In 1987, the concept of learning in regular classrooms as a form of inclusion was first put forward in policy. The 1995 Education Law and the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities also point out that children with mild to moderate disabilities can enter regular schools and learn together with typically developing children. In 1994, procedures were issued to regulate the development of learning in regular classrooms. In recent years, inclusive education has been given considerable emphasis to ensure equal education rights for all children with disabilities.
In the 2017 Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities, inclusive education is defined as the greatest extent of integration of all learners with disabilities into regular education. Similarly, the 2014–16 National Special Education Promotion Plan refers to inclusive education as the promotion of equitable and high-quality education for all children with disabilities and calls for it to be practised all around China.
According to the 2006 Compulsory Education Law, compulsory education for children with disabilities is provided in:
- Special schools and/or classes for school-age children and youth with visual, hearing and/or language impairments, and/or intellectual disabilities (Art. 19)
- Separate classes in regular schools
- The same classes with their peers
- Via home-based or distance education for children with severe or multiple disabilities.
According to the official data of the Ministry of Education, the majority of children with disabilities, especially those with mild to moderate disabilities, are educated in inclusive settings. The highest percentage of children with disabilities learning in inclusive settings was nearly 70%, in 2001.
For children from other groups, education is provided in:
- Boarding schools for school-age children and youth without stable residency (Art. 17)
- Schools and/or classes for children and youth belonging to ethnic minority groups, set up by the autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government through the Department of Education under the State Council and the people's governments of provinces (Art. 18)
- Specialized schools for juvenile offenders according to the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Art. 20).
More recently, the 2017 Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities have prioritized the construction of special education resource classrooms in some regular schools and equipped them with training and resources to cater for the needs of learners with disabilities. The Ministry of Education issued detailed guidelines for regular schools to build special education resource classrooms in 2016, requiring regular schools with more than five students with disabilities to do so. Learners with disabilities can thus receive education with their peers in regular schools. The 2015 Administrative Regulations on the National Unified Examination facilitate access to higher education for students with disabilities in an equitable way with the support of necessary accessibility provision.
The 2017 Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities mention the establishment of special education resource centres to provide special education guidance and support services at local level and list the functions and responsibilities of special education resource centres, including providing professional support for regular schools to implement inclusion in a certain region. In areas where a special education system is not established, districts and county administrations are expected to rely on regular schools to set up special education resource centres.
The establishment of special education schools has been significantly strengthened, as reported in the 2015 mid-term evaluation report on the National Plan for Medium- and Long-Term Education Reform and Development. For example, in Guangdong province, which has a particularly high migrant populations, and in Chongqing, the most densely populated municipality, children with disabilities who need intensive support attend compulsory education in special schools, while those who need less support go to regular schools. In Guangxi autonomous region, an increasing number of children and youth with disabilities have access to schools. The local plan advocates for increasing enrolment of learners with disabilities in regular schools and for strengthening the capacity of existing special schools to include students with severe and multiple impairments. To meet the objective, it calls for increasing cooperation among local departments and disabled persons’ organizations.
Within the outline of the National Plan for Medium- and Long-Term Education Reform and Development, local authorities have carried out various initiatives. For example, education satellite classes in Zhejiang province integrate learners with disabilities into special classes in regular schools. In Sichuan province, the ‘1+5+N’ education mode aims to integrate learners with special education needs through a three-level resource room system.
According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, as amended in 2018, the state is committed to developing education facilities and promoting independent education (Art. 19) and the citizens of the Republic have the duty and the right to education (Art. 46). The 1995 Education Law, revised in 2015, reaffirms the right to receive equal access to education, regardless of nationality, race, gender, occupation, economic status or religious beliefs (Art. 9).
As specified in the Constitution, education of the blind, deaf, mute and other ‘handicapped citizens’ is ensured by the state (Art. 45). The Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities, as revised in 2008, defines individuals with disabilities as those who have not displayed adequate or normal physiological or psychological functions and fail to engage in specific activities, including those with visual and hearing impairments, physical disability, intellectual disability, speech and language disorder, psychiatric disability or multiple disabilities. This law lays down the right to equal access to education for persons with disabilities through a regular or special education method according to the type of disability and ability of the learner.
In education, the 1995 Education Law, as revised in 2015, reaffirms the State’s commitment to providing education for persons with disabilities according to their ‘physical and mental characteristics and requirements’ (Art. 10). While higher education institutions admit students who meet the admission criteria (Higher Education Law, Art. 9), all school-age children and youth with disabilities have the right to receive compulsory education (Compulsory Education Law, Art. 6). The Compulsory Education Law also specifies that special and regular education is provided in consideration of the nature of the child’s ability.
To enhance the right to education for the concerned group at all levels of education, the 2017 Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities reaffirm the prohibition of any form of discrimination in education (Art. 2), actively promote inclusive education and give priority to the regular education method over special education (Art. 3).
As a matter of policy, the 2014–16 National Special Education Promotion Plan and the 2017–20 National Special Education Promotion Plan II have aimed to expand special education provision by increasing enrolment and improving educational quality for children with disabilities in compulsory and non-compulsory education. They have also set out to enhance the system’s capacity and quality by strengthening financial and administrative support and multisectoral cooperation and integrating a medical education approach.
At the province level, Guangdong ensures 12 years of free education for learners with disabilities. To promote the completion of compulsory education, the “one person, one case” policy for children and adolescents with disabilities has been implemented to ensure each student has access to education. The policy provides child welfare services, including door-to-door assistance according to individual needs. Education participation has also been supported through specific governmental finance mechanisms and by other means such as the Special Lottery Community Chest Fund Programme and the Nanyue Grants, the latter targeted at higher education. On the other hand, Guangxi has prioritized the placement of learners with disabilities into regular schools whenever possible, increasing in parallel the number of special schools admitting students with multiple disabilities as well as distance learning, as specified in the 2017–20 Guangxi Special Education Promotion Plan. In the 2017–20 Chongqing Special Education Promotion Plan, the municipality indicates a plan to establish one special school in every district to foster completion of compulsory education, with particular consideration for children with disabilities.
The Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, last amended in 2018, is the main legal document regulating women’s rights and promoting gender equality. As regards education, the state is committed to guaranteeing equal rights to cultural and education opportunities (Art. 15), including continuing education (Art. 19) and vocational education and training (Art. 20). Effective measures are taken to cater for gender-specific needs and to ensure that women, children and youth in poverty, with disability or who are migrants complete compulsory education (Art. 18).
In the 2011–20 Development Plan on Chinese Women, particular emphasis is laid on increasing access to preschool education through supportive mechanisms for poor families and girls with disabilities and by establishing preschool education in rural areas. Tailored measures have been introduced to prevent school dropouts among girls and women residing in rural areas, such as the creation of boarding schools and the provision of financial assistance.
In line with the national framework, Guangdong authorities have allocated financial support for internal migrant girls and women, and/or with disabilities, and/or from the poorest households to promote their access to and completion of compulsory education. In Guangxi, literacy initiatives have been implemented to foster education of ethnic minority girls and women through flexible class and programme scheduling. As regards gender equality in compulsory education, the 2011–20 Chongqing Women's Development Plan adopted specific programmes by level of education, such as the Equalization of Fundamental Education Programme and the Unification of High School Education Programme.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
As provided by the Constitution, all ethnic groups are equal and their rights and interests are protected by the state. They are entitled to use their own language and to cultivate their customs and habits (Art. 4). As stated in 1995 Education Law, revised in 2015, education is promoted in all ethnic minority areas, according to the needs and characteristics of the ethnic groups (Art. 10). While the use of the national common language for education and teaching is encouraged, bilingual education is admitted and supported in education institutions and schools located in ethnic autonomous areas (Art. 12).
Within this framework, the Law of Ethnic Region Autonomy, as amended in 2001, allows self-governed and autonomous regions to independently establish education for ethnic minorities at all levels. Financial support is expected to be provided in remote areas in the form of school funds or grants or through boarding facilities. School classes and education institutions with students belonging to ethnic groups are encouraged to use textbooks in their native languages and, in parallel, to arrange courses on Mandarin and Chinese characters (Art. 37). In order to promote higher education among ethnic students, tertiary education institutions provide ad-hoc classes and preparatory courses, while ethnic schools or ethnic classes within regular schools are established at secondary education level. The law points out the special situation of students from small minority groups and from a disadvantaged economic background (Art. 71).
At province level, specific efforts have been made to financially support students from ethnic groups, such as the National Higher Education Funding System in Guangxi and the One Thousand Developed Schools Help One Thousand Underdeveloped Schools Programme and Education Resources Delivery Programme in Guangdong. In Chongqing, boarding schools and canteens have been incentivized in ethnic poor areas at the primary and secondary education level.
People living in rural or remote areas
Through the 1995 Education Law, revised in 2015, the state is committed to supporting education development in remote and disadvantaged areas (Art. 10). The national 13th Five-Year Plan on Development of Education, adopted in 2017, recognizes that the urban–rural gap has been narrowed in terms of education development, also thanks to the compulsory education student nutrition improvement plan. In order to promote a balanced development in the completion of compulsory education, new measures on the management of urban and rural compulsory education subsidies have been adopted, improving the efficient use of fund allocation.
In Guangdong, special attention has been paid to left-behind children in rural areas and efforts have been made to ensure their enrolment in compulsory education. In Guangxi, the construction of boarding schools has been encouraged to ensure access to education for children and youth from rural and/or remote areas, while in Chongqing, particular emphasis has been laid on the improvement of quality education in rural areas through urban-to-rural supportive programmes.
Shaanxi province, Chongqing municipality and other provinces and cities have introduced student nutrition improvement plans for meal subsidies; these provisions have been extended to students living in urban areas who meet the requirements to benefit from the subsidy.
According to the 1995 Education Law, revised in 2015, the State Council and the local authorities are committed to allocating special funds for education, in particular to support compulsory education in remote, poor and ethnic minority areas (Art. 57). The principle of equity in education also informs the 2017 Five-Year Plan on Development of Education, which calls for poverty alleviation assistance, especially in remote and impoverished areas. To incentivize access to high school education and vocational education and training, profiles for students from poor households have been created.
Along these lines, Guangdong province has created profiles to exempt poor students from school tuition fees, while Guangxi has provided 15-year free education to all registered students from poor families. Chongqing provides free regular high school education or middle-level vocational education to registered students from poor households.
The hukou registration system, which authorizes access to services, including education, on the basis of place of birth, has been deeply reformed. Education of migrant children has been allowed since 2006 and public school fees for rural migrant children were abolished in 2008. The system was further revised in 2014, and in 2016 restrictions to education were requested to be eased to allow certain migrants to obtain urban hukou. According to the 2017 Five-Year Plan on Development of Education, attention to the right to education for migrant children has increased significantly.
Cooperation across sectors
The State Council’s Committee on Persons with Disabilities coordinates relevant affairs across related ministries and commissions. The Ministry of Education’s Office of Special Education, which is anchored to the Division of Basic Education, is responsible for the coordination of relevant affairs across different departments and divisions.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for special education at national level, while country education authorities are in charge of the education of persons with disabilities in their respective local areas of responsibility, as stated in the 2017 Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities.
The 2017–20 National Special Education Promotion Plan aimed to strengthen multisectoral coordination of special education between the commissions on education, development and reform, civil affairs, finance, human resources and social security, and health and family planning, and with the involvement of the National Disabled People’s Federation. It further intended to explore coordination mechanisms to share human resources between schools, hospitals and rehabilitation institutions.
At the national level, the Women and Children's Working Committee is responsible for the formulation, coordination and supervision of the implementation of gender plans, while the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, Division of Education and Employment, coordinates relevant affairs with the Ministry of Education concerning disability issues.
Cooperation across government levels
Province-level coordination has been planned to be further strengthened. The province authorities are responsible for organizing supervision and inspection of the respective special education systems and for establishing accountability mechanisms. The objectives and tasks of the National Special Education Promotion Plan are incorporated into local implementation policies and into the assessment systems of local governments at all levels.
Multiprofessional committees of experts on the education of people with disabilities, consisting of specialists in education, psychology, rehabilitation and social work, are established at both district and county levels with the aim to improve the needs assessment of children with disabilities and refer them to the most suitable education and resettlement provision.
As established by the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, amended in 2018, local authorities are expected to formulate women’s development plans and to align them with their national economic and social strategies, in accordance with the the outline of National Chinese Women's Development Programme.
The Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities contains provisions on the creation of a barrier-free environment, including barrier-free buildings, roads, transportation, and information and communications. Within this framework, 13 ministries and committees, with the participation of the Ministry of Construction, jointly formulated the Implementation Plan for Barrier-Free Construction as part of the 2006–10 11th Five-Year Plan to foster the creation of barrier-free cities nationwide; this was followed by the 2011–15 Regulations on Barrier-Free Construction and the Plan for Barrier-Free Construction Work.
The 2017–20 Special Education Promotion Plan also aimed to strengthen barrier-free construction in order to improve special education conditions. The 2012 Barrier-Free Environment Construction Regulations also regulate the barrier-free construction of special education institutions.
In 2007, experimental plans for establishing a national compulsory education curriculum in schools for the blind, for the deaf and for students with intellectual disabilities were piloted. As a result, the Ministry of Education has elaborated new standards for curricula in special schools. The Standards on Curricula for Compulsory Education at Special Schools were adopted in 2016. Curriculum guidelines for students with multiple disabilities and autism are planned to be developed.
The 2017 Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities admit the flexible implementation of curriculum standards and teaching materials in the case of students with disabilities receiving compulsory education in regular schools.
ICT and learning materials
To facilitate learning of persons with disabilities, the use of alternative modes of communication, such as Braille and sign language, has been promoted. With this purpose, the State has subsidized Braille publications, provided free Braille and large-print teaching materials and established sign language education standards for deaf persons.
Particular attention has been paid to eliminating social stereotypes and representation of gendered roles in the compulsory education curriculum.
To promote education in rural, remote, poor and ethnic minority areas, online programmes, such as Classes by Famous Lecturers, Online Courses from Prestigious Schools and Special Delivery Courses, have been carried out as education resources. The use of ICT has been promoted in all schools, as planned in 13th Five-Year Plan for Educational Informatization.
The 1994 Teachers Law regulates teacher training and qualifications. Special education teachers are required to obtain a qualification according to the law, with a major in special education, or to have passed an examination issued by a local education authority. Special education courses are generally provided in professional and general colleges, but special education resource centres can also be entrusted by the local education administration to provide training for teachers who have been deployed in the region.
The 2014–16 National Special Education Promotion Plan and the 2017 Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities provide special education courses for pre-service teachers in order to train them for inclusion. All teachers are expected to learn special education content in order to receive a teaching qualification.
As established in the 2017–20 National Special Education Promotion Plan, all full-time teachers engaged in special education must obtain an official qualification and regular education teachers involved in inclusive education programmes are requested to attend professional training on special education. The National Professional Standards for Teaching refer to requirements about inclusive education capacities. Within the Professional Standards for Early Childhood Education Teachers, for example, teachers are required to learn teaching strategies to work with children with disabilities (Art. 25).
Standards for teaching are established at local level. Within the national training programme, teachers are expected to be trained to implement the new curriculum standards for compulsory education in special education adopted in 2016. Local authorities are also responsible for deploying support personnel to special schools, including rehabilitation doctors, rehabilitation therapists, rehabilitation training personnel and other professional and technical personnel.
Teachers pursuing a career in special education as well as teachers and management personnel who have a command of sign language or Braille received subsidies.
At the province level, the Guangxi special education teacher training centre was established in 2012, providing teacher training for special education schools and professional support for the formulation of special education policies. The Shanghai Municipal Education Commission in cooperation with East China Normal University has been carrying out training for teachers in special education schools and for resource teachers in special classes.
The Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests intends to enhance gender awareness among educators by increasing gender-equality content in teacher training programmes. It further aims to promote training for education managers on gender theory and to raise the proportion of women in education decision making and school management at all levels.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Ethnic autonomous authorities are encouraged to train and recruit teachers of all nationalities, while the State is committed to incentivizing and prioritizing qualified teachers from different ethnic and national backgrounds, who meet the requirements, to be deployed to local autonomous areas. The 2010 National Plan for Medium- and Long-Term Education Reform and Development aimed to increase training of bilingual teachers in ethnic areas.
People living in rural or remote areas
To improve the overall quality of rural primary and secondary education, specific measures have been adopted to boost rural teacher training. For instance, free education of students in regular schools is actively promoted and compensation mechanisms established to bolster college graduates’ chances to become teachers in difficult and remote areas. Innovate training modalities are expected to be integrated into the teacher education reform.
Monitoring the progress and implementation of laws and plans has been highly emphasized in recent years. The Ministry of Education carried out monitoring programmes for the implementation of the 2017 Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities, the 2014–16 National Special Education Promotion Plan and the 2017–20 National Special Education Promotion Plan II.
The 2010 National Plan for Medium- and Long-Term Education Reform and Development intended to introduce a national education management information system, formulate basic information management requirements for schools and promote a standardization of the school information management. The government education information management process was expected to be strengthened in terms of information availability from all education levels and in terms of efficiency. In order to provide data for macro decision making and improve the modernization of the overall education management, national education quality monitoring and evaluation were also intended to be integrated.
As an example of evaluation, the mid-term evaluation of the above-mentioned plan focuses on the special education system, involving representatives of disabled persons’ organizations, schools and education institutions. Among the quantitative indicators considered, it analysed the enrolment rate of school-aged learners with disabilities and the number of special teachers and schools.
The plan also advocated for establishing a government-led monitoring mechanism detecting, in particular, rural left-behind children, while both districts and country are engaged in reporting on data on children and adolescents with disabilities who are not enrolled in any education institution or school.