Learners with ‘Unseen’ Learning Differences Ignored

There is concern that as Uganda moves towards inclusive education, emphasis is placed on students with visible or widely acknowledged impairments while ignoring those with unseen learning differences.

Dr. Patrick Ojok, an expert in Disability Studies and Inclusive Education, says that in many classrooms across the country, there are learners with learning differences most of, which have not been identified thus making it difficult for them to unleash their full potential.

“When we talk about inclusive education, people rush to look at the learners with visible or widely acknowledged disabilities like hearing impairments, visual impairment, physical impairment, autism, and likes. But, there is a large group that remains unsound. it deserves attention too,” said Ojok. 

Ojok, who is also a lecturer at Kyambogo University, adds that unlike some groups of special needs children, most of whom have not been enrolled, the learners with unseen learning differences are already in schools but the current system doesn’t provide a solution for their individual learning needs.

Such learners may experience challenges with organization, following directions, memory, or attention, especially in academics, such as reading, writing, and mathematics. While everyone in the population may struggle with the aforementioned skills at some point or another, students with learning differences experience these difficulties throughout their educational cycle, and they can last an entire lifetime.

Dr. Pamela Nizeyimana, the Assistant Commissioner in charge of Special Needs Education at the Ministry of Education and Sports and acknowledges the problem, saying that most of these learners at times are branded stupid or daft after failing assignments allocated to them by their teachers. 

Dr. Nizeyimana adds these learning differences can however be identified by teachers by paying attention to variables such as physical characteristics, intelligence, perception, ability, and learning styles of individual learners. 

“The good thing is that these learning differences can be identified by teachers if they pay attention. But it’s unfortunate that many go unnoticed. I personally have a belief that most of these learners at times drop out of school and those who keep in school struggle to complete,” she noted.

The assistant commissioner, however, notes that due to the big number of learners; pupil ratio, and heavy loads on teachers, sometimes it’s difficult for them to identify the needs of all learners, and where one is identified at times, no solution is given.

By policy, each primary class must have at least one teacher who is expected to handle all the learning areas offered. With universal primary education, enrollment has gone up with some classes having as many as 150 learners.

But, Ojok says that even the available teachers don’t have the capacity to identify the learning difference. He argues that although in primary schools there is some level of awareness of the needs of such learners, at the secondary level it is worse as teachers don’t even bother to find out the individual learning differences among their students.

He adds that there is a need to equip teachers with the skills and knowledge of carrying out functional assessments for different learners. 

Ojok adds that away from the teachers, the government through the Ministries of Health and Education should adopt a national disability and learning difference assessment mechanism to enable schools to identify the needs of learners right from admission.

Benon Kasenene, the Country Director of Verbatoria Uganda points out that these unique learning differences and talents are simple to identify with the aid of technology. 

Kasenene said that at Verbatoria they use talent assessment tools to identify a person’s potential and learning differences by evaluating their ability in different subjects, Creativity, Verbal, Self-Esteem, and Empathy among other areas. 

He cited a recent incident where a parent approached them after observing that his child was struggling academically. Using their technology, it was later determined that the child was a visual learner.  

Visual learners comprehend information better when they can see it. They might not comprehend oral commands. Diagrams, flowcharts, and graphs are the favorites of visual learners. Now, in the case of the said child, based on the findings of the assessment teachers were given a report on how to modify their lesson plans to better meet the needs of this learner.

Dr. Wisdom Kwadwo Mprah, a senior lecturer at Kwame Nkrumah University’s Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies in Ghana, argues that it is crucial to identify students’ learning requirements and needs before they start school. Dr. Mprah, who has total hearing loss, says that in Ghana, where he is from, the notion of screening students was also raised, but it has not been widely implemented due to a lack of money. 

Nizeyimana, notes that in the absence of a national learning difference screening mechanism and the high costs that might be needed for parents to privately screen their children, the ideal option is to provide teachers with inclusive education responsive teaching skills, methods, and instructional strategies best suited for participation by all learners. 

Approximately 30 percent of inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists worldwide have special needs or learning problems, according to information currently accessible. However, given that they struggle to realize their full potential in a compromised environment, their path to success is typically more challenging than others.

It is also said many people who might have achieved success are sometimes forced to leave school by the current educational institutions, which cannot recognize their learning differences.  

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