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Urgent action needed for deaf school students in Uganda

Published Date: 17 Mar 2023

Worryingly low exam pass rates reflect the lack of accessible education

A series of crises in Uganda have had a major impact on deaf school children.

Not a single deaf student received division 1, the top grade, in recent Primary Leaving Examinations. Although 263 deaf children sat the exam, half did not pass. Only around 10% of deaf children were enrolled to take the exam, as the majority do not attend school at all.

Primary Leaving Examinations in Uganda are important as they determine what education a child receives next. Only students that pass in the top four grades can go onto secondary school.
Deaf Child Worldwide partners with the Ugandan National Association of Parents of Deaf Children, known as NAPADEC.

Project manager, Julius Okongo, explains the impact of these results:

“Deaf children will develop negative attitudes towards education, leading to increased school dropout rates. They may refuse to repeat the same class or join a vocational institution if they see their friends joining secondary schools.

“Poor performance may also demotivate parents, especially those who are not deaf aware and had high expectations of their child.''

Deaf children in Uganda already face major barriers, including late identification, low deaf awareness in families, schools and even in the health system. What’s more, the impact of two recent crises has worsened their situation.

School closures

Ugandan schools closed in November 2022 due to an outbreak of Ebola, a deadly disease, which caused 53 deaths, including eight children. Fortunately, this outbreak was contained, and schools reopened in February. However, these school closures, plus the two-year school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, have meant deaf children have missed out on vital education opportunities . The at home support provided from the Government during school closures were inaccessible for deaf children, Julius says.

“Parents were unable to translate English learning packages [from the Government] to their deaf children at home. They only knew basic Ugandan Sign Language, use local languages and many did not have smartphones to access learning resources from the Ministry of Education website. Deaf children could not access television and radio lesson programmes at home as these did not include sign language support.

“Deaf children were left with little to do at home during the lockdown and some felt frustrated because of a lack of Covid-19 information available to them. Parents struggled to explain to their deaf child what was happening, and some children escaped from home to socialise with their fellow deaf friends.’’

The cost of living crisis

Inflation has gone up by 10% in Uganda. This has had an enormous impact on families already struggling to survive.

Both government and private schools have increased school fees for all students. This means some parents cannot afford to send their children to school as they are struggling to afford food. Julius told us:

‘‘With some people eating one meal per day, children and babies are suffering from malnutrition.’’

Next steps for NAPADEC

NAPADEC has four recommendations to improve the performance of deaf students.

1. Ugandan Sign Language should be used to teach and assess deaf learners in schools.
2. Learning materials for deaf learners should accessible and deaf-friendly.
3. Deaf children and their families need support and encouragement to stay in education.
4. Teachers need training in deaf awareness so they know how to teach and support deaf children.

Read more about NAPADEC’s work here.