EENET interview

Agururu Primary School in Tororo, Uganda, used to be a regular school with a special unit for disabled children. In 2005 and 2006, its headteacher, Owerodumo Cortider, attended inclusive education training events in Kenya and Zanzibar. Here she explains to Ingrid Lewis of EENET, the changes that have happened since that training, and the successes and problems the school has encountered. Owerodumo also highlights the challenges of teaching children who speak many different languages, including Sign Language.

What is Agururu Primary School's history?
The school opened in 1980. Then in 1996 the special unit was started with six children - two were deaf and four had learning disabilities. There are now 718 children altogether, and 174 have various disabilities.

Why did you decide to develop it into an inclusive school?
The training received at the study visit to Kisumu, Kenya, and at the Zanzibar workshop on inclusive education helped. When I came back I called all the teachers together and told them about inclusive education. I have tried to change their attitude, such as encouraging them that we can all learn Sign Language.

How did you prepare the parents for an inclusive approach?
We've helped parents to see that deaf people have a future. We have four deaf adults working in the school who teach the children Sign Language. Parents are encouraged when they see this and have changed their attitudes.

We trained the parents of about 30 children in Sign Language because children often face communication barriers at home. The training was sponsored by an NGO in Tororo. Some parents come from a long way, so they can’t afford to do that without help. Then the NGO withdrew the sponsorship, so unfortunately the parents' training has stopped for now.

What do parents of non-disabled children think about your inclusive school?
We have asked them to accept that this school is inclusive. Parents could send their non-disabled children to another regular school in town, but they still send them here. And our enrolment is higher than the other school. Some of the non-disabled children now know Sign Language. They interact with deaf and disabled children quite well.

How did you prepare the teachers?
The attitude of teachers is most important. When the deaf children first come to school they are often aggressive; they can't communicate and get frustrated. They need sympathetic teachers who can communicate with them. A project funded by Operation Days Work, Norway, has trained 10 of our teachers in Sign Language.

Why do some students travel so far to attend your boarding school?
Children who simply cannot get an education in their local school can come here; their local schools won’t take them. If deaf children in particular don't come here, there are few other options. The girls' dormitory is full. But if we don't take the children then they won't go to school at all.

What are the challenges you still face?
Attitudes: Some of the non-disabled children still have negative attitudes towards disabled children. We let them know that everyone is here to learn, and learning is a process. However, attitudes towards disability often originate in their families and this is a challenge to address. We also find that some parents of deaf children still want their children educated in separate schools.

Language: The use of Sign Language in class is a challenge; we currently have six Sign Language trained teachers for 14 classes. These trained teachers go to assist with signing in another class when the subject is very tough. But they can't help in every class all the time, they have their own teaching to do. If a teacher just works to translate in class they won't be paid; they need to fulfil a full teaching load to get a full teacher's salary. This hinders our efforts, though we try to bring in other interpreters if we can. Some hearing pupils are learning Sign Language as well.

English is the national and official language. A policy change in 2007 means that from primary years 1 to 3, children should learn in their mother tongue language. But so far retraining for this new approach has only happened for teachers of primary 1. The problem is we have so many languages - about seven in this school alone. So we are still teaching primary 1 in English. Yet we know that some parents don't speak English, so students can't practise at home.

Contact:
Owerodumo Cortider
Head Teacher
Agururu Primary School
PO Box 887
Tororo
Uganda
Email:


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