This article has been published in Enabling Education 14
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Title: Including Deaf Children: A community-based, parent-led approach in Bushenyi, Uganda
Author: Wapling, L and Peckett, J
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2010

Including deaf children: a community-based, parent-led approach in Bushenyi, Uganda

Lorraine Wapling and Julia Peckett

Bushenyi District Education Department is supporting 123 deaf children, registered in 14 units attached to primary schools, and six students in secondary education. This is a community-based initiative which has strong government commitment to teacher education, parent involvement and Sign Language development. In 2009, Lorraine Wapling, a deaf consultant from the UK, was recruited by Deaf Child Worldwide to evaluate this exciting initiative. Here, Julia (who commissioned the evaluation) and Lorraine tell the story.

Progressive policies
The Ugandan government has developed equitable education policies which prioritise girls, children from income-poor families and disabled children. This began in 1996 with Universal Primary Education. Ugandan Sign Language has been formally recognised, there is a national Disability Act, and the government has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Educating disabled children since 1984
This table illustrates some of the key stages in developing education for deaf children in Bushenyi in the last 26 years.

1984-2000 National Education and Assessment Resource Services (EARS) programme – funded by the Danish government agency, DANIDA, throughout Uganda, including Bushenyi. Provided early identification and formal education to disabled children.
1998-2000 DANIDA phased out its support to the EARS programme. Bushenyi District Education Department
was unable to maintain such a resource-intense service without this donor funding.
2000-2001 VSO Uganda carried out a needs assessment to identify a way of developing a more sustainable
support system. Findings included:

  • deaf children and those with learning difficulties were not included in local schools
  • negative community attitudes towards educational inclusion were a major barrier.
2002 Based on the findings, Bushenyi District Education Department began implementing a new primary level inclusive education programme. Key features included:

  • in-service teacher training for unit teachers
  • five units for deaf children established
  • no deaf child should live more than 10km from a special unit
  • teachers in the primary schools with units volunteered to receive on-the-job training in Sign Language.
2007 Community-based organisation, Silent Voices, was formally established. It co-ordinates parents’ group activities and helps to support their fundraising, financial management, etc. Parent group members meet, support each other, learn Sign Language, raise community awareness, and so on.
2009 Evaluation of the inclusive education programme carried out. By this time there were 14 units educating 123 deaf children.


School attendance (based on current estimates)1

Population Number of ‘deaf’ schools Number of units for deaf learners % deaf children
attending school


  • Six pupils progressed to secondary education in 2009. All passed their first year exams; one was third in a class of over 100 children.
  • Teachers in the units are on the District payroll – there is no separate financial arrangement for the inclusion of deaf children.
  • The schools with units are government schools, so no fees are payable unless the child is a boarder.
  • Many teachers in the units now hold a diploma in special needs education. Teachers from the original five units have helped to train teachers in newer units.
  • There is a high level of commitment among parents and teachers; many had previously resisted the inclusion of deaf children in local schools.
  • Community attitudes towards deaf children have greatly improved.
  • The number of deaf children being brought to school continues to increase.
  • Deaf young people understand the value of education; many have been encouraged to aim for secondary education.


  • It has proved difficult to recruit Deaf adults to help with the Sign Language training.
  • Many children have very poor language skills and teaching staff are struggling to know how to respond.
  • There is only one Sign Language interpreter for the six deaf learners in secondary education.

Future projects should consider:

  • involving the local government education department from the beginning, so that they have a sense of ownership, and include teachers’ salaries and extra classrooms in education budgets
  • starting with a small, pilot project to generate parent-led demand for deaf children to be educated
  • involving Deaf adults in service development and delivery.

It is essential to pay careful attention to deaf children’s language development, and Sign Language development in particular. This can be done by:

  • supporting teachers to learn how to develop children’s language skills
  • involving Deaf adults in the education of deaf children as role models for language development, including Sign Language.

Lorraine can be contacted by email at: or via EENET’s postal address.

Julia was the Programme Manager for East Africa at Deaf Child Worldwide until July 2010. She is contactable by email at:

Further information about the Bushenyi project:

Deaf Child Worldwide (2010) ‘Evaluation of the Bushenyi District Inclusive Education Programme’, available from Deaf Child Worldwide.

Deaf Child Worldwide (2008) ‘Family Friendly’. This book features stories from parents of deaf children and their organisations in 20 countries.

Deaf Child Worldwide, 15 Dufferin St, London EC1Y 8UR, UK.

1 Deaf Child Worldwide internal report 2009.

Deaf children in class in Bushenyi
Deaf children in class in Bushenyi