The 2005 law on education of persons with special education needs defined ‘inclusive education’ as ‘the joint education at general educational institutions of persons with special educational needs, through the establishment of specific conditions of education, with those having no need for such conditions’.
Special education needs
The Ministry of Education and Science in 2011 defined a ‘person in need of special conditions of education’ as: ‘person facing difficulties related to learning, including persons with physical or mental peculiarities of development, who need special conditions of education in order to master the main general education programmes’. Educational needs of students vary from athletic, artistic and aesthetic to the needs of gifted children or children with physical limitations. Children’s needs also differ by social and geographical factors, such as whether they live in a village or a city, or come from socially vulnerable or poor families.
The 1999 Law on Education enshrines that the education of children with special education needs may be pursued both at general educational institutions and at special schools with special programmes. According to the law, the education of persons with special education needs can take place in regular public and private institutions with adapted conditions. However, the law does not define those conditions. The law also stipulates the medical, psychological and pedagogical assessment of special education needs, the certification and funding means of inclusive education organization, and cooperation with international organizations. Although the law on education of persons with special education needs, adopted in 2005, was meant to transition the education system to an inclusive one, few institutions were suited to welcome children with special needs.
Originally, Armenia intended to move to universal inclusive education system by 2022, but this date was pushed back; the system of universal inclusive education will not be fully implemented until 1 August 2025. Currently, only one-fifth of the 1,408 schools throughout Armenia can accommodate children with a wide range of special needs. In 2016, 206 general education schools implemented inclusive education, with about 6,700 children with special educational needs studying therein. In 2019, the capital and two other regions of the country, Shirak and Aragatsotn, switched to an entirely inclusive education system. Though the number of students in special schools has decreased (about 10,000 students in 52 schools in 2002, 2,800 students in 22 schools in 2010 and about 650 children currently), a model of integrated rather than inclusive education seems to persist in Armenia.
General education schools are provided with additional teaching assistant positions and funding. Children with special education needs receive pedagogical and psychological support at three levels: in general education schools, in regional pedagogical and psychological support centres, and in republican pedagogical and psychological support centres.
The 1999 Law on Education sets that the ‘State shall create necessary conditions for the purpose of receiving education in line with the peculiarities of development of citizens with special educational needs and for ensuring social adaptation.’ Basic programmes of general education shall be as follows: (1) pre-school; (2) elementary (general, specialized, special); (3) basic (general, specialized, special); (4) secondary (general, specialized, special). Article 19 on special education (amended in 2009) states that the country shall establish special institutions in order to organize the education of children in need of special conditions for education. Parents have the right to choose a regular or a special school which will provide adequate education for their child with disabilities.
The laws on education encourage the implementation of special classes for children of national minorities to organize their education in their national language, with mandatory study of the Armenian language. They also encourage boarding for children who live far from the school or cannot afford transportation to and from school on a regular basis.
The Constitution of Armenia, amended in 2015, sets that ‘Everyone shall have a right to education.’ Secondary education in state educational institutions is free. In addition, all citizens have the right to free higher and professional education, but ‘on the basis of competition.’ The Constitution also envisages the principles of ‘full and effective participation and inclusion in society’, as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Republic of Armenia acceded, on 5 September 1993, to the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education.
Inclusive education is regulated by the Constitution, the Law on Education, the Law on Mainstream Education, the Law on Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities, the Law on education of persons with special education needs, the Law on the rights of a child, and a number of ministerial documents issued by the Ministry of Education. An inclusive education concept paper aiming to identify the main provisions of special education reforms and organization of education in general education schools for children with special education needs was signed in 2005. Article 6 of the Law on Education set that the State ‘shall ensure the right to education, irrespective of national origin, race, gender, language, religion, political or other views, social origin, property status or other circumstances. Restrictions of the right to professional (vocational) education shall be provided for by law.’
In 2014, the Parliament amended the Law on General Education, according to which by August 2025 all schools of the Republic of Armenia should become inclusive. The Law (HO-200-N), ‘On making supplements and amendments to the Law of the Republic of Armenia “On general education”’, adopted in 2014, laid the foundations for a transition to universal inclusive education. To ensure its implementation, Protocol Decision No. 6 of 18 February 2016 – the Action Plan and timetable for implementation of the system of universal inclusive education – was approved.
Many laws and strategies exist, including the Law on Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities (1993), the law on medical aid and support to the population (1996), the law on education of persons with special education needs (2005), the Protocol Decision No. 44 (2005), the 2006–15 strategy for the social protection of persons with disabilities, and the law on the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities and social inclusion. Armenia ratified the CRPD in 2010 and produced a country report on the CRPD in 2015. The Constitution recognizes the supremacy of the provisions of the convention.
Based on the 2014 amended Law on General Education, the country also adopted a national plan of action for making the general education system inclusive by 2025. Accordingly several special institutions of general education of the Republic will be reorganized into pedagogical and psychological assistance centres. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Office of the United Nations Children's Fund in Armenia, international charitable organization World Vision Armenia and the non-government organization Bridge of Hope assist in the implementation of the programme.
The State ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993 and produced a country report on CEDAW in 2015. Articles 29 et 30 of the Law on Education state that women and men shall have equal rights, and the Law on ensuring equal rights and equal opportunities for women and men (2013) aims to ensure equality of women and men in all fields of public life, including in education. Programmes for social studies and natural science subjects in general education have been amended to reflect gender equality and protection of women’s rights. With the support of the United Nations Development Programme Country Office, the syllabuses and textbooks of the general education school have been revised from the standpoint of human rights and gender equality.
The 2011–15 Gender Policy Strategic Action Plan aimed to create equal opportunities and equal accessibility for women and men on the labour market and in education. The Plan promoted the qualification of teachers of general education schools (e.g. through an introduction course on ‘Basics of gender-related knowledge’ and a social studies training module) and a stronger awareness of issues relating to the professional orientation of learners, aimed at overcoming gender-based stereotypes and creating motivation among girls and boys to join professions that are not traditional for them.
Moreover, the 2011–15 Strategic Action Plan to Combat Gender-Based Violence provided for the organization of educational activities for learners at general education schools and professional education institutions regarding gender-based violence issues.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Article 56 of the Constitution states that ‘everyone shall have the right to preserve his or her national and ethnic identity. Persons holding affiliation to national minorities shall have the right to preserve and develop their traditions, religion, language and culture.’ Article 6 of the 1999 Law on Education states that education shall be provided in accordance with the requirements of the Law on language, stating that the language of teaching and upbringing in education and learning systems is Armenian.
In the communities of national minorities, general education can be organized in their native language in accordance with the state programme, with compulsory instruction of Armenian. Students from ethnic minorities can choose the comprehensive school they like and the language of teaching, either Armenian or Russian. In 2005–07, inclusive syllabuses and textbooks were developed for Ezid and Assyrian students who wished to study their mother language. In addition, in-service training was provided for language teachers from communities who teach these languages. Schools included extra subjects in the curriculum (e.g. Polish, Greek, Persian and other languages).
In recent years, the Ministry of Education has taken key measures – such as the implementation of a flexible curriculum allocating hours to study native language, literature, culture and history of national minorities for grades 1–12 (41 class hours per week); classes with instruction of the Russian language in 42 general education schools for pupils of Russian and Slavic origin; and seats in universities on a non-competitive basis to the representatives of national minorities – to support inclusion of national minorities in the education system.
People living in rural or remote areas
Following Decision of the Government No 1392-N of 25 July 2002, in specific cases (e.g. at schools in mountainous, highland, borderline rural settlements, and urban and rural schools with classes in the languages of national minorities) a class with fewer learners may be opened upon the authorization of the Ministry of Education.
A Poverty Reduction Strategy was implemented to improve the quality of general secondary education; to develop a productive, united system of supervision and knowledge assessment; to ensure equal accessibility of quality secondary education for all layers of the population at all levels of secondary school, especially at high school levels; and to reinforce the continuous improvement of effectiveness of the system and improvement of management.
Refugees and asylum seekers
The government adopted the Law on refugees and asylum in 2008. This law regulates the right to education of asylum seekers and refugees granted asylum in the Republic of Armenia. The Ministry of Education establishes special catch-up and Armenian language classes to ensure these pupils' successful participation in education programmes. The programme Target Initiative for Armenia, funded by the European Union, teaches Armenian to migrant and refugee students and the members of other vulnerable groups lacking knowledge of Armenian at the Armenian State Pedagogical University.
Inclusive schools are regulated by local authorities – either the municipalities or the Municipal Department of Education, as in Yerevan. The latter is responsible for the implementation of the budget lines and training in regional inclusive schools. Sometimes, inclusive schools are under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Education and Science, which also oversees education of persons with disabilities and is responsible for the implementation of monitoring and evaluation of inclusive education. It prepares legislative bills, drafts regulations for State decision making and creates targeted programmes linked to inclusive education. The Ministry of Healthcare deals with rehabilitation issues for these persons.
The Institute of Public Policy evaluates progress of inclusive education reforms in Armenia. It conducts analysis and proposes new approaches for inclusive education. Moreover, as of 2008, the National Committee on Issues of Persons with Disabilities protects the rights of persons with disabilities and is in charge of the implementation of the State policy in this field, supporting a comprehensive approach to the achievement of equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Special education needs are assessed through the Medical, Psychological and Pedagogical Assessment Center (MPPAC), which is not responsible for certification or referrals. Certification requires local government.
Non-government organizations and other international organizations play a crucial role in implementing inclusive education through trainings, advocacy (e.g. UNICEF) and analyses. Since 2014, Unison has been implementing a programme to make higher education institutions more inclusive.
The 2011 law on urban development regulates the mandatory provision of ramps in newly built or renovated buildings. All schools have access to electricity and internet connection. There are also improving indicators in terms of access to drinking water and handwashing facilities (95%) and sanitation (90%).
Most of the existing school buildings were built in the Soviet Union period and are not adapted for children with disabilities. The USAID-funded grant programme entitled Strengthening Inclusive Education System in Armenia aims to improve physical access in schools for children with special education needs, with a plan to prioritize schools where children move when special schools close. The programme provides for the reconstruction of about 100 schools.
Every child with special education needs is educated through an inclusive curriculum designed by the educational institution a month after the child's admission to the inclusive school (state order on the organization of inclusive education). The inclusive curriculum is developed with support of inclusive education specialists and is the guiding document for measuring the child's academic success and making decisions on possible academic upgrade and transfer to another class. The State signed a statutory paper for an inclusive preschool curriculum in 2000.
Services and learning materials
Based on Article 16 of the Law on Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities, the State accepts sign language as a means for providing education services. The State shall ensure education through Braille for persons with sight impairments. Moreover, ‘the availability of hearing appliances and large prints, including supplementary education through the Braille system for persons having lost their sight at an older age, is guaranteed.’ Furthermore, schools are equipped with resource rooms where individual classes are organized for children in need of special conditions for education according to an individual curriculum plan and involving additional specialists: special pedagogues (speech therapists, hearing and visual impairment specialists), social care teachers and psychologists.
Article 23 of the 2005 Law on education of persons with special education needs requires provision of customized technical support, computer classrooms and rehabilitation rooms; organization of sports and public events, catering, medical care, preventive health measures and rehabilitation; and cleaning and sanitary services, among other functions. Children with special education needs are provided with textbooks, support equipment and other methodological materials.
The 2005 Law on education of persons with special education needs established that, before being granted the status of inclusive schools, institutions should have their multidisciplinary team and teaching staff trained. The agencies, institutions, and governmental and non-governmental organizations providing education to students with special education needs have the right to participate in the organization of international programmes and projects on education of persons with special education needs, including the training of field specialists.
Training on inclusive education has been implemented for secondary school teachers, teachers’ assistants and specialists of regional support centres in regions where universal inclusive education is provided. Currently, special courses are being developed in universities that have teacher specializations.
At state level, general education teachers are trained by the National Institute of Education and its regional branches, as well as in 52 school centres and an MPPAC. Based on the 2011–15 Gender Policy Strategy Programme, a training module entitled Gender Equality and Gender Violence was developed for pedagogues, psychologists, social workers and administrative workers of educational institutions in 2014.
In general, public training institutions in charge of inclusive education lack institutional feedback mechanisms, and teachers lack organized pre-training needs assessment. The Ministry of Education stipulates that the team should comprise of a team coordinator and various professionals (mainstream teachers, special education teachers, speech therapists, psychologists) but does not define professional roles and responsibilities. Such teams differ among regions and schools.
The country does not have an education monitoring report and there is no state-approved system of monitoring and evaluation in inclusive schools. However, the 2011–15 State Education Development Program entailed 21 indicators of the monitoring system, one of which relates to inclusive education: the ‘number of schools in the inclusive education system’. The program had a target of 110 inclusive schools.
Some indicators linked to inclusive education were identified in the Armenia Education for All 2015 National Review, including the gross enrolment rate in pre-school institutions broken down by urban and rural communities, the enrolment in general schools by gender, and the gender equity in general schools. In parallel, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Bridge of Hope have designed a localized system of indicators called School is the Child’s Friend, which has a section on the indicators measuring inclusive education. The Ministry of Labour and Social Issues should also monitor its databases and conduct analyses thereon. However, in many cases these databases (such as that on rehabilitation of persons with disabilities) do not really focus on education.