Like the other 14 member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum, Niue adopted the Pacific Regional Education Framework and agreed to work towards inclusive education. The Framework Cross-Cutting Theme 2 defines inclusive education as: ‘Students with special educational needs and inclusive education’ as ‘an approach which seeks to address the learning needs of all children, youth and adults with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalisation and exclusion. Inclusive education implies that all learners with or without disabilities are able to learn together through access to common ECCE [early childhood care and education] provisions, schools and community educational settings with an appropriate network of support services’.
Niue is a self-governing territory, part of the English Common Law legal system, and pursues free association with New Zealand, through which it commits to international conventions and treaties. However, it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995 but not its Optional Protocol.
The 1974 Niue Constitution, as amended in 2007, does not enshrine the right to education but mandates the Cabinet to provide education opportunities to all through a system of public schools (Art. 61.2). In line with the constitutional provisions, the 1989 Education Act establishes free (Art. 19) and compulsory (Art. 24) education for every child aged between 5 and 16. Special education is provided to ‘mentally and physically handicapped children’ (Art. 18.d). The parent is responsible for enrolling a child with physical or intellectual disabilities in special schools, suitable to cater for their needs (Art. 27.1); learners unable to attend regular education are recommended to be enrolled in special schools, classes or institutions by the school director (Art. 27.2).
The 2003–10 draft national education plan established a Department of Education under the control of the Minister of Education ‘whose duty is to administer the Education Act, promote education, control, administer and maintain all established Government schools and, exercise supervisory and other functions in relation to private schools ...’.
The school system consists of one primary and one secondary institution whose curricula are based on the New Zealand school curricula. Students in primary and secondary levels of education do not pay tuition fees and transport to and from school is provided by the government free of charge. School equipment is also ensured by the state, along with financial support for the education of every permanent resident child of the country.
Concerning school organizations, Articles 28 and 29 of the Education Act establish the conditions for enrolment and exemption from attendance. The latter in particular suggests that ‘No certificate of exemption from attendance shall be granted under this section except upon the ground – (a) That the child is unable to attend school by reason of sickness, danger of infection, infirmity, severe stress of weather, sudden and serious illness of a parent or other sufficient cause; or (b) That the road by which the child has to travel to school is not sufficiently passable’.
To promote youth development, the 2009–13 National Youth Policy sought collaborative actions among different actors, involving non-government organizations, churches, communities and private sector organizations in service provision. To provide a quality and relevant education, the 2005–10 education strategic plan sought to promote ‘equitable outcomes for all’, regardless of ethnicity, ability or disability and gender of learners.
In 2011, the Department of Community Affairs adopted a National Disability Policy to promote and protect the rights and interests of persons with disabilities. While children with disabilities are financially supported by the Department of Community Affairs, assistance through teachers at school has not always been ensured due to teacher shortages.
Concerning ethnicity and languages, the local language, Niuean, is the medium of instruction until year 4, then taught as a language subject and substituted by English. In 1998 a language commission was established to edit all Niuean-language reading resources and to consider and approve all Niuean printed material for the schools and general public use. Racial equality is regulated and guaranteed by 1972 Race Relations Act to comply with the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Discrimination is prohibited on grounds of colour, race, or ethnic and national origins.