Sandra Nanzala, an 11 year-old girl, with a physical disability, has been discontinued from Zesui Primary School where she was in Primary Three.
According to the parents, the school administration advised them to enrol her in a special needs school.
“The school told us to register her in another school because they could not handle her anymore,” says Ms Sylvia Muyama, the mother and a resident of Mooni Village in Wanale Division in Mbale District.
Although her equals are at school, Nanzala has been staying at home since the first term started. Ms Muyama says she would have loved to see her daughter educated but due to lack of finances, the family has failed to enrol her in a specialised school.
“My friends have asked me to abandon her but I have refused because she is a child like others, who deserves to be handled well and with dignity,” she says.
Like Nazala, many children with disabilities, are entitled to education.
According to Mr Hannington Joseph Kakumba, the officer-in-charge of special needs in Mbale District, there are 2,000 children with special needs in the district.
“We have a big number of children, who have dropped out of school partly because they require specialised schools, which are costly for many parents,” he says.
Ms Kakumba says the district has only 57 special needs trained staff, a number that he says is below the average.
“We have very few special needs trained teachers to handle the children in government-aided schools, which is the biggest challenge in trying to promote inclusive education,” he says.
Mr Kakumba says the district gets no special funds to address the plight of these children facing these challenges.
“We use local revenue and a little funding from the district education officer’s office, which only allows us run few activities, we can afford,” Mr Kakumba says.
He says, despite the introduction of inclusive education programme, the scope of coverage is still limited.
“As much as we may have inclusive education, it cannot work in some instances. For example, a mentally retarded child does not need to study one plus one but needs to study aptitude to aid his day to day living in terms of how to eat and dress, among other things” Ms Kakumba, says.
Mr Robert Mudabo, one of the trained teachers for children with disabilities, explains that the few people trained in the field are also running away due to meagre pay.
“The few trained people are running away because of the little pay. You can’t get a special needs trained teacher and begin giving them a salary of a Grade Three teacher, which is about Shs400,000 per month,” he says.
Ms Harriet Mwesigwa, the district senior education officer, observes that the parents are to be partly blame for neglecting their children.
“Attitude starts with the parents. Very few believe that children in such a state can be helped and become productive in future. Many parents look at them as a wasted lot,” says Ms Mwesigwa.
In addition, she says fathers have also abandoned children with disabilities to their wives.
“Men have failed in their duties and in most cases, they have abandoned their responsibilities to women to raise the children single-handedly yet they are financially handicapped,” she says.
Mr John Naziba, a parent, explains that it is hard to find an affordable education service for children with disabilities in Mbale District.
“Parents with children with disabilities are ignored and neglected,” he says, adding that the available few schools also lack requirements such as teaching aids.
Schools and funding
Some of the few schools offering special needs education in Mbale District include Nauyo, Makhaye, Nyondo Demonstration and Mbale School for the Deaf.
But educationists say the schools are inadequately staffed, have no flexible curriculum and limited teaching materials.
However, the district leaders have embarked on a number of initiatives purposely to address the plight of the disabled children in a bid to better their lives and ease access to education.
The Mbale District Woman MP, Ms Connie Nakayenze Galiwango, who is also the chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Education and Sports, says although there is an inclusive education programme in all schools to address education needs of children with disabilities, it is being hampered by budget constraints.
“We have, however, a challenge with funding where it has been hard to get adequate funds for this cause,” she explains.
Ms Galiwango says there is need for more funds availed for the persons with disabilities and also have more schools constructed in every sub-county.
The district chairperson, Mr Bernard Mujasi, says the government is committed to helping children with disabilities throughout the country.
However, the public relations officer of the Education ministry, Mr Patrick Muyida, says the ministry is rolling out inclusive education policy in all government schools to cater for all children, including children with disabilities.