.

Besides developing the staff training facilities at Kyambogo, the Ministry of Education in conjunction with DANIDA established a National programme which was intended to have children with disabilities assessed and supported in their districts. The Educational Assessment & Resource services (EARS) programme established branches in all the then 39 districts. EARS functioned very well from 1992 until when DANIDA stopped funding in 2005.

One other major role by which Ugandan government deserves a great credit is by promoting affirmative action across the board. The Constitution of Uganda (1995) created positions for representations of PWDs right from the Local, District, National (parliamentary), as well to Ministerial portfolios. This is such a superb arrangement that may rarely be challenged by any Country, the world over. As of now, special focus is being geared towards Inclusive Education. This, indeed, is the way to go. Uganda takes pride in leading the way as far as providing Education and related services for PWDs and PwSNs is concerned. All the other countries in the world should not be shy to follow Uganda’s footsteps in the achievement. If the current Education which is dictated by “examinations” performance/ passing would revert to achieving meaningful Education, and not vice versa, Continuous Assessment would help strengthen Education for ALL categories of individuals, the ordinary, PWDs and PwSNs.

Assoc. Prof. John Baptist Okech
Kyambogo University, Uganda