They sit in six rows with their desks facing opposite directions.
Each row represents a class implying there are six classes housed in this one room. One teacher is busy instructing learners facing south as another handles a class sitting in the central row facing north. The other learners in the remaining classes are either doing personal revision or observing the other classes.
Such is an intriguing ordeal of how the deaf learners at Rugazi Central primary school in Rubirizi district access education. The school authorities decided to sit six classes in one room due to shortages in special-needs teachers.
“Injuries usually occur when a teacher is not attending to the deaf learners because amongst them are those with multiple disability. So, keeping them in one class helps us be able to attend to them,” Abel Mugume, a special- needs teacher, says.
The six classes are primary one (four learners), primary two (five learners), primary three (seven learners), primary five (two learners), primary six (four learners) and primary seven (one learner).
Although Mugume says the nestling could have saved deaf learners from harmful habits, the situation may not help improve the quality of education they are apparently accessing. Experts say a pupil requires a considerable amount of time and attention from a teacher to be able to achieve quality education.
On average, a pupil may need at least five hours per day of teacher-pupil contact time to be considered to have received due service. These deaf learners, sadly, receive an average of two hours per day.
“Our attention is limited. As I am teaching one class, I am at the same time solving the problems in the next class. So, you find the learners can’t concentrate like others do,” Mugume argues. “When you are, for instance, teaching P7, those in P1 are picking interest in what those in P7 are learning. In the process, the learning is interrupted.”
Established in 2002, this special needs unit does not only experience shortage in teachers with special education skills, they also lack learning materials. Mugume is the only specialised teacher. His counterpart, Alex Ndyahikaho, is a teacher only interested in special-needs education but has no specialisation in special-needs education.
Whereas the plight of these learners at Rugazi is known to all stakeholders, the situation largely remains unattended to. This state is what the Operations Day Work (ODW) youth project by the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu) worked to improve.
The project has over five years aocated for improved access to quality education with many aocacy meetings held with several stakeholders including district authorities as well as senior government authorities.
Whereas the school authorities are positive about the plight of these learners, their efforts are yet to yield concrete results. Despite the project being able to provide sign language materials to Rugazi Central primary school and sensitising parents on disability issues, the plight of these deaf learners requires more attention.
With support from the Norwegian Association of the Disabled, the ODW project has revived more educational dreams of many persons with disabilities in the districts of Rubirizi and Kasese in western Uganda.
Fifteen-year-old Gerald Byamukama is a youth living with albinism. A primary six pupil at Nyangorogoro primary school, Ryeru sub-county in Rubirizi district, Byamukama felt insignificant and wanted to drop out of school had it not been for the intervention of the ODW youth project.
“I thought we people living with albinism don’t deserve to go school, but after I received training on human rights, I noticed I have a right to education,” he notes.
Byamukama is now motivated to continue with his education. He hopes to realise his dream of becoming a medical doctor so he could help his community. His only challenge is that he is also partially visually impaired, which might affect his ambition. To have a smooth ride, Byamukama wishes a good Samaritan can sponsor treatment for his eye problem as well as offer him a scholarship.
As you relish Byamukama’s story, then you meet 22-year-old Asuma Namuga, a senior six student at Asamu Secondary School. The first born to Aisha Muhindo and Hussein Ssenkima, residents of Umoja village in Kasese district, Asuma is living with cerebral palsy.
Her body constantly shakes, making it difficult for her to firmly hold anything. Under such circumstances, Asuma cannot write with clarity and, therefore, requires the services of an expert. Despite her disability, Asuma has been able to beat all odds to ensure she attains education just like any other Ugandan.
With support from Nudipu under the ODW youth project, Asuma managed to sit her senior four exams in 2012. The project helped her access support of a specialist to write her exams. When Nudipu officials visited her in October, she was busy preparing for her senior six exams.
“During my Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) exams, the school was able to get me a specialist. The school is going to get me another specialist to help me during my Uganda Aanced Certificate of Education (UACE), exams. I have also been able to gain self-esteem that I initially didn’t have.
I used to have stigma but when the project identified me and took me through a lot of issues including life skills, I am now a changed person. I can stand and speak to anyone with confidence. I can associate with everyone at whatever level without fear,” she narrates.
Asuma is also happy that the project helped her become a leader. She represents youth with cerebral palsy at the Kasese District Association of Youth with Disabilities (KDAYWD), committee. This has been possible because she received trainings on human rights, HIVAids, exposure visits and several other capacity building opportunities.
“Before, I really had challenges because in senior one, learners could fear me and that gave me a lot of stigma. The situation has changed now, following Nudipu’s sensitisation debates that enlightened community members,” she added.
The project also supported the formation of an association for youth in Kasese district. Asuma, who has since joined a drama group which has continued to build her confidence, believes she has a bright future and wants to pursue a course in agriculture with a view to becoming an agricultural officer.
Asuma’s school is very supportive and she is sure she will achieve her dream. Her teachers are very supportive as well. Her only challenge is writing.
“As you can see, my hands do shake because of my disability. Never the less, with the support of a specialist, I know I will make it,” she says.
From these three experiences, one wonders how many schools are out there that have separated disabled students from the able-bodied how many albinos want an education but are discouraged by negative attitudes how many children with cerebral palsy are denied their right to education because of lack of incentives such as those Asuma luckily got.
A related question: whose primary role is it to ensure that youths such as Asuma, Byamukama and the deaf pupils at Rugazi enjoy their right to education?
If indeed it is government’s role, why do the likes of Asuma and Byamukama have to wait for non-governmental organisations such as Nudipu to intervene?
Learners with hearing impairment, for instance, require reasonable budget allocation and there should be recruitment and retention of special-needs teachers in public schools. Just like government has been able to provide an incentive to teachers in hard-to-reach areas, why not do the same to teachers handling learners with special needs?
Now that the ODW project is phasing out, the question that comes to mind is: will Asuma and Byamukama’s ambitions become a reality?
The author is the communications manager at Nudipu.
Source : The Observer