Policy implementation in the realisation of the right to education for children with physical disabilities in Uganda: A case study of Bushenyi District.
Tumukunde, B. Meldah
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The aim of this study is to evaluate UPE as an inclusive programme and assess its effectiveness in including Children with Disabilities (CWDs). The study further reviews the relevant human rights instruments concerning the right to education and how they have been put into practice to enhance access to education by CWDs in Bushenyi district. Education is an essential factor for the exercise of all other human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits (UNICEF, 2007). There is a global commitment towards getting all children into schools and to enable them complete primary education. The inclusive education strategy is constantly part of this evolving process of change and improvement within schools and the wider education system to make education more welcoming, learner-friendly, and beneficial for a wide range of people. The adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and in particular Article 24, which requires the development of an inclusive education system for all children, presents both a challenge and an opportunity to the member states. Since 1996, the Government of Uganda committed to Universal Primary Education (UPE) where 4 children in every family were to access free education. Later, the UPE policy was revised to free education for all children (commonly known as ‘Bonna Basome’). Inclusive education is a key component of UPE which allows every child to access education regardless of the family background, social status, disability. This effort has however not adequately benefited Children with Disabilities (CWDs) particularly those with physical disabilities. In many instances, segregation in separate special schools of pupils with special educational needs or poor attempts at integration has left CWDs not achieving their potential. Children with physical disabilities still find it increasingly difficult to travel long distances to and from school on a daily basis. Mobility aids like crutches, wheelchairs, calipers are not provided for under the UPE programme. Neither is the physical environment made accessible. Similarly, parents consider education of CWDs expensive and not valuable. The study situates education as a human right, the realization of which should benefit all children without discrimination. The researcher set out to establish these issues using a case study of Bushenyi district (with specific representation from Igara and Sheema counties) focusing on the period 1996 – 2010. The findings revealed that although inclusive education was recommended in Uganda, the concept of inclusion is not well understood by the actors in the education sector and the methods of implementation are not well streamlined. Stakeholders are also not adequately, involved and/supported to play their role in promoting education of CWDs. Other practical challenges identified include; inaccessible physical environment and facilities, stigma and discrimination, long distances, lack of assistive devices and lack of scholastic materials. These directly or indirectly impede progress including the attention paid to the specific needs of CWDs. The study also revealed that policy implementation is influenced by the norms, values and beliefs upheld by implementers (those who have to address the diverse needs of learners in the schools and communities). It is therefore important to focus on these when planning strategies for implementing inclusive education. The recommendations made in this study need serious consideration by all the stakeholders.