What you need to know:
- The government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Education, should prioritise mental health for both learners and teachers, offering active support, training, and curriculum adjustments that genuinely address this challenge.
Uganda, often referred to as the “Pearl of Africa,” boasts not only breathtaking landscapes and a rich cultural heritage but also a remarkable tradition of hospitality.
Beyond its natural beauty, Uganda holds the distinction of being the largest host for refugees in Africa, offering shelter to an impressive 1.5 million refugees and 32,000 asylum seekers.
These individuals primarily come from neighbouring countries like South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Somalia, with an estimated 60 percent or more of them being children and youth.
As these young refugees join Ugandan students in primary, secondary, and tertiary education, it’s crucial to acknowledge the traumatic experiences they’ve endured.
Trauma-informed care is a crucial approach for helping students, including refugees, overcome the trauma they’ve faced. Rooted in understanding and addressing emotional needs, this approach leads to improved emotional and mental wellbeing.
For example, a student who has witnessed conflict or displacement may struggle with anxiety and depression. Trauma-informed care equips educators with tools to help these students manage and alleviate these emotional challenges, ultimately promoting overall wellbeing.
Additionally, students who receive trauma-informed care perform better academically. By facilitating the effective processing of their traumatic experiences, students can better focus on their studies.
This improved concentration and cognitive functioning lead to enhanced academic performance, contributing to a more educated and skilled workforce and fostering economic growth.
The impact of trauma-informed care isn’t limited to academic performance; it extends to social and emotional development. This approach helps students build positive relationships with their peers and teachers, leading to better communication, cooperation, and a stronger sense of community among students, teachers and the community.
But the need for trauma-informed care isn’t limited to refugees alone; it’s a necessity for Uganda’s entire education system.
The country is home to approximately nine million adolescents, making up a quarter of the population. However, these young individuals face an array of challenges, including high levels of unemployment, poverty, the prevalence of HIV and Aids, teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence to mention but a few. These adversities collectively hinder Uganda’s youth from realising their full potential.
In addition to challenges mentioned above, environmental challenges, such as floods, epidemics, droughts, and landslides, further contribute to stress and trauma. Therefore, there is a pressing need for a trauma-informed approach in education that can address these challenges, ensuring the well-being and mental health of the country’s youth. With the educational system transitioning toward a learner-focused approach, it’s crucial to support students in dealing with their mental challenges and equip teachers to address these current realities.
Mental health can no longer be overlooked in education, as it directly impacts students’ wellbeing and their ability to learn.
The high rates of suicidal ideation among Ugandan youth emphasise the urgency of the situation, with studies reporting that suicidal ideation is common among both rural and urban youth.
The government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Education, should prioritise mental health for both learners and teachers, offering active support, training, and curriculum adjustments that genuinely address this challenge.
Trauma-informed care can play a pivotal role in mitigating these issues, ensuring a brighter future for Uganda’s youth and the nation as a whole.
Harriet Mimi Uwineza, PhD- Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Victoria University.