In the 2015 Concept for the Development of Inclusive Education for Individuals’ Special Development Needs, inclusive education is defined as the educational process of including all students in the general education system, regardless of their psychophysical, cultural, social or linguistic characteristics or abilities. All learners can study in general and higher education institutions that take into consideration their special education needs and provide them with the necessary 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 Concept for the Development of Inclusive Education 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 psychophysical development.
Special education needs
In 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 psychophysical 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 involves institutions including centres for correctional and developmental training and rehabilitation, special preschool institutions, special general education schools, auxiliary schools and boarding schools. Persons with special psychophysical development are admitted to preschool, general basic and general secondary education with the consent of 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 are regulated by the Ministry of Health.
The 2015 Concept for the Development of Inclusive Education aimed to foster the integration of students with special needs in regular education. Indeed, the proportion of learners with special needs integrated in regular settings has been increasing. In general secondary education, more than 5,000 special classes or integrated classes have been established. In the 2018/19 academic year, special education institutions numbered 238, including 141 centres for special education and rehabilitation, 47 special pre-primary institutions and 50 special boarding schools. The number of special boarding schools decreased by almost 40% over 10 years.
Early intervention, screening and assessment
To ensure timely early intervention, a roadmap for early childhood intervention (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 universal access of all young children to the closest ECI centres. As of 2018, 138 centres for early comprehensive care were operating 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. Access to secondary special and higher education is guaranteed in accordance with 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 guarantees the right to free general secondary and professional technical education and, on a competitive basis, free special secondary and higher education for every child (Art. 23).
In 2017, the 2017–21 National Action Plan to Improve the Situation of Children and Safeguard Their Rights was adopted (Decision No. 710/2017) to lay the legal foundations for the implementation of the 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 2017–25 National Plan of Action to Implement the CRPD was approved in June 2017. To realize the rights of persons with disabilities to inclusive education, it requires adjustment of the curriculum to learners’ characteristics through the development of individual education plans. It further intends to equip education institutions with the necessary devices and alternative learning modalities, such as distance learning.
In line with the international commitments, the 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 free ‘pedagogical, medical, social and psychological assistance’ to children with disabilities and children with physical or psychological development impairments. The latter group 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, and to receive free textbooks and learning materials and free accommodation and food (Art. 31).
The 2015 Concept for the Development of Inclusive Education for Individuals’ Special Developmental Needs, despite the broad definition of inclusive education, mainly targets children with special psychophysical development and their integration into regular education under certain circumstances. Likewise, the 2016–20 Education and Youth Policy aimed to ensure access to education, including supplementary education, for all children and young people. It promotes ensuring 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, as amended in 2004, contains a gender equality provision, recognizing women’s equal right to benefit from education and vocational training opportunities (Art. 32).
The government adopted the 2017–20 National Action Plan on Gender Equality to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and pursue gender equality and empowerment. The action plan acknowledges the importance of integrating gender in education. Beyond conducting gender awareness campaigns, it also intended 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 enshrines the right to use one’s 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 the 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 the Foundation of the State Youth Policy set among its priorities the support of 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 on the Rights of the Child, the Refugee Act was amended in 2016 to safeguard minors forced to migrate. According to Article 15, foreign minors have the right to access preschool, general secondary and specialized education as citizens, if they have been granted 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 for managing and coordinating 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 disability prevention and rehabilitation activities, a National Interdepartmental Council on Disability was set up in 2009. The Council operates at all government levels and also involves civil society representatives.
With reference to gender policy, the National Council on Gender Policy acts as an inter-agency 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 as well as four representatives from non-government organizations.
A government programme, involving the Ministry of Education, was implemented in 2011–15 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 transport and places of study, work and entertainment.
The 2017 National Action Plan on Gender Equality set the goal of examining textbooks from a gender perspective and including 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 and acts as a scientific research hub in the field of inclusive education.
Two teachers are assigned for each inclusive group of learners, i.e. each class including students with special education needs. Teachers are required to have a higher education degree in pedagogy with specialization in special education or advanced training in inclusive education and to have mastered the necessary 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 on the Development of Inclusive Education, the content of teacher training programmes needs to be updated to provide education personnel with adequate methodological competencies. Education management and teaching staff are required to continue attending in-service training to improve their competencies in inclusive education. With this purpose, a course in 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 from international partners. In 2014–17, 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 Belarusian State Pedagogical University. With UNICEF support, in 2017 the Ministry of Education and the university opened the National Resources Centre for Inclusive Education at the university's Inclusive Education Institute. 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 introduced in training courses for civil servants, managers and specialists of the education system, and social protection and health practitioners.
In line with the principles of inclusive education, the Law on National Minorities sets forth that training for education specialists must take into account the interests of minority groups.
The National Statistical Committee provides a data book on the education sector every two years.
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. As of 2017, UNICEF was 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, analysing 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.