The 2010 National Conference on Inclusive Education, held in Dili, defined inclusive education as ‘the education that is available to all in Timor-Leste, without any kind of discrimination.’ This definition is in line with the definition provided in the 2009–15 Framework for the Development of Education in the Pacific, which considers inclusive education:
‘ ... an approach that seeks to meet the learning needs of all learners: children, young people and adults with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion. An inclusive education assumes that all learners with or without are able to learn together through the access to common provisions for early childhood education, schools and community educational environments with a network of support services.’
According to the 2008 Education System Framework Law, ‘individuals with special educational needs of a more or less prolonged nature, resulting from the interaction between environmental factors and their own accentuated limitations in the areas of hearing, vision, motor, cognitive, speech, language and communication, emotional and physical health, have the right to adequate educational responses.’ Special education aims to integrate children with special education needs into the education system and into the society, to grant them autonomy at all attainable levels, and to promote equality of opportunities and the preparation for adequate professional instruction and integration into the workforce.
The 2011 Report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Timor-Leste determined that there was only one specialized school for persons with disabilities in the country. Located in Taibessi, Dili, the school accepts persons with a range of disabilities and aims to equip students with basic competencies in reading, writing and mathematics, so that students can then be mainstreamed into public schools and move on to higher levels of education. With support from the World Bank, the Ministry of Education began transforming this school into a national education resource for persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Education, with the help of Plan International, opened resource centres in 2015 in Dili, Aileu and Lautem districts. These are the first learning centres specifically for children with disabilities to open in Timor-Leste and provide an opportunity for children to obtain additional learning support before entering public schools full time.
The 2008 Education System Framework Law establishes the general framework of the educational system. The 2010 Organic Law of the Ministry of Education established the ministry's responsibilities and its different directorates and institutions.
The 2011–30 National Education Strategy Plan (NESP) was the country’s first attempt to comprehensively analyse the state of its education system. In this context, different programmes and policies were developed to remove the barriers to participation and learning for girls and young women, persons with disabilities and out-of-school children. One of its overall objectives was to promote the education rights of socially marginalized groups and those who are often denied access to entitlements and services because of socio-economic status, ethnicity, language, race, religion, age, gender, disability, HIV status, migrant status or where they live and to ensure they gain full access to the same opportunities.
The NESP aim to address the following objectives through its social inclusion initiatives.
- Remove gender disparity gaps and improve access to education for females
- Improve access to education of children with special needs
- Improve school enrolment and retention rates of displaced persons who return to their places of origin
- Improve access to education for children living in poverty, particularly in rural areas
- Prevent situations that hinder enrolment and retention, such as education-related expenses (books, uniforms), distance to school, inadequacy of infrastructure, violence in schools and family attitudes
- Promote the use of mother-tongue languages in education.
Through the 2017 Inclusive Education Policy, the government recognized that despite real advances in education, substantial differences in access to and success at school persist and can largely be remedied with the implementation of specific interventions to ensure equality in the right to education. Although the policy encompasses the entire education system, it focuses on students and individuals who are subject to exclusion or face greater challenges in accessing education – in particular, those with special education needs, those who live in poverty and remote areas, those who belong to ethnolinguistic groups, pregnant girls and young mothers, and working children. The policy identifies a number of actions to achieve inclusion and equity in education.
While the Constitution provides for non-discrimination and equal treatment for persons with mental or physical disabilities, the country has not yet ratified the CRPD. The country has developed a National Policy for the Inclusion and Promotion of Rights of People with Disabilities, which aims to guarantee the rights of citizens with disabilities, including to education.
- Aims at educative and social integration, autonomy at all attainable levels, and the emotional stability of the students, as well as the promotion of equality of opportunities and the preparation for adequate professional instruction and integration into the workforce.
- Is centred on the students, seeking always and at the earliest possible stage to reduce limitations resulting from the handicap and to develop and optimize all of their capacities and all of their potential, and with this objective, to integrate activities designed to integrate the familiar and community environments.
- Is organized according to diverse models of integration in inclusive environments, whether in schools of a general modality of school education, in classes, groups or specialized units, or in establishments of special education, according to the needs of the student, depending on the type and degree of handicap, in order to prevent a situation of exclusion and promote the student’s educational and social insertion.
The 2011 Report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provided an overview of the situation of persons with disabilities in the country. In May 2010, Timor-Leste hosted its first Inclusive Education Conference, inviting speakers from ASEAN countries, to develop an integrated inclusive education programme that would incorporate the needs of students with disabilities, among others, and help achieve the national development goal of universal education.
Also in 2010, an inclusive education policy was drafted; it was approved in 2017 by Resolution No. 18. The 2017 Inclusive Education Policy document estimated than among children with special education needs aged 6 to 14, almost 60% do not participate in the formal education process. The lack of reliable data on this matter is a challenge for the government.
The 2011–30 NESP seeks to implement programmes to achieve gender balance and increase access to education for children with special needs. To do so, it intends to focus on removing barriers to learning to ensure children’s inclusion in all areas of education. Various initiatives promoting inclusive education for children with special needs will be organized in this context at national, regional, district and community level.
The 2008 Education System Framework Law established equal opportunities in access to education for men and women.
One of the objectives of the 2011–30 NESP is to improve the education of females and to ensure that girls have the same right to access at all levels of education. It notes that gender disparity gaps begin in secondary education and are more evident in higher education.
According to the 2017 Inclusive Education Policy, gender parity in the net enrolment rate in basic education was achieved. The 2015 census shows a slightly higher level of school attendance for girls throughout all levels of education. However, gender-based violence and early pregnancy represent real obstacles for completion of elementary school for female students.
Children living in remote areas in Timor-Leste have to travel long distances to attend school. This situation is particularly problematic for young children, discouraging enrolment at an early age. It also hinders the transition to higher education as higher education institutions tend to be in bigger cities.
According to the 2017 Inclusive Education Policy, the cost of education remains a challenge for children in Timor-Leste, particularly for those living in poverty. Although basic education is free in the country, the informal costs of education, such as textbooks and transport, represent obstacles for these children.
Many students do not speak one of the two official languages in the country: Tetum and Portuguese. In addition, many teachers do not use the student’s first language in the classroom. According to the 2017 Inclusive Education Policy, in April 2015, the Minister of Education approved rules for the regulation of language use in school in order to ensure the balance of the use of the most widely spoken language by students, where appropriate, and language learning.
The 2011–30 NESP sets out to develop and implement a programme to introduce the use of mother tongue languages in education in the early years to increase the accessibility, relevance and quality of learning. A national policy on language in education is a necessary component of the social inclusion policy if language is to serve as a bridge to enhanced learning rather than act as a barrier. The Ministry of Education will promote a national debate to define the basis for a national policy on language in education.
According to the 2008 Education System Framework Law, it is the responsibility of the State to promote and support special education. The initiative of special education belongs to the central and local administration and other private entities and cooperatives, collective or individual, namely private institutions of social solidarity, parents associations, tenants associations, civic and religious organizations and union or employer associations.
According to the 2011–30 NESP, the Ministry of Education has attempted to address the education of females, access to education of children with special education needs, reintegration of displaced populations, access to education of children living in poor socio-economic conditions and the inadequate use of mother tongues in education. Even in the absence of a specific social inclusion policy, various programmes are being implemented, such as a school feeding programme, a school grants programme, a Gender Unit and an Inclusive Education Office.
The Organic Law of the Ministry of Education established the organization of the ministry and the functions of its directorates. The law determined that the Directorate-General for School Administration, Innovation and Curriculum Development is responsible for establishing the pedagogical organization of education establishments (including in the modality of special education) and promoting effective inclusive education policies and practices to respond to the various needs of all children at all levels of education.
According to the Inclusive Education Policy, a lack of schools and an insufficient number of classrooms remains a crucial barrier, in particular in rural and remote areas. Owing to the lack of sufficient classrooms, some schools have implemented two or three shifts. Students attending schools with multiple shifts face bigger challenges to accessing quality education, while schools with more than one shift are often unable to ensure the workload required for the full implementation of the curriculum.
Decree-Law No. 3 of 2014 and No. 4 of 2015 established the national core curriculum for preschool education and the first and second cycles of basic education. They highlight the importance of the inclusion of all children, ensuring that the content of the curricula takes into consideration their education needs. Decree-Law No. 3 of 2015 specifically provides that ‘the content and implementation of the curriculum ensure the integration of children with special education needs, namely those who have difficulties in learning or access to materials and teaching structures, through the definition of strategies in order to ensure equal opportunities in learning’.
In the context of the 2011–30 NESP, new curricula for preschool education will be developed and implemented taking into consideration mother-tongue languages.
According to the 2008 Education System Framework Law, special education should be offered, whenever necessary, by teachers and other specialized technicians and may presuppose the existence of curricula, programmes and forms of evaluation adapted to the characteristics of each type and degree of handicap.
Resource centres in Timor-Leste are managed by inclusive education trainers. In 2015, when the first resource centres were created, 30 inclusive education master trainers from Aileu, Dili and Lautem municipalities were trained. These teachers were trained with support from the Ministry of Education and Plan International and subsequently trained more than 330 classroom teachers to teach children with disabilities.
As stated in the Inclusive Education Policy, the country suffers from a severe shortage of teachers with the appropriate qualifications, especially in remote areas. Specific training on how to deal with children with special education needs is a high priority in the country.
One of the biggest components of the 2011–30 NESP is teacher training. The country aims to increase the number of teachers in the country and improve the student-to-teacher ratio, ensure that teachers are trained to use the new curriculum, implement an in-service training programme for all teachers and provide specialized training for teachers and assistants to provide inclusive education for children with special needs.
The 2011–30 NESP promotes:
- The establishment of an internal basic education monitoring and evaluation system (including situation maps) to provide information on education access (for example, attendance and drops-outs) and quality (for example, results of student assessment).
- The implementation of monitoring and evaluation systems to assess achievement of the strategic plan goals and in development of school annual plans.
- The development and implementation of school annual plans based on information from monitoring and evaluation systems to improve basic education performance.