The British Virgin Islands are one of the 14 British Overseas Territories, and British Virgin Islanders have been British citizens since 2002.
Replacing the 1976 Constitution, the 2007 British Virgin Islands Constitution Order adds a section on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. The section enshrines the right to education (Art. 22), laying down the entitlement of every child to free primary education (Art. 22.2). It further prohibits any restriction of those rights or discrimination on grounds of ‘sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, association with a national minority, property, family relations, economic status, disability, age, birth, sexual orientation, marital or other status’ (Art. 9).
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture holds the responsibility for all education services, including budget allocation and carrying out the strategic objectives for the sector. The 2015 Strategic Social, Economic, Environmental and Direction/Governance (SEED) framework identified the improvement of quality and accountability of management, the strengthening of teacher learning and qualification, and an increase in technical and vocational education and training opportunities for all as among its main objectives related to education. Along these lines, the Education Sector Support Project, sponsored by the Caribbean Development Bank and implemented by the Ministry of Education since 2017, intends to enhance the quality, equity and effectiveness of the Islands’ education system by improving the teaching and learning environment and empowering education leadership.
Concerning disability, the 2004 Education Act regulates the provision of special education programmes for school-age children who have ‘intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities’ (Art. 91.1). A special education programme, provided ‘in the least restrictive and most enabling environment’, consists of an individual education plan, tailored to the special or individual education needs of the learner (Art. 91.2–3). Learners with moderate disabilities are entitled to financial support aimed to encourage them to attend regular schools at primary and secondary levels.
The assessment of special education needs and the identification of the most suitable programme to address their needs are carried out by school principals, in consultation with education staff and parents (Education Act, Art. 92.2). The implementation of an early intervention programme for children up to 8 years of age is conducted by the Elderly and Disability Services Division under the Social Development Department, which plans and manages the service provision for persons with disabilities throughout the country.
In 2015, there was only one public primary special school out of a total of 27 primary schools operating in the country.
In relation to gender, the British Virgin Islands has committed to complying with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women since its extension by the UK government in 1986. The 2004 Education Act promotes an understanding of the gender equality principle (Art. 4.2[f]). In 2011, a National Policy for Gender Equity and Equality was developed in collaboration with the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, and Trinidad and Tobago. Influenced by the 2010–15 European Union Strategy for Equality between Women and Men and by the Carribean Community plan of action to 2005, Framework for Mainstreaming Gender into Key CARICOM Programmes, the policy urges a review of education practices for school-age pregnant girls. It further calls for data collection and analysis disaggregated by sex and advocates for a review of national curricula and scholarship allocations to ensure gender balance and representation.
Established in 1992 as the Women’s Desk, the Office of Gender Affairs under the Ministry of Health and Social Development coordinates awareness campaigns and acts as a focal point within the government for gender equality and equity.
In addition, the 2004 Education Act mandates the Ministry of Education and Culture to promote understanding of the local language, culture and values (Art. 4.2[g]) and to develop a Caribbean identity through regional cooperation (Art. 4.2[i]).