Evaluation of an empowering girls with disabilities project in Uganda to support inclusive education for all

Montrose recently completed the second midline evaluation of the ‘Empowering girls with disabilities through education in Uganda’ project implemented by Cheshire Services Uganda (CSU) under FCDO’s Girls Education Challenge – Transition (GEC-T) programme. The study was presented to the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) in Uganda, which has shown commitment to making significant steps towards promoting inclusive education for children with special needs. Ministry of Education and Sports estimates that 2% of children in primary schools in Uganda have special needs, that percentage accounts for only 9% of the overall children with special learning needs. (MoES, 2017) In secondary schools, the number drops further to only 0.6%. An article (World Bank, 2020) highlighted that 16% of Ugandan children have a disability.

Accelerating learning for marginalised girls, including girls with disabilities (GWDs), is at the core of the GEC-T programme. The 4-point evaluation of the programme started in 2018 with a baseline study, two midline evaluations, and a final evaluation to follow. Unlike the first midline evaluation that focused on accountability, the second focused on learning and reported on the impact of COVID-19 – particularly school closures on learning outcomes, transition through the different stages of education to employment, and the programme’s sustainability.

A mixed methods approach was used to collect quantitative and qualitative data containing journey maps of learners’ experience from COVID-19 school lockdown to schools re-opening, learner surveys, and learning assessments of 201 GWDs. In addition, interviews were held with parents of learners and their teachers and headteachers. In line with the study’s disability guide, adaptations like using larger font sizes and printing on cream paper were made to the reading and maths assessment tools to ensure that GWDs had the best chance of success. The majority learners were between P6 to S3 and vocational school and between the age 14 to 16 years. The largest percentage – 39% were visually impaired.

Overall, literacy and numeracy average mean scores for GWDs improved from the baseline to this second midline study for upper primary and secondary (P7 to S5), regardless of the two-year break caused by COVID-19. The results show that GWDs have gained basic developmental maths skills and are generally able to read text fluently, even though their understanding of those words and content is limited. They have not reached the level where they can work independently and readily apply maths skills to conceptual tasks.

This evaluation and other similar studies provide beneficial data and direction for more research and contributes to government policies and partnerships that improve learning outcomes for children with disabilities. For example, 97.8% of the teachers interviewed showed a willingness to adapt the curriculum to meet the individual learning needs of all students despite the frustrations they experience teaching children with special needs. One of the recommendations from the study is to provide teachers with specific training on how to teach a mixed-level class, as well as seminars with headteachers and other education authorities to address their frustrations and provide holistic support in the adaptation of the curriculum.