Special education needs
While there is no explicit definition of special education needs in the Education Act of 1997, the act decrees that special education programmes will be provided for students of compulsory school whom ‘by virtue of intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities are in need of special education’. A special education programme may take the form of an individual education plan tailored to the specific or individual needs of the student.
According to the Education Act of 1997, the chief education officer shall provide to every compulsory school-age person who resides in the country an educational programme consistent with the requirements of the act. Parents may chose a home education programme or any other educational programme provided by a private school. The act regulates the management of public primary schools (Part III, Division A), the management of public secondary schools (Division B), the management of assisted private schools (Division C) and the management of tertiary institutions (Division D).
The Education Act determines in Article 74 that the minister of education may, as resources permit, include as part of the system of public education: pre-primary education, education to meet the requirements of pupils who are gifted or have exceptional ability, special education, adult education and distance education.
Home education 
A parent of a student may provide a home education programme for the student. The education plan for each student receiving home education must be prepared and provided to the chief education officer three months prior to the commencement of the home education programme and shall be for a minimum period of three school years.
Special education 
Special education programmes are to be provided for students of compulsory school whom ‘by virtue of intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities are in need of special education’. Special education programmes may take the form of an individual education plan tailored to the specific needs of the students. The cost of developing, providing and maintaining the plan is shared between the ministry and the parents or the student (if over 18 years old). Where possible, the assessment of the special education needs of the student is conducted by a multidisciplinary team. If the assessment determines that the student has special education needs, the chief education officer in consultation with professional staff and the parents of the student will determine which special education programme is appropriate to meet the needs of the student.
According to a report prepared by the UNESCO International Bureau of Education of in 2007, most of the institutions catering for the needs of students with disabilities are either privately-owned or government-assisted special schools. In 2007, there were two special schools in the country and two regular schools that catered for students with special needs, namely with visual impairments and autism. The Ministry of Education had piloted an inclusive education programme in the largest primary school on the island.
According to the Situation Analysis of Children in the Commonwealth of Dominica prepared by UNICEF in 2017, there are two special schools for children with intellectual or mental disabilities: the Alpha Centre and the Isulukati Special Needs School. The latter provides specialized curricula for students with intellectual or mental disabilities in the Kalinago Territory. Children with physical disabilities and those with hearing and vision impairments are integrated into mainstream schools as much as possible. Special classes are provided through a select number of primary schools and the Alpha Centre.
 Education Act (1997), Part IV: Categories and Stages of Education. Division C: Home Education
 Education Act (1997), Part IV: Categories and Stages of Education. Division D: Special Education
The 1978 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Dominica, as last amended in 2014, does not enshrine the right to education.
The Education Act of 1997 provides the framework for the administration and operation of the education system. According to this act, the minister is responsible for devising a system of education ‘designed as far as possible to ensure that the intellectual and vocational abilities, aptitudes and interests of students find adequate expression and opportunity for development’. The Education Act was amended in 2002 and in 2008.
The Education Regulations of 2011 provide measures for the enforcement of compulsory school attendance, discipline, suspension and exclusion of students, administration and operation of schools, and rights and responsibilities for students and parents.
In 2006, Dominica prepared a Plan of Action for Localizing and Achieving the Millennium Development Goals with support from UNDP. According to the plan, universal primary and secondary education had been achieved by 2006 but dropout rates were high due to several factors, such as migration. The Ministry of Education tried to improve the quality of primary education by providing training opportunities for teachers, improving and standardizing early childhood education and improving the teaching of numeracy and literacy. The Commonwealth of Dominica conducted an assessment of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals in 2010.
UNICEF’s Situation Analysis of Children in the Commonwealth of Dominica focuses on the most marginalized children, such as children living with disabilities, children living in remote areas and poor urban communities and children of migrant parents. These children are at greatest risk of experiencing developmental barriers during their primary years.
Dominica is a member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The OECS 2012–21 education strategy guides the education directions and priorities of its members and provides a framework for Member States to align their national strategies and plans. The strategy recognizes that there has been significant progress in some OECS States in implementing universal early childhood education and achieving universal primary and secondary education enrolment, but key areas of concern remain. These include the fact that inequality has become more obvious and in some areas the most disadvantaged economically and socially may not be enjoying the benefits of the education system; inadequacies in access at the pre-primary and tertiary levels; and the fact that gender disparities in performance are evident at all levels.
The Ministry of Education, Human Resource Planning, Vocational Training and National Excellence started working on the development of a new education sector plan in 2020.
According to the Education Act of 1997, the minister is responsible for the referral of children who have been identified by the chief education officer as having learning difficulties to appropriate medical, education or social services or agencies for remedial treatment or assistance. Article 37 decrees that a child may be exempt from school attendance if he or she is ‘suffering from a mental or physical disability that, in the opinion of the registered medical practitioner, makes the student incapable of being educated by ordinary methods of instruction’.
Special education is regulated under Part IV of the Education Act: ‘Categories and Stages of Education’. A student who is entitled to a special education programme shall have the programme delivered in the least restrictive and most enabling environment to the extent that resources permit. The chief education officer is responsible for providing the special education programme in consultation with professional staff of the school, the ministry and the parents, having due regard for the education needs and rights of students.
According to the act, a special education programme may take the form of an individual education plan tailored to the specific or individual needs of the student.
The Education Regulations of 2011 include specific provisions for children requiring special education. They determine that ‘when a child attains the compulsory school age and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child is mentally or otherwise challenged and is in need of special education, the parent shall in writing inform the Chief Education Officer of that need’. The chief education officer shall ensure that a student in need of special education is provided with education in accordance with the provisions of Part IV of the Education Act.
Dominica ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012.
According to UNICEF, education of children with disabilities ‘remains a serious problem in terms of removing the stigma facing those who are mainstreamed in the public school system and extending education opportunities to those in rural areas who remain in their homes.’
Dominica ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1980.
The Education Act of 1997 determines that the minister is responsible for ensuring the establishment and pursuit of goals and objectives that develop an understanding of the principle of equality between the sexes. Provisions under the act permit adolescent girls to return to school after giving birth. However, according to UNICEF, in many cases they face stigma and are asked to leave school until they give birth: ‘Young mothers who wish to continue their education through alternative course work are discouraged due to fees, childcare requirements and lack of support.’
The National Policy and Action Plan for Gender Equity and Equality in the Commonwealth of Dominica was prepared in 2006 and updated in 2016 by the Ministry of Community Development, Gender Affairs and Information. The policy promoted the use of gender-sensitive and gender-inclusive language in legislation, government documents and educational material. The policy included measures to fight gender-based violence and to promote gender equality in access, performance and achievements at all levels of the education system.
The Plan of Action for Localizing and Achieving the Millennium Development Goals affirmed that in 2006 Dominica had managed to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education for girls but not for boys. According to the plan, ‘boys, as a group, are underachieving and the male dropout rate from the secondary school system, although improving, is significant enough to cause concern.’ In 2016, the net enrolment rate in secondary education was 91.18% for females and 84.38% for males.
UNICEF included in its recommendations in the Situation Analysis of Children in the Commonwealth of Dominica that the country review, revise or draft policy and legislation that promote the right of adolescents to access comprehensive sexual reproductive health services and increase health education programmes in schools.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous populations
The Minister of Education has the responsibility under the Education Act of 1997 of promoting understanding of the indigenous people, history, language, culture, rights and values of Dominica and their changing role in the contemporary society.
According to UNICEF, the ‘Government’s social safety net for low-income families covers transport, books, school feeding programme, contribution to school uniforms and examination and registration fees. Although this absorbs a considerable amount of the overall social safety net programme budget within the Ministry of Education, some children are still left behind.’
The Ministry of Education, Human Resource Planning, Vocational Training and National Excellence is dedicated to ‘providing leadership and support, in collaboration with all stakeholders, in the creation and maintenance of an enabling environment for the provision of holistic personal and social development of students which will result in citizens capable of contributing to the sustainable development of society.’
The duties of the chief education officer are underlined in the Education Act.The chief education officer shall provide an educational programme consistent with the requirements of the act to every compulsory school-age person who resides in the country. In addition, he or she is in charge of ensuring that schools are administered in a proper and efficient manner, leading teacher training programmes and establishing procedures for evaluating the instructional programme of education institutions.
According to the act, the minister may establish a Council on Special Education to advise on the implementation of the special education measures underlined in the act.
Through the Special Education Department of the Schools Operation Unit, the Ministry of Education ensures that individuals with special education needs can access education opportunities throughout the education system. The department ‘seeks to provide services that will help ALL children and youth to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.’ The department collaborates with educators, parents and other professionals to create safe, healthy and supportive learning environments for all students that strengthen connections between home and school. Training is facilitated by the Special Education Department to successfully cater for the needs of these students.
The Dominica Education Enhancement Project (DEEP), funded by a Caribbean Development Bank loan, targets 60 primary and 15 secondary schools for upgrades in infrastructure, improving teacher quality through the development and implementation of curriculum enhancement and strengthening support for students at risk.
Infrastructure and services
The Education Regulations of 2011 include provisions for the administration and operations of the school. Provisions include separate toilets for male and female members of the school community, sufficient supply of drinking water, and school buildings and classrooms satisfactory to the standards of the chief education officer.
The education development plan for 2000–05 ‘and beyond’ intended to develop a gender-sensitive curriculum which targets underachieving boys and to improve and standardize early childhood education. Section 137 of the Education Act, as amended in 2002, mandated the minister of education to develop a comprehensive national curriculum that was central to the education development plan.
In the framework of DEEP, the National Curriculum Framework was reviewed. Technical and vocational education and training was included in the lower forms of secondary education.
Learning materials and ICT
The Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth Affairs prepared a Draft ICT Policy in 2001. The policy promoted equitable access to education resources through the strategic application of ICT. It encouraged improvement of efficiency and effectiveness of education administration through the use of appropriate school management information systems. The creation of a teaching force in which all practitioners possess the critical requisite skills and competencies required to use ICT as a tool in enhancing the teaching/learning processes was also encouraged.
A 2004–09 Strategy for Implementing the National ICT in Education Policy in Dominica was developed by the Education Planning Unit. The strategy provided a roadmap for students, schools, teachers, principals and minister officials for utilizing ICT in the curriculum, in administration and in training.
According to the Education Act of 1997, the minister can make provisions for the professional training of teachers for the entire education system and lay down standards for the recruitment of teachers and their training, professional development and conditions of service.
The Ministry of Education identifies two types of teachers:
- Special education teachers, who teach students with a variety of education needs and deliver a flexible curriculum to meet these needs
- Visual impairment teachers, who are trained to work with students who have a visual impairment. Support is given to students with moderate, severe and profound visual impairments.
In addition, support personnel, such as speech and language therapists, clinical or school psychologists and education assessment specialists, play a key role in catering for the needs of students with special needs.
According to UNICEF’s 2017 Situation Analysis of Children in the Commonwealth of Dominica, after more than a decade on teacher training investments, in the 2012/13 school year 65% of the 530 primary teachers in the education system were trained. However, only 38% of the country’s 530 secondary teachers had attained bachelor or post-graduate degree level.
In 2017, the Minister of Education announced a plan to identify teachers who are most suitable for further studies in special education and provide training for these teachers. In 2019, teachers received special education teacher training in Dominica. With support from the Rotary Club, training is often offered to teachers and parents who work with children with special education needs, particularly with autism.
There is no evidence of monitoring and reporting mechanisms developed by Dominica to measure progress towards inclusive education.