Teacher training in Uganda

Stackus Okwaput

This article draws on Uganda's experience to highlight the importance of a national policy and training commitment to teacher preparation in the implementation of inclusive education.

Special needs education in Uganda started in 1952. The Colonial Government began providing separate 'special education' services for a few children with visual, hearing, learning and motor impairments, since many children and youth with disabilities were not benefiting from the existing educational provision. However, persons with disabilities were still generally marginalised by beliefs and attitudes in society, and so developments in this 'special education' moved slowly. Inclusive education has subsequently become seen as the way to ensure that all learners access and participate in education. All teachers are central to the implementation of this strategy. Steps have been taken to ensure that Uganda’s teachers are better able to teach children with special needs - all those who experience barriers to learning and development - in an inclusive setting. However, there are still some key areas of teacher training in Uganda that need further attention.

Initially, the Ugandan Government had no policy on training teachers in special needs. In 1992 it established a policy on 'Education for National Integration and Development', pledging to support special needs education by providing funding and teacher training. A 1991 Act of Parliament mandated the Uganda National Institute of Special Education, UNISE, (now Faculty of Special Needs and Rehabilitation, Kyambogo University) to train special needs education teachers. This has enabled Uganda to begin responding to the call for Education for All.

The Faculty offers Certificate, Diploma and Bachelor programmes for teachers and other personnel, with a Masters Degree in Special Needs Education and Inclusion planned. These programmes enable teachers to acquire knowledge, skills and experience necessary to teach persons with disabilities and those experiencing other barriers to learning and development, (e.g. young parents, street children, children from disadvantaged areas, those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS and other health problems, those from nomadic tribes, orphans, child soldiers and children who are traumatised).

To reach as many teachers as possible, the training is offered as a two-year full-time course and as a three-year distance education course. Both are for teachers who have had initial regular teacher training. The courses cover approaches for supporting various groups of children with special needs, and have an inclusive education component. Since 1990, 716 in-service teachers have been trained through the full-time Bachelors and Diploma courses, and between 2000 and 2003, 1,451 were enrolled on the distance courses. The number trained, however, is just a small proportion of the estimated total of 130,000 teachers employed in primary schools.

In addition the Faculty, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Sports, conducted in-service training for teachers at regional level. Many of these have been deployed as Special Needs Education Co-ordinators (SNECOs).

While existing policies have facilitated the development of this in-service training, there are still problems with the employment and retention of graduate teachers. The Constitution advocates equal rights and opportunities to employment. The decentralised government system in Uganda means that Local Government Authorities are mandated to recruit personnel based on the district's needs, yet the employment of teachers with special needs training in some districts is still dependant on specific Authority's attitudes. We therefore need a strategy for enforcing the policy of recruiting teachers with special needs training into every school. There also needs to be a policy to ensure that all teachers receive special needs training, either from the University or decentralised to regional level, so that they are better able to support all learners in an inclusive setting.

Specific learning difficulties in reading, writing and arithmetic are one key reason for the high school drop-out rates in Uganda. We therefore need a serious review of the training given to all teachers, to help them gain contemporary knowledge and skills for supporting children in these areas.

The Government of Uganda continues to seek local and international support to address the gaps in both the in-service teacher training system and the instructional materials/facilities available to promote training for inclusive education. Yet, as we can see from the relatively small number of teachers trained so far, much more needs to be done to ensure the success of inclusive education at all levels. The preparation of teachers for inclusive education requires policies to be implemented flexibly and needs an adequate allocation of funds to meet the increasing training demands. There also needs to be a deliberate policy for the training and reorientation of all teachers at all levels of education.

Stackus is a lecturer/teacher trainer in the Department of Special Needs Studies, Kyambogo University, and specialises in hearing impairment and inclusive education.
Contact:
Faculty of Special Needs and Rehabilitation
Kyambogo University
P.O Box 1
Kyambogo, Uganda


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