By Dolorence Naswa Were
The Uganda Society for Disabled Children is a 35-year-old NGO, operating in fourteen Ugandan districts, that is committed to recognising and equalising rights for children with disabilities and making it possible for children with disabilities to access an inclusive education in Uganda. We joined RELI and it has transformed the way we work.
Our vision is a Ugandan society in which children with disabilities can grow and develop to their full potential. And to that end, we strive to provide children with disabilities equal rights and equitable opportunities by advocating for inclusive learning and parenting. Alone, we have made good but slow progress. Together with other members of RELI in Uganda we have accelerated that progress and catalysed big change.
Whereas education for learners who encounter barriers to learning, development and participation, including learners with disabilities, was offered through a segregated education system (which started in the 1950s) now this group of learners is partially catered for through an inclusive school system where all learners are expected to benefit equally. However, Uganda has not yet fully included learners with disabilities at a policy level.
In order to achieve and further develop this system in line with new research findings, one that makes learning even more accessible to students with disabilities, Uganda still needs to improve access to inclusive learning materials and train a cadre of teachers with a good understanding of the diverse educational needs among learners. This will create an environment that is conducive to learning for persons with disabilities.
When we joined RELI in 2017 our biggest goal was achieving an inclusive education policy. As such, the highlight of our membership in RELI has been a mutually beneficial exchange that has seen us share various learning products. For example, organisations in RELI have developed and disseminated the Inclusive Education in Uganda report that has led to a proliferation of further research geared towards making education more accessible and has in turn strengthened advocacy for learners with disabilities.
Along with our active participation in the Equity and Inclusion Thematic Group, which has advocacy for inclusive education as one of its priorities, this has strengthened our advocacy efforts. Well Made Strategy advocacy training has enabled us to focus messages and aim them at the right audiences for maximum impact. We have used the resources and ideas we have gained through RELI to make inroads in government offices, bringing us closer to realising a goal we have had since 2016: to ensure that Uganda has a national inclusive education policy.
The impact of our collaboration with RELI is evidenced in the fact that the Ministry of Education and Sport’s Top Management leadership passed the policy to which we contributed in February 2022 and also granted the policy a certificate of financial implication in March of 2022. As of now, we await the Cabinet’s decision to pass the policy including the implementation guidelines.
We know that the full adoption of an inclusive education policy will not be the end of this journey – we like to think of it as only the beginning. Even as we await this critical decision, we are preparing to rally others to disseminate these, roll out the policy implementation, explain the various strategies, as well as continue mobilising resources for the policy both from within Uganda and beyond.
RELI has invited the Commissioners in charge of this policy several times during our country convenings as a way of reaffirming our joint commitment to inclusive education. When RELI invites them, they come.