The comprehensive concept of inclusive education is relatively new to Kiribati. Up until recently, inclusive education was primarily concerned with providing access to education for children with disabilities, while the country's 2018–21 National Disability Policy states that inclusion education means ‘all school-aged children are enrolled in and regularly attending school and receiving quality education programmes suited to their age and which are catering to their individual learning needs.’ According to the draft 2014–18 inclusion education policy, inclusive education also means that ‘school systems, strategic plans, policies and practices adapt to include education strategies and teaching materials, methods and environments for a wide and diverse range of children and their families’; in this regard, it aims ‘to identify a child’s learning needs and then adapt the classroom and teaching to ensure high-quality learning outcomes for all members of the class.’
According to the 2013 Education Act, the principle of inclusive education means that ‘a child of compulsory school age with a disability or is above the school compulsory age, must, where practicable, be enrolled in and attend a school, and be given the opportunity to participate together with the other students of the school in the education and extra-curricular activities offered by the school’ (Art. 19).
Special education needs
‘Special educational needs’, in relation to a student with a disability, refer to the ‘student's need for education to be tailored to suit the student’s individual requirements, and to receive other forms of support and assistance, in order to maximise the student’s academic and social development’.
Children with disabilities in Kiribati, particularly in the outer islands, have often been excluded from school. A 2018 evaluation of the Kiribati Education Improvement Program (KEIP) notes that recent initiatives are consistent with a twin-track approach.
The 2013 Education Act states that children of compulsory school age with a disability or children above the school compulsory age must, where practicable, ‘be enrolled in and attend a school, and be given the opportunity to participate together with the other students of the school in the education and extra-curricular activities offered by the school’ (Art. 19). It also states that these children must not be excluded from access to free primary and junior secondary education based on disability or age. Six inclusive schools were established in South Tarawa in 2016. These schools receive support from the KEIP in inclusive education practices, access to assistive devices and inclusive teaching resources as well as access to a range of initiatives to support the mainstream inclusion of children with a disability. The 2016–19 Kiribati Development Plan aimed to ensure that 50% of students with disabilities were enrolled in regular schools.
The 2013 Education Act states that the minister of education ‘may establish centres for special education for children of compulsory school age with disabilities, or children above the school compulsory age’ (Art. 19).
According to the 2018–21 National Disability Policy and Action Plan, many I-Kiribati with disabilities, particularly in the outer islands, ‘have never been to school, left school early or attend erratically.’ In the report Operational Research on Disability and Inclusive Education in Kiribati, Jolly and Rokete found that ‘very few of the mainstream schools visited were able to identify any children with disabilities in their school system, and if so they were very often mild impairments’. That said, the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs is the only school in Kiribati that provides services to children with disabilities. Currently, the centre, established in 1991, educates over 230 children. Sign language and Braille are taught and whenever possible the school uses the approved I-Kiribati curricula.
Kiribati has not ratified the 1960 UN Convention Against Discrimination in Education , and the 1979 Constitution of Kiribati does not enshrine the right to education. However, the Constitution defines the expression ‘discriminatory’ as ‘affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, place of origin, political opinions, colour or creed whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject or are accorded privileges or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description.’
The 1979 Education Ordinance (Cap 29 of the Laws of Kiribati) provides the main legal framework for the provision and monitoring of education services in the country. It states that education is compulsory and free for all children in primary and junior secondary schools. The government’s commitment to inclusive education has evolved. The 2013 Education Act (No. 12 of 2013) states that a child cannot be refused enrolment at a school based on his or her sex, religion, race or disability.
An inclusive education policy was approved by the Parliament in 2015. The 2016–19 Kiribati Education Sector Strategic Plan included ‘effective implementation of the Inclusive Education Policy’ as one of its main goals, noting, ‘this policy will see improved access to and participation in education for many children and young people who cannot access or participate yet in mainstream schools’. The 2016–19 development plan aims to effectively implement the inclusive education policy ‘to target children with disabilities and communicate and gain community acceptance of the policy of mainstreaming children wherever appropriate.’ Efforts have largely focused on disability inclusion, with a less visible emphasis on other target groups. In this regard, the 2017 Report of the Independent Review of the Kiribati Disability Inclusive Development Program states that ‘Kiribati is implementing its disability-inclusive policy including through improved access to and quality of disability-specific services.’
Improved basic education has been a priority of the Kiribati–Australia Partnership for Development and the Kiribati Aid Investment Plan for 2015–16 to 2018–19. The Government of Kiribati and the Government of Australia are committed to improving the quality of basic education through the KEIP.
Kiribati ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2013 and the government reaffirmed its commitment to this convention in the 2016–19 Kiribati Development Plan, which targets people with disabilities in education through several of its key priority areas. The CRPD has also been reflected in the 2013 Education Bill, 2015 Kiribati Building Code, 2013 Education Act and 2015 Inclusive Education Policy. Kiribati has also acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes the right of girls and boys with disabilities to quality education.
The Constitution does not specifically refer to disabilities but states that all citizens, including those with disabilities, are intended to be protected from being treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by any public official. The government committed to developing a National Disability Inclusion Act by 2021 to enshrine protection against discrimination of citizens with disabilities in legislation.
With respect to policies and plans, the Government released the 2018–21 Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan in 2018. The policy ‘was driven by people with disabilities working with government, donor partners and community organisations and provides an overarching vehicle to coordinate, drive, monitor and report on the progress of initiatives nationally progressing the rights of people with disabilities.’ In addition, disability inclusion was one of the main goals of the 2016–19 Kiribati Education Sector Strategic Plan. Moreover, the 2016–19 development plan aimed to improve sport and physical activity participation for youth and people with disabilities and the 2016–20 National Mental Health Policy aimed to protect the human rights of people with psychosocial disabilities.
The 2017 Early Childhood Care and Education Act notes that service providers ‘must not discriminate children and they must enrol children with disabilities where their capacity as well as their premises, equipment and infrastructure is able to accommodate the special needs of children with disabilities.’ However, according to Article 47, titled ‘A child living with disabilities’, ‘Any approved provider may be permitted to refuse service to a child with disability in the case where the approved provider, after taking any necessary steps to ﬁnd means of accommodating the special needs of the child in the service, the approved provider, premise or associated equipment and infrastructure cannot reasonably cater for the special needs of the child.’
Kiribati ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2004. In addition, the 2013 Shared Implementation Plan to Eliminate Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Kiribati proposed a framework for addressing harassment, discrimination and violence-supportive practices and promoting school cultures of respect, equality and non-violence. Gender stereotyping has been considered in the revised national curriculum.
Several initiatives have accelerated progress toward gender equality in and through education. For instance, gender equality messaging has been incorporated into leadership training for island education coordinators. The Ministry of Education National Executive Leadership Standards Framework competency includes reference to positive organizational culture, including attention to counselling and support services. The framework also promotes inclusion through school councils for girls and boys, women in decision-making positions and safety programmes for girls. The ministry's National Teacher Service Standards Framework supports school leaders and teachers with a focus on gender equality issues and gender-sensitive leadership in schools.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Article 15 of the Constitution on protection from discrimination provides that ‘no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect’ and that ‘no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.’
A new language policy was adopted in 2012 to transitions from Te-Kiribati to English in year 3. In line with the new language policy and research, children are now starting school in their first language. In addition, initiatives to strengthen English-language skills continue, in particular for students who wish to continue their studies in education institutions abroad and for teachers who wish to enrol in a vocational education programme. The demonstration of English proficiency will be a requirement for the new regulations for teacher registration.
Article 11 of the Constitution states that ‘no religious community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community’ but also that ‘except with his own consent, no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction’.
The 2014 Kiribati Program Poverty Assessment identified specific programmes aimed at alleviating poverty and promoting equity of access to basic services as well as giving all children access to quality primary education by 2020. These include free primary and junior secondary education, subsidization of public secondary schools and financial support to church-run secondary schools. The aid programme also aimed to increase the opportunities available for citizens through equipping young people with basic education and providing access to technical and vocational training.
Kiribati has not ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
The Ministry of Education through the Kiribati Education Fund and partners is implementing the inclusive education policy with a working group monitoring its progress. Both that policy and the 2018–21 National Disability Policy and Action Plan aim to develop partnerships between the Ministry of Education, people with disabilities and teachers from the special education system ‘to enable expertise and resources to be shared in the provision of inclusive education opportunities.’ In this regard, the Ministry of Education works in close cooperation with the local disabled persons’ organization Te Toa Matoa, which is now participating in policy development with ministries. Thus, the Ministry of Employment and Human Resources developed an implementation plan for its 2015–20 Disability Inclusive Policy. The 2018–21 National Disability Policy and Action Plan and the inclusive education policy aim to strengthen the capacity of the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs.
An education advisory committee makes recommendations and advises and assists the Ministry of Education on the formulation of plans and policies for the development of education. In addition, 13 education coordinators who have received training on the principles of inclusive education support the quality of education in each school on the outer islands. An inclusive education working group which includes representatives from a range of government ministries, Te Toa Matoa and other specialists in inclusive education initiates and advises on inclusive education initiatives across the country.
Through the 2017 Kiribati Disability Inclusive Development Program, the senior disability inclusive development officer is the focal point for disability policy development and implementation within the government, ‘raising awareness of disability issues and increasing its profile and importance.’ The Ministry of Women, Youth and Social Affairs is responsible for leading, coordinating, monitoring and reporting on the CRPD actions and obligations but works closely with the Ministry of Education in this regard.
Finally, Australian Aid provided funding for inclusive education initiatives and direction of programmes through the externally managed Kiribati Education Facility. This support ‘has provided advocacy for the inclusion of all students, particularly children with disabilities, which had not been given much attention in the past. As a result, there is a growing commitment to inclusive education particularly at the Ministry of Education level.’
The 1977 Education Ordinance states that ‘the Minister may establish, maintain, develop and conduct schools, institutions and other educational facilities and may discontinue any such school, institution or educational facility’. The 2015 National Building Code was also amended to require all new public buildings to be disability inclusive and accessible. In parallel, the 2018–21 National Disability Policy and Action Plan aims to make more public infrastructure accessible to all and, more specifically, to people with disabilities. It also aims to roll out donor-sponsored programmes to rehabilitate all education facilities and buildings to make them accessible to all. Furthermore, the KEIP focuses on infrastructure improvements in South Tarawa and seeks to ensure schools are built to meet universal design standards.
Improvements have been made to school infrastructure to address gender and disability requirements; for instance, toilets have been positioned in secure locations. However, the majority of schools are currently largely physically inaccessible to people with mobility restrictions related to physical disabilities, blindness and vision impairment.
The Kiribati Curriculum Development Resource Centre aims to integrate disability considerations into all aspects of the school curriculum, mainstreaming positive images and stories of people with disabilities. In addition, the 2018–21 National Disability Policy and Action Plan stipulates that efforts should be made to revise the curriculum to include more proactive and positive messaging around girls that challenges existing stereotypes. The Ministry of Education Exams and Assessment Unit makes reasonable adjustments to ensure national exams are accessible to students with disabilities, for instance through the provision of Word-format exams, the use of a computer with a screen reader, large-print exams or additional reading and writing time.
Gender stereotyping, climate change and disaster risk reduction have also been considered in the revised National Curriculum and Assessment Framework and the ongoing curriculum. Curriculum materials, including teacher guides and learning materials, better represent gender equality in imagery, language and focus. The inclusion of skills and knowledge from a respectful relationship programme is being included into the years 8 and 9 curriculum subjects of moral education, social science and health.
Learning materials and ICT
The 2016–19 Kiribati Development Plan aimed to implement a strategy to integrate emerging developments in ICT into curriculum and school operations. Similarly, the 2018–21 National Disability Policy and Action Plan aims to develop education scripts and materials to raise disability awareness in the country. It also aims to ensure educational materials are developed in accessible formats to ensure better gender equality and inclusion. In this respect, the Curriculum Development and Resource Centre has also reviewed primary school curriculum materials with a gender lens. Finally, since 2018, basic sign language has been included in schools using the new Kiri-Sign dictionary.
The Ministry of Education National Executive Leadership Standards Framework competency supports school leaders and teachers with a focus on gender equality issues and gender-sensitive leadership in schools. In this regard, annual Inclusive Education Showcase conferences have been held and key stakeholders have reported on the implementation of their action plans responding to the prevention of gender-based violence in the community.
The KEIP supports the implementation of in-service teacher workshops. In addition, with KEIP support, an accredited Certificate III Teacher Assistant one-year course was developed with Kiribati Teachers’ College and offered in 2018 with the aim of encouraging the recruitment of these assistant teachers into model schools. These will be the first teachers with specific training to work with children living with a disability, including the ability to develop individual education plans.
Since 2014, training sessions have been conducted with the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs on the right of people with disabilities to education. In addition, awareness workshops on the CRPD have been held with ministry officials, teachers and other education staff, people with disabilities, councillors and mayors, including those on the outer islands. Furthermore, ongoing mentoring on accessible digital media has been provided to the Ministry of Education staff. The Kiribati Teachers’ College TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) curriculum was also reviewed in 2016 to ensure inclusion issues are addressed. Disability awareness and inclusion training were provided to all principals and education coordinators on the island in 2018.
The 2018–21 National Disability Policy and Action Plan provided funding for training on inclusive education. The resulting knowledge was linked to the design of KEIP Phase 3, which includes a strong commitment to inclusive education as an outcome. Released in 2017, an inclusive teaching strategies resource developed in partnership with the KEIP, the Ministry of Education, Te Toa Matoa and education coordinators includes appropriate teaching strategies to support the inclusion of children with a disability.
The 2018–21 National Disability Policy and Action Plan aims to improve data coordination, collection and analysis across all education systems. It also aims to develop a database to capture gender-disaggregated data on the attendance, performance and outcomes of students with disabilities in all education settings. Currently, the government publishes several different reports to monitor inclusive education, including Kiribati Development Plan progress reports, sector reports, school committee reports, school enrolment reports submitted to the inclusive education coordinator, Kiribati Institute of Technology reports, reports to donors and UN Convention reporting.
The Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for the Education Sector Strategic Plan identifies indicators to enhance disability monitoring, including the number of children with disabilities accessing school by disability type, age, location and gender. The Ministry of Education school survey form used for the annual collection of education management information system (EMIS) data has also been revised to capture details about classroom accessibility and the availability of accessible toilets. However, the current data lacks unique student identifiers, thus preventing the Ministry of Education from disaggregating other data by disability. In the 2015 national census reports, neither attendance figures nor overall incidence figures for children with disabilities were reported.
The KEIP’s Monitoring and Evaluation Framework refers to the inclusion of children with a disability in relation both to learning outcome, an end-of-programme indicator, and to the intermediate outcome ‘Improved teaching and assessment of all struggling students including children with a disability’. However, it is likewise limited by the lack of accurate data on children with disabilities and the inability of the EMIS to provide student-level data on disability.