Rethinking post-COVID inclusive educational mechanisms in Uganda

9 min readJan 26, 2021


By Irene Nabwire

Globally, there are about 150 million children with disabilities below the age of 14 (UNICEF, 2013). Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, education enrolment for children with disabilities was extremely low as compared to children without disabilities. Thus, 65 million disabled learners of primary and lower secondary school age in developing countries were already out of school before the COVID-19 outbreak (UNESCO, 2020).

In Uganda approximately 16% of children have disabilities, but of those children only 5% have access to education through inclusive learning and 10% through special schools (World Bank, 2020). Inclusive learning (where children with disabilities attend mainstream schools) is the preferred model because it facilitates social interaction and awareness raising. However, as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19 the Ugandan government closed most schools in March 2020, hence, almost all children have been home since then. This closure has had a negative impact on the lives of young learners, with rates of teenage pregnancy, child marriage, child labour, and school dropouts all rising (Favour, 2020). This blog post highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learners with disabilities in Uganda and recommends possible measures to improve the learning environment for such children.

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

Pandemic, disability, and learning materials

Learners with disabilities face additional challenges in accessing education. In many well-off countries, there is an integrated learning support system in place in schools, whereby schools with children with disabilities get additional funding from the government and specially trained teachers. Funding and specialist teachers help provide the additional support learners with disabilities need, such as speech therapy, nutrition, and assistive technologies. This support model is just as needed in low-income countries like Uganda, but it is too expensive to implement.

The government of Uganda has stated that education is a human right for all children. To this end, the government provided printed learning materials to children in both rural and urban areas during the time schools were closed to curb the spread of COVID-19. Approximately 2.5 million out-of-school children received these materials to ensure continuity of learning (UNICEF, 2020). However, little is known about how children with disabilities were assisted in the pandemic or benefited from the learning materials that the government supplied.

Different types of disabilities require different assistance, such as braille printing and assistive aids for the hearing impaired, and these might be found at schools but not always at home (UNICEF, 2020). Despite Uganda’s National Curriculum Development Centre’s (NCDC) effort to develop an inclusive learning package (extra-large font and braille) for disabled learners, the package has neither been finalised nor shared with concerned bodies in this pandemic. The reasons for NCDC’s failure to complete the inclusive package is still unknown (Save the Children, 2020). Poverty, poor planning, and lack of political will have already made it hard for children with disabilities to access assistive technologies for inclusive education (Kalemera, 2018). The home/virtual learning situation caused by the pandemic has further disadvantaged and exacerbated the plight of children with disabilities. Accordingly, families with children with disabilities need additional assistance that can help them meet their needs in this time of crisis (Development Initiatives, 2020).

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Historically, the Ugandan government has continually cut the education sector’s budget, compromising the quality of education and service delivery that both children with and without disabilities can access (Kinani, 2018). This ultimately affects the life chances of Uganda’s future generations. Most importantly, when a government deprioritises human development, it is children with disabilities that will feel it most acutely since they are already missing out on service provision. Tackling this fundamental discriminative gap in the education system requires governments, non-governmental organisations, and other development partners to re-think inclusive educational mechanisms that can support learners with disabilities whether at home or in school (McClain-Nhlapo, 2020).

Social, Health, and Economic Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural calamities, such as locust invasion, the rate of growth in Uganda’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen from 5.6% in 2019 to just 0.4%–1.7% growth in 2020. (World Bank, 2020). This recession has been experienced differently in rural and urban areas (Development Initiatives, 2020). The effects of this recession have been exacerbated by the partial lockdown in the country and has inflated costs of medical care and transport services. Furthermore, during the economic downturn, parents of children with disabilities in Uganda will face tough choices. They may have to prioritise food security rather than the physiotherapy or other medical services that children with disabilities require (United Nations, 2020a). Consequently, poverty disproportionately impacts children with disabilities (UNICEF, 2013).

Another shock caused by COVID-19 is the lack of socialisation. Children with disabilities face stigma, stereotypes, and discrimination, which often keeps them at home and hidden even when times are good. The pandemic has further alienated children with disabilities from children without disabilities since many of the needs of children with disabilities are not integrated into society (Inclusive Futures, 2019; Yen Kim Pham 2013). As an example, the lack of paved roads in rural areas makes those lucky enough to have a wheelchair dependent on someone who can push them over unfinished roads and rough terrain. With physical distancing measures in place during the pandemic, those with disabilities are more likely to be left at home. If their parents work on a farm or full-time away from home and suffer from poverty, then these children will need to be left unsupervised and with limited human interaction. This can lead to further health issues such as depression, stress, malnutrition, and falls (Patel, 2020).

While it is unclear how many disabled learners have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of statistical data, it does not take much imagination to realise they will have been affected in more extreme ways than children without disabilities (World Bank, 2020). Almost all the messages communicated about COVID-19 safety measures have been targeted at a mainstream audience. Invariably, such non-inclusive practices have excluded children with disabilities and exposed them to higher risks of infection. Ensuring that access to education is equitable and inclusive will improve the quality of life and self-sufficiency for millions of children and youths with disabilities, which is good for the nation. To further this aim, the mainstream education system needs to get better at including children with disabilities, especially with online and remote learning given the pandemic (United Nations, 2020a).

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Concluding Remarks

Uganda ratified the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Agenda 2030 that commits global leaders to inclusive and sustainable development. The disability inclusive SDG 4 guarantees equal and accessible education by building inclusive learning environments and providing the needed assistance for persons with disabilities and SDG 17 emphasises data collection that is disaggregated by disabilities (United Nations, 2015). This blog post has illustrated a gap in these commitments in Uganda.

Children with disabilities come last — a situation often repeated, as the pandemic has shown (United Nations, 2020b). Children with disabilities need allies and advocates. Hence, I call upon the State Minister for the Elderly and the Disabled; the Minister of Gender, Labour, and Social Development; the Minister of Education and Sports; and all religious leaders and local leaders to stop adding further hardships to the lives of children with disabilities and their families and carers. Instead, advocate for interventions and assistance that promote inclusive development for all.


As Uganda moves towards reopening schools in February 2021, this blog post suggests the following measures be adopted by the Ugandan government and other development partners to address the negative impact of COVID-19 on children with disabilities and bridge the learning gap:

· Generate inclusive data on the effect of the pandemic on children with disabilities and their carers.

· Ensure that children with disabilities and their carers receive health messages in accessible formats.

· Provide learning aids for learners with disabilities at home and school.

· Invest in the education and health service provision of young children with disabilities — early intervention can lead to better health and employment outcomes later in life.

· Support educators to develop curricula and learning formats that address the needs of children with disabilities and that of their families and carers.

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About the author

Irene Mutambo is a Uganda-based, Associate Researcher at Includovate. At includovate, her work focuses on the development of research methodologies, data collection, data analysis and report writing. She also conducts systematic literature reviews and policy analysis that enhance informed decision making. Before joining Includovate, she worked at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on gender research in Empowerment, food and nutrition security, informal markets and adoption of agricultural technologies and innovations with Smallholder Pig Value Chain Development (SPVCD) in Uganda/Kenya. Irene holds both MA in Gender Studies and BA in Social Sciences from Makerere University, Uganda.

Includovate is a feminist research incubator that “walks the talk”. Includovate is an Australian social enterprise consisting of a consulting firm and research incubator that designs solutions for gender equality and social inclusion. Its mission is to incubate transformative and inclusive solutions for measuring, studying, and changing discriminatory norms that lead to poverty, inequality, and injustice. To know more about us at Includovate, follow our social media: @includovate, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram.


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