Where we have been
In different communities in Uganda, most of the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children were found in hiding places. Deafness was believed to be a curse. Some family members did not associate with DHH children. Instead, they would describe them as “oduru” in Lugbara in the Arua district meaning someone useless who can’t hear, or as “kasiru” in Masaka district meaning stupid or foolish person.
Lack of communication was one of the biggest challenges that created isolation for DHH people. DHH Ugandans communicated mostly using gestures. Most family members did not know sign language. Very few people were interested in learning sign language.
In Uganda, there were few Special Needs schools and trained teachers which resulted in some of these children being placed in a mainstream learning environment/general learning center. Less attention was given to the learning needs of DHH children and they would get promoted to the next class with poor results. Dropouts rates for DHH children were high. It was hard for DHH children to complete primary seven. For some, they would end up in communities on their own looking for any job or getting married. For others, they became street children and resorted to stealing in the villages and towns to take care of themselves. Very few DHH children had the chance to attend higher institutions of learning, such as Secondary education and University. The situation of being a girl was more complex because the elders did not allow girls to continue with schooling.
Where we are
Education has improved for DHH children in Uganda. The majority are now in schools for the Deaf with qualified teachers in special needs education located in different parts of Uganda. According to the Uganda Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports, there are 47,024 DHH students in Primary one to Seven. Some of these children will complete the Primary level of education by passing the Primary Leaving Examination.
People in different communities in Uganda are now becoming aware of the field of deaf education. Different professionals are joining the cause to advocate for DHH children through Deaf awareness week held every year in September in a selected district. Due to the improvement of deaf education, DHH children are increasing their participation in many school events like sports, athletics, music, dance, and drama. At times, schools for the deaf win competitions with mainstream schools.
Additionally, Uganda Sign Language training sessions are provided by some organizations to families, service providers, and community members to improve communication with DHH people.
Where we are going
Uganda needs to continue making a concerted effort to improve the education of DHH children. These children should be able to gain enough education to attend higher institutions of learning. It is still believed by some communities that DHH children are not capable. Thus, they recommend for them to attend vocational training schools to learn trades, such as agriculture, hair dressing, carpentry, metal works, baking. One teacher at a Ugandan school for the deaf told the authors, “Many Deaf students still want to branch to a vocational institute but we need them to reach the university level.” Making this happen would mean capacity building of teachers, best practices in teaching, and curriculum development or modification.
As noted during observation tours, educational materials and technologies seem to be lacking in some classrooms for DHH students in Uganda. This may influence learning for DHH students because there are fewer visual aids available during instruction.
More concerning, some families may still hide their DHH children denying them their educational rights. These children tend to have delayed language and personal development because they left on their own. In a situation where they are given the opportunity for school, they attend later in life when they are grown and tend to perform below grade level because the zone of proximal development for language and early skills has passed.
Now, there are government aided schools for DH children in Uganda with teachers who have qualifications in Special Needs Education. However, this is a general qualification not specifically for DHH learners. Teachers are able to communicate in Uganda Sign Language although some teachers still have less interest in sign language which affects classroom content delivery.
The greatest need in Ugandan deaf education is curriculum modifications to match the learning needs of DHH children. The curriculum being taught is a general education curriculum. Teaching the general education curriculum becomes challenging for teachers because their DHH students have varying needs. Schools are struggling to find teachers that can modify the curriculum appropriately. The teachers that know how to modify curriculum have little or no awareness of the needs of DHH learners. There is need to train more teachers in curriculum development or modification, Ugandan sign language, and the needs of DHH learners.
Posted on Oct. 4, 2019 by
Rochester Institute of Technology
American School for the Deaf