In the 2015 Concept for the Development of Inclusive Education for Individuals’ Special Developmental Needs of the Republic of Belarus (Order 608/3015), inclusive education is defined as the educational process including all students in the general educational system, regardless of their psycho-physical, cultural, social, linguistic characteristics and abilities. All learners can study in general and higher education institutions that take into consideration their special education needs and provide them with the necessarily support. Inclusive education implies a systemic approach, involving all levels of education, complex institutional relations and coordination activities. It requires adaptation of the learning environment, and building relationships based on understanding, acceptance and respect.
Referring to the international practice, the 608/2015 Order targets gifted and talented children; students with behavioural disorders and deviant behaviour; those belonging to minorities and migrant families, refugees, and forced migrants; socially disadvantaged children and learners with special psycho-physical development.
Special Education Needs
According to the 2015 Concept for the Development of Inclusive Education, special education needs are defined as the need for special conditions, methods and additional training support due to specific characteristics (physical, mental, social, linguistic, etc.) and abilities of the learner.
According to the 2011 Education Code, the Belarus education system consists of general, higher and special education provision. Special education is targeted at students with special psycho-physical needs. It aims to create special conditions for the development and correction of students’ physical and/or mental disorders through the provision of specific pedagogical, medical, and social assistance.
Special education includes different institutions from centres for correctional and developmental training and rehabilitation; special pre-school institutions; special general education schools, auxiliary schools and boarding schools. Persons with special psycho-physical development are admitted to pre-school, general basic, and general secondary education with the consent issued by the governmental Correction and Development Training and Rehabilitation Centre and its local executive and administrative body, while admission requirements to vocational, specialized secondary, higher and post-graduate education is regulated by the Ministry of Health.
The 2015 Concept of the Development of Inclusive Education aims to foster the integration of students with special needs in regular education. With this purpose, the proportion of learners with special needs integrated in regular settings has been increasing. In general secondary education, more than 5000 special classes or integrated classes have been established. In the 2018-2019 academic year, special education institutions are 238, of which 141 centres for special education and rehabilitation, 47 special pre-primary institutions, and 50 special boarding schools. The number of special boarding schools has decreased by almost 40% in the last 10 years.
Early intervention, screening and assessment
To ensure timely early intervention, a roadmap for early childhood interventions (ECI) was set up in 2015 through collaboration between UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, targeting the most marginalized children. The national ECI regulation ensures the universal access of all young children to the closest ECI centres. As of 2018, 138 centres for early comprehensive care operate in the country.
The 1944 Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, as amended in 2004, enshrines the right to accessible and free general, secondary and vocational-technical education for all. Accessibility to secondary special and higher education is guaranteed, according to the individual’s capabilities (art.49). Equality of all children “independently of origin, racial, national and civil identity, social and material status, sex, language, education, religion, place of residence, state of health and other factors connected with the child and its parents” is reiterated in the 1993 Rights of the Child Act, as amended in 2008 (art. 6). The latter also provides the right to free general secondary, professional technical education, and free special secondary and higher education on a competitive basis for every child (art.23).
In 2017, the National Action Plan to Improve the Situation of Children and Safeguard Their Rights 2017–2021 (the National Children’s Rights Plan) was adopted (Decision No. 710/2017) to lay the legal foundations for the implementation of Convention on the Rights of the Child in Belarus, with support from UNICEF. Among its objectives, the Plan aims to foster the right of children to early childhood development, to quality education and to receive education in the family and community environment, under the supervision and coordination of the Ministry of Education.
With the aim to domesticate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), ratified it in 2016, the National Plan of Action to Implement the CRPD 2017–2025 was approved in June 2017. To realize the rights of persons with disabilities to inclusive education, the National Plan requires the adjustment of the curriculum to the learners’ characteristics by developing individual education plans. It further intends to equip education institutions with the necessary devices and to alternative learning modalities, such as distance learning.
In line with the international commitments, the 1224/1991 Law on Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities is expected to be amended to include the concepts of reasonable accommodation and universal design, together with a renovated approach to disability that moves away from the medical one.
Concerning education, the 1993 Rights of the Child Act, as amended in 2008, mandates the state to guarantee children with disabilities and children with physical or psychological development impairments free “pedagogical, medical, social and psychological assistance”. The latter are provided with special education conditions, along with remedial assistance, while persons with disabilities are entitled to choose the most appropriate form of education (art.31). While the 2004 Law on education of persons with peculiar psychophysical development regulated the provision of special education in the country, addressing physical and mental development, the 2011 Education Code enshrines the right to education, including vocational training, and free correctional pedagogic assistance under appropriate conditions. According to the Code, persons with disabilities are entitled to free psychological, medical and pedagogical support, to benefit from adequate transportation services to school, to receive free textbook and learning materials and free accommodation and food (art.31).
The 2015 Concept of the Development of Inclusive Education for Individuals’ Special Developmental Needs, despite the broad definition of inclusive education, mainly targets children with special psycho-physical development and their integration into regular education under certain circumstances. Likewise, the Education and Youth Policy 2016–2020 aims to ensure access to education, including supplementary education, to all children and young people. It promotes inclusive education for learners with special education needs by increasing the number of education institutions offering an adequate environment and by expanding early childhood interventions.
The 1944 Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, as amended in 2004, contains a gender equality provision, recognizing women’s equal rights to benefit from education and vocational training opportunities (art.32).
The government adopted the National Action Plan on Gender Equality 2017-2020 to accomplish the sustainable development goals and pursue gender equality and empowerment. The National Plan acknowledges the importance of integrating gender in education. Beyond conducting gender awareness campaigns, the Plan also intends to examine teaching and learning materials and to carry out capacity building activities for professionals working in education institutions.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The 1944 Constitution of the Republic of Belarus enshrines the right to use the native language and to choose the language of communication. It further mandates the state to ensure freedom to choose the medium of education and teaching (art.50).
Belarusian and Russian have equal status as education languages, as recognized by the 2011 Education Code. The 1992 Law on National Minorities, as amended in 2007, lays down the right to choose a language for communication and right to decide the language for upbringing and education, in line with the constitutional provision. The state in turn assists with creating the conditions for the development of education and cultures of the national minorities.
Gifted and talented children
The 2009 Law on Foundation of the State Youth Policy sets among its priorities the support to gifted and talented youth. Gifted learners receive comprehensive social support from the Special Fund for the Social Support of Gifted Students and the Special Fund for the Support of the Talented Youth.
In line with the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Refugee Act was amended in 2016 to safeguard minors forced to migrate. According to art.15 of the Act, foreign minors have the right to access preschool, general secondary and specialized education as citizens, if they have been granted the refugee status, subsidiary protection or asylum.
Coordination across government levels
The Ministry of Education plays a fundamental role in running the education system, including inclusive education policy. In the field of special education, the Ministry holds the responsibility of management and coordination of the activities of the republican governmental authorities and local executive and administration bodies. The latter decide the admission of students with disabilities to special education, in agreement with the governmental Correction and Development Training and Rehabilitation Centre, and to education in health institutions in their district. Local authorities are also responsible for adopting appropriate measures to foster the employment of persons with disabilities and contributing to the budget allocation.
Coordination across sectors
To coordinate all state bodies engaged in the disability prevention and rehabilitation activities, a National Interdepartmental Council on Disability was set up in 2009. The Council operates at all government levels and involves also representatives from the civil society.
With reference to gender policy, the National Council on Gender Policy acts as an interagency advisory and coordinating body composed of the heads of central government agencies, local executive and administrative authorities, National Assembly deputies, representatives of the Supreme Court and public and international organizations and also four representatives from NGOs.
To give effect to the 2005 Council regulation on additional measures to create barrier-free environments for persons with disabilities, ensuring free access to public transports, places of study, work and entertainment, a government programme was implemented in 2011-2015, also involving the Ministry of education.
The 2017 National Action Plan on Gender Equality sets as goal to examine textbooks from a gender perspective and to include information on gender equality in the development of manuals for school subjects.
In 2016, the Institute of Inclusive Education was established within the Faculty of Special Education of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University. It provides training for specialists in pedagogy, speech therapy, and correctional pedagogy. It also acts as a scientific research hub in the field of Inclusive education.
Two teachers are assigned for each inclusive group of learners, namely classes including students with special educational needs. Teachers are required to have a higher education degree pedagogy with specialization in Special education or advanced training in inclusive education and mastered the necessarily skills to work with students with special needs. Shortages in childcare specialists working with children with disabilities have been reported in rural areas.
According to the 2015 Concept of the Development of Inclusive Education, the content of teacher training programme needs to be updated in order to provide education personnel with adequate methodological competencies. Education management and teaching staff is required to continue attending in-service training to improve their competencies in inclusive education. With this purpose, the course “Theory and practice of special education” has been included in the curriculum of higher education institutions for specialists in pedagogy.
Teacher training on inclusive education mainly occurs with support of international partners. In 2014–2017, for example, teacher and education manager training on diversity was carried out as part of an international technical assistance project within the European programme for cooperation in education (TEMPUS).
UNICEF has supported the development of targeted teaching materials on inclusion of children with diverse capabilities into regular education within the pre-service training provided at the Belarussian State Pedagogical University. With UNICEF support, the Ministry of Education and the Belarusian State Pedagogical University (BSPU) opened in 2017 the National Resources Centre for Inclusive Education at the Inclusive Education Institute of the Maksim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University. With the aim to exchange best practices and expertise on the implementation of inclusive education, the centre also trains teachers and professionals in the field, develops teaching and learning materials and plays an advocacy role for the inclusion of all learners in education.
Gender training has been are introduced in training courses for civil servants, managers and specialists of the education system, social protection and health practitioners.
In line with the principles of inclusive education, the Law on National Minorities sets forth that education specialists have to be trained taking into account the interests of minorities groups.
The National Statistical Committee provides data book on the education sector every two years. The last available one dates back in 2013.
In general, information on the situation of children belonging to minority groups, in particular Roma children, and stateless children was reported to be missing. A modern data collection system on children with disabilities has not been established. UNICEF is working to introduce a disability household survey, and to develop a universal data portal on child-related statistics, co-financed by the World Bank.
Progress has been made in collecting, analyzing and presenting gender statistics. The National Statistical Committee has developed a set of statistical indicators for gender, based on the indicators used by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and adapted according to the national context.