Teachers in special needs schools have opposed the rationale for the automatic promotion of learners, following almost two years of school closures countrywide.
The new schools and other institutions calendar released by the Ministry of Education provides that when the schools reopen on January 10, learners will be automatically promoted to the next class, according to their respective education cycle. However, teachers of children with special needs are arguing that this will instead complicate the learning progress of their learners.
Anne Florence Nakabuye, the in-charge of Misanvu Special Needs Education Unit which operates under Misanvu Demonstration Primary School in Bukomansimbi district argues that automatic promotion is illogical for the learners who largely remained unattended in the entire COVID-19 lockdown period.
According to Nakabuye, the government failed to cater for the unique interests of learners with special needs during the production and distribution of home-study materials which made them lag far behind in the learning process compared to their counterparts who accessed the study materials.
Nakabuye explains that for instance the blind and half-blind learners who require braille and enlarged printed materials supported with a sense of touch, were not catered for during the Ministry of Education homeschooling programs, and as a result, she says, their learning stopped with the closure of formal classes in March 2020.
She argues that promoting such learners before they complete the syllabus in their former classes will gravely affect their learning process and eventually catch up with them in the future.
Oliva Namugabo, a sign language instructor at Masaka School for the Deaf-Ndegeya, says that the COVID-19 lockdown completely detached their learners from education. She says that they instead require more time to catch up with the syllabus of their respective classes.
Although the Minister of Education and Sports Janet Museveni indicated that learners will have to undergo remedial classes to enable them to catch up with the syllabus, the teacher prefers that the Minister gives an exception for schools for children with special needs. She is afraid that many of the learners who study sign language have forgotten the contents of their previous classes due to lack of practice, adding that such learners cannot be automatically promoted.
On the other hand, Nakabuye has also expressed concern about President Yoweri Museveni’s directive that banned parents from paying any money to schools implementing the Universal Primary and Secondary Education programs, arguing that if implemented, the pronouncement will be detrimental to special needs schools.
In a recent interview Sarah Bugoosi Kibooli, the commissioner in charge of Special Needs Education at the Ministry of Education, also noted that although the government had procured some items for the learners who are gifted differently, they could not use them given the fact that their learning in many ways is highly dependent on their teachers or assistants.
“It’s true that some of our learners in this category might have failed to get any continued learning during the lockdown. Some categories of these learners need specialized assistants to learn and some parents and guidance don’t have these skills,” says Kibooli.
Other categories which could use the developed materials like recorded lessons for blind students, and enlarged reading materials for those with visual impairment among others, could not be delivered directly to students given the fact that they had left schools by the time the materials were released by the National Curriculum Development Centre.
From this background, Ronald Luyima, an educationist and Officer in Charge of Inclusive Education at the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda-NUDIPU notes that promoting such learners on an automatic basis will mean that teachers will have to teach the content of two classes in one which is way beyond what some the said learners can handle.
Luyima says that even with accelerated learning which has been proposed, automatic promotion of special needs learners will be a struggle that will affect both the instructors and learners, yet in the end, they may not attain the needed competencies.
Christine Muringu, Director Lala’s Daycare and Inclusive School, Seguku, advises parents with differently gifted learners that whereas the government has decided on automatic promotion, they should heed to teachers’ recommendations to place their learners in classes that fit their respective competencies.
Muringu says that particularly at their school, they intend to assess learners upon return to determine which class they are fit for. From his view some learners, especially, those with mental challenges might need to be taken to a lower level inside of being promoted.
Approximately 2.5 million children in Uganda live with some form of disability, according to an assessment by UNICEF. These include learners with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders, bipolar, oppositional defiance disorder, the visually impaired, and those with hearing impairments among other categories.
However, available statistics indicate that only five per cent have access to education through inclusive learning and 10 per cent through special schools.