Inclusive education is defined as an attempt to overcome various forms of exclusion. It aims to educate students with special needs as well as gifted students; combat poverty, economic marginalization and segregation based on gender; give special attention to cultural plurality and diversity as an education right that needs to be affirmed; and protect the rights of minorities and migrants. Thus, inclusive education attempts to integrate all citizens in society, while upholding values of social justice. According to a report prepared for the World Education conference in 2008, the inclusive education concept means that ‘all children should be subject to similar learning-teaching methods regardless of their social and cultural background and the different abilities and skills they possess. Education opportunities should be provided for all even for those with special needs of whom the ones with certain potentials should be integrated with the normal students.’
Special education needs
Bahrain asserts that it has always paid great attention to ‘all vulnerable groups within the community and especially the people with disability and special needs’ as these groups are seen as an integral part of the community and its overall development.
The Special Education Directorate of the Ministry of Education defines special education as ‘the programs and services provided for children who differ from their peers, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, to the point that they need special expertise, approaches or educational materials that would help them achieve the best possible educational outcomes, whether in regular classes or special classes if their problems are more severe’. It includes specialized programmes for students with intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, autism, physical disability, visual impairment and hearing impairment, as well as outstanding and gifted students.
The 2012 National Strategy calls for more integration. In this regard, the Ministry of Education has ensured that based on assessment of their cases, students with special needs may be integrated in regular classrooms and many efforts have been made in this respect. The Ministry of Education has begun to integrate all children with disabilities and special needs into public schools as well as private schools, based on their parents’ choice. Special emphasis has been placed on the preparation of the environment in terms of awareness, facilities and special training in dealing and interacting with people with disabilities. The aim is to enrol students with special needs in mainstream schools without discrimination and integrate them with other students. In the 2019/20 academic year there were 179 schools that had implemented the special education programme at different education levels as set by the ministry.
Many non-state educational institutions, profit and non-profit, deliver education for students with special needs in separate, special schools.
The Kingdom of Bahrain acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965 but has not ratified the 1960 Convention Against Discrimination in Education, though it has reported to UNESCO in multiple consultations . In parallel, Article 7 of the 2002 Constitution states that ‘The State … guarantees educational and cultural services to its citizens. Education is compulsory and free in the early stages as specified and provided by law. The necessary plan to combat illiteracy is laid down by law.’
Article 6 of the 2005 Education Law states that:
‘Basic education is a right of those children who reach the age of six years at the beginning of the academic year. The Kingdom is obliged to provide education for them and their parents or legal guardians are obliged to facilitate this. This shall be for a period of at least nine years of schooling. The Ministry of Education in the Kingdom will issue the necessary decrees to regulate and enforce the compulsory nature of education with regard to parents and legal guardians’.
Article 7 of the law states: ‘Basic and secondary education shall be free in schools within the Kingdom’.
Bahrain joined the Arab Agreement for Employing and Rehabilitating Persons with Disabilities of 1993 in 1999 and the Arab Decade for Disabled People championed by the League of Arab States. It ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) with Law 22/2011. Article 5 of the 2005 Education Law outlines the rights of people with disabilities to be integrated, but Article 2 of this law refers only to Bahraini citizens. However, according to the policies adopted by the Ministry of Education, non-Bahraini children who reside in Bahrain also have the right to join all special education programmes and benefit from all special education services offered either in public or private schools, based on their parents’ choice.
Bahrain has developed the National Strategy for Persons with Disabilities, endorsed in 2013, to provide guidance to government sectors, non-government organizations, the private sector, professional groups, educators, advocates and society at large on the tasks required to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are effectively observed and realized. It adopts a human rights and development approach to disability which focuses on the removal of barriers to equal participation and the elimination of discrimination. This National Strategy also highlights that there is a need for clearer and more direct legislation to guarantee the rights of people with special needs. In addition, mechanisms still must be devised to help implement the CRPD. Finally, national laws need to be issued to echo and reflect international conventions, and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms need to be provided. In addition, the 2018–22 Strategic Partnership Framework aims to ‘Strengthen national capacity to support children living with disabilities through a multi-sector approach that considers services and support provided at the national, community and family level’ (p. 18) .
Bahrain ratified Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2002. Additionally, in line with UNESCO’s international decade of literacy (2003–12), Bahrain established nurseries where female adult learners can leave their children while in class and offered appropriate transportation especially for female adult learners. That said, there do not seem to be any specific laws or policies for the inclusion of gender minorities in the education system. The Kingdom of Bahrain also establishes the principle of gender equality in higher education, in terms of both access and scholarships.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Article 7 of the Constitution states that ‘The law regulates care for religious and national instruction in the various stages and forms of education and at all stages is concerned to develop the citizen’s personality and his pride in his Arabism.’ Bahrain also adopted the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Refugees and students in conflict areas
Bahrain has not signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol. Moreover, Bahrain is not a party to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, nor to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Bahrain does not have a domestic legislation on refugees. A multiyear project led by UNESCO and funded by the Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz Al-Saud Foundation aimed to assess the situation regarding inclusion of vulnerable groups, including students in conflict areas, and to help countries exchange experiences. In 2014, Bahrain amended its 1963 Citizenship Act allowing mothers to confer their nationality to their children born either in their home countries or abroad if the fathers are either Bahrain nationals or unknown or stateless.
Despite the adoption of some case-by-case measures, children of Bahraini mothers and non-Bahraini fathers do not automatically obtain Bahraini nationality, resulting in, for example, education and residency fees. According to Article 1 of Law 35 of 2009 on the Treatment of Non-Bahraini Wives and Children of Bahraini Women Married to Non-Bahrainis, ‘the wife of a non-Bahraini and the children of a Bahraini woman married to a non-Bahraini shall be treated as a Bahraini citizen in all matters pertaining to the fees prescribed for public health and education services as well as residence fees, provided that they are permanently residing in the Kingdom of Bahrain.’ Additionally, education is free for all children in Bahrain, be they Bahraini or non-Bahraini, from grades 1 to 12. According to Article 3 of Decree 82 of 2017 Concerning the Amendment of Article 3 of Decree 24 of 2008 Concerning the Eligibility Criteria for the Disability Allowance in the Kingdom of Bahrain, sons and daughters of Bahraini mothers who are married to foreigners who permanently reside in the Kingdom of Bahrain are entitled to disability allowances from the government if they are disabled and their disability is confirmed by the disability evaluation committee.
People with disabilities and special needs are supported by the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Interior, Information and eGovernment Authority, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Information Affairs, Ministry of Works, Electricity and Water Authority, Ministry of Industry and many related non-government organizations.
Based on Directive 29 of 2006, a new department dedicated to special education was established under the Ministry of Education.
In addition, articles 17 and 18 of Law 74 of 2006 stipulate the establishment of the High Committee for Disabled People’s Affairs, headed by the Minister of Social Affairs. This committee has the mandate to plan and coordinate all efforts related to the care of individuals with special needs. It aims to establish the frameworks for assessing needs and conditions and requirements for admission in rehabilitation centres; propose laws and policies; put forward legislative proposals that help overcome all forms of explicit and implicit discrimination against people with special needs; and advocate for the rights of people with special needs as well the effective implementation of the CRPD. In parallel, in 2010, the Ministerial Council of Bahrain created a committee, which would include members from the mentioned High Committee for Disabled People’s Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs, to assess disabilities with the main objectives to create national standards for assessing disabilities as well as to coordinate with the Ministry of Education to integrate children with disabilities in public schools.
Finally, Ministerial Decree 50 of 2010 aims to coordinate efforts of assessing and evaluating cases of disabilities. It also aims to better coordinate efforts between the ministries of Health and Education, the High Committee for Disabled People’s Affairs and various universities in Bahrain.
Since 2008, the Ministry of Education has been equipping various schools and classrooms in ways that make them highly accessible to students with various physical disabilities. Similarly, several buildings were made accessible across Bahrain, including health care centres and schools. However, the 2012–16 National Strategy for the Rights of Individuals with Disabilities underlines the need for clearer laws and policies that introduce national standards related to accessibility to services, buildings and transportation.
The National Strategy for the Rights of Individuals with Disabilities mentions that Bahraini legislation does not emphasize some key aspects of special needs accommodation, including communication which would include Braille and other means, language, reasonable accommodation measures and public design which would entail ensuring that the public space accommodates people with special needs. As documented in the database of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the Kingdom of Bahrain has succeeded in ensuring that all students with special needs have access to basic education services. The proportion of primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools with adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities has reached 100% in all educational stages. In 2015, the Minister of Education highlighted that schools integrating students with special needs were equipped with all aids and facilities required for that category of students, such as ramps for those with physical disabilities, passageways and signs in Braille, specs and special books and computers for those with visual disabilities, medical hearing aids and wheelchairs. In addition, he provided special education teachers and female workers accompanying students with autism with 11 buses equipped with mechanical lifts and other features making them fit for students with special needs.
Finally, a full curriculum was designed and implemented starting in the 2015/16 academic year for students with basic mental disabilities and Down syndrome. Some subjects, such as chemistry, physics and biology, were replaced by others, such as Arabic and social studies, to accommodate the special needs and abilities of students with visual impairment.
The Bahraini government financially supports special education teacher training at the Arabian Gulf University. In addition, 540 specialized personnel are employed to work in the government-run schools. They specialize in mental disability and autism and have all received bachelor’s degrees in psychology (with special needs focus) and advanced diplomas and master’s degrees in special education. As for those working with students with other types of disabilities, intensive workshops and meetings with specialists are organized to help prepare and train them. These trainings appear to be available for both pre-service and in-service teachers.
The Education and Training Quality Authority of the Kingdom of Bahrain issues an annual report. In addition, the 2012–16 National Strategy for the Rights of Individuals with Disabilities aimed to implement a monitoring system based on nationally developed and approved indicators. The Ministry of Social Affairs also conducts periodical survey studies on cases with disabilities through its social aid and social research units. Moreover, all departments and agencies dealing with or offering services of any kind to people with disabilities are expected to submit semi-annual and annual reports to the unit of social rehabilitation under this ministry. Finally, Decree 62 of 2007 established a committee focused on monitoring activities and implementation of national strategy under the High Committee for Disabled Affairs.