3. Laws, Plans, Policies and Programmes
6. Teachers and Support Personnel
According to the 2016 Policy on Special and Inclusive Education, ‘including students with disabilities in mainstream educational options, known as inclusive education, is ... vital, as it allows children to be educated within their neighborhood schools, close to home.’ Inclusive education occurs ‘when mainstream schools accept, enroll and provide quality, appropriate educational support to persons with disabilities alongside all other students.’ Inclusiveness is a principle informing the education sector as all students are provided with a conducive learning environment regardless of location, culture or learning needs.
Special education needs
According to the 2016 Policy on Special and Inclusive Education, special education or special needs education is the provision of education for persons with disabilities, ‘in a way that addresses their individual differences and needs, in a specific educational setting designed exclusively for persons with disabilities, such as a Special School.’
The 2016 Policy on Special and Inclusive Education notes that ‘special schools are crucial environment for students with particular disabilities, in that they enable students to learn key skills such as sign language or braille which complement their education in a mainstream environment, and provide important educational support options for students with severe or complex disabilities.’ The policy aims to promote the development of both special and inclusive education settings.
‘Where possible and appropriate’, learners with disabilities are supported to progress from special to regular schools at all education levels. To ensure a suitable accommodation and an adequate referral support, partnerships between regular and special schools are expected to be signed. Regarding student placement, while students shall be enrolled in age-appropriate classes, flexible learning options and reasonable accommodations are taken into consideration ‘to enable students to be placed in classes with younger children, according to their learning needs.’
Based on a study of special and inclusive education organization in Fiji, published in 2017, there were 15 special schools and 2 vocational rehabilitation centres for students with disabilities under the responsibility of the Special Education unit of the Ministry of Education, National Heritage, Culture and Sports. They were mainly located in the suburban areas of nine districts. Six special schools were in the capital district of Suva and included a school for students with visual impairments and one for learners with hearing impairments. Students from some districts and from remote islands do not benefit from a special school close to home.
Since 2012, the Access to Quality Education Programme (AQEP), financed by Australian Aid, has been supporting five inclusive education demonstration schools (IEDS) to mainstream disability-inclusive education.
Early identification, screening and assessment
The assessment of special needs occurs at the school level. The 2008–18 National Policy on Persons Living with Disabilities calls for strengthening early intervention through a combined effort of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and in particular practitioners of community-based rehabilitation and teachers. The implementation plan of the Policy on Special and Inclusive Education includes a piloting phase during which health and education services will work together in selected communities and the development of a protocol to support those services in targeting children with disabilities. Kindergarten teachers were to be trained on early identification and referral mechanisms.
Fiji ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 1993 and in 2017, respectively. The 2013 Constitution lays down the right to education for all from early childhood to further education (Art. 31) and mandates the state to take reasonable measures to progressively comply with the provision. It further prohibits unfair direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of ‘race, culture, ethnic or social origin, colour, place of origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, birth, primary language, economic or social or health status, disability, age, religion, conscience, marital status or pregnancy’ (Art. 26.3[a]). Proving a legal education framework, the 1978 Education Act calls for regulating education provision to make sure that every school-aged child attends school.
The 2018 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act reaffirms the right to education for persons with disabilities based on equal, inclusive and lifelong opportunities. In particular, it regulates their full and equal participation through the learning of Braille, alternative script, augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication and orientation and mobility skills.
The National Council for Disabled Persons along with the Ministry of Health, Women and Social Welfare adopted the 2008–18 National Policy on Persons Living with Disabilities to develop an inclusive model of society, increase awareness of the needs of the target group and dismantle barriers to their participation in social and economic life. In particular, the policy calls for the implementation of the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action, a rights-based tool designed to guide policy and programme planning and implementation concerning persons with disabilities.
In relation to education, the 2016 Policy on Special and Inclusive Education provides a framework to ensure access to quality education for all children with disabilities, mainstreaming them into regular schools or providing them with special education in special institutions. Informed by the principles that all children have the right to receive adequate education within an enabling learning environment and to fully participate in all school and community activities, the policy supports the integration of children with disabilities into local regular schools whenever possible. To support an effective staged approach, an implementation plan was developed in parallel to the policy.
Among its priorities, the Policy on Special and Inclusive Education calls for strengthening early intervention and identification of children’s needs through programmes in special schools and early childhood centres, supporting vocational training programmes in special schools and vocational training centres and providing education outreach programmes in communities and adequate support to schools.
After consultations with the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts and Ministry of Health representatives, teachers and representatives of disabled persons’ organizations, the policy aims to introduce and pilot an alternative inclusive education model based on AQEP and financed by Australian Aid. The five-year programme was launched in 2011 with the goal of improving access to education for marginalized youth, including children with disabilities through disability-inclusive education policy awareness. Emphasis on values and inclusive education was also laid out by the 2015–18 Education Sector Strategic Development Plan through the development of adequate curricular material and support resources.
In line with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the 2014 National Gender Policy intends to promote gender equality in the education system through the use of gender-sensitive and gender-inclusive language in educational material. Particular emphasis is given to the implementation of health education programmes. For example, the Family Life Education Program, introduced in 2006 at the secondary school level, covers, among other topics, gender, gender-based violence, reproductive health and pregnancy, and sex education. Discrimination in the form of social stigma has been reported to be among the causes of school dropouts. Established in 2004, the Matua programme provides second-chance secondary education to those who have not finished school, including women. School distance has been identified as another barrier to girls’ participation in education.
Gender-based violence is addressed in the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, developed by the Ministry of Education, together with the Ministry of Women, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Youth.
Among the nine outcomes outlined in the 2015–18 Education Sector Strategic Development Plan, few are explicitly gender related, as the priority is to ensure equitable education access to all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, culture, beliefs, socio-economic status and geographic isolation.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Recognizing the diversity of languages spoken in the country, the education system promotes multilingualism. In particular, the national curriculum fosters teaching and learning of local languages, taught as main languages of instruction, and English taught as a second language. The use of the three official languages, as established by the new Constitution adopted in 2013, is encouraged in all schools as an instrument to enhanced sense of identity and social cohesion as well as to strengthen local culture and traditions, as reaffirmed in the 2015–18 Education Sector Strategic Development Plan.
People living in rural or remote areas
As highlighted in the 2015–18 Education Sector Strategic Development Plan, school accessibility is an issue in the maritime areas and in the remote areas of the large islands. This issue especially affects students with disabilities whose access to special education services may be challenged by geographical location.
Education scholarships and fee provisions for tertiary education have been made available through the National Toppers Scheme, which covers tuition and cost-of-living expenses for students from lower-income families, and the Tertiary Education Loan Scheme, which grants free education and learning materials. The Policy on Transport Assistance, revised in 2015, ensures learners from lower-income households have access to education facilities within their home-zone schools.
Coordination across sectors
The 1994 Disabled Persons Act establishes the National Council for Persons with Disabilities as a coordinating body for all organizations dealing with the care and rehabilitation of the disabled. It gathers representatives from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation, Provincial Development and Multi-Ethnic Affairs, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health.
Within the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts, as a sub-section of Primary Education, the Special and Inclusive Education Unit (SIEU) holds the responsibility for coordinating, implementing, monitoring and evaluating relevant policies. The 2016 Policy on Special and Inclusive Education aims to strengthen the working relations between the SIEU, other ministers, non-government organizations and disabled persons’ organizations. In particular, among its key priorities, it aims to strengthen collaboration between education and health services, including physiotherapy and occupational therapy services, which are relevant for the development of physical and functional skills and for enhancing participation in classroom activities.
Coordination across government levels
The Policy on Special and Inclusive Education also aims to strengthen the relations between the SIEU and district officers, especially in terms of capacity building. Its implementation plan expects school management committees to play an important role through the development of annual plans in line with the national policy.
Improving school infrastructure, including classrooms, walkways, and water and sanitation facilities, to make them accessible to persons with disabilities and wheelchair users is among the priorities of the Policy on Special and Inclusive Education, and this priority is reaffirmed in the 2015–18 Education Sector Strategic Development Plan in the interest of inclusiveness and student health.
The 2016 Policy on Special and Inclusive Education recognizes the need to ‘ensure a relevant and responsive curriculum and assessment, to accommodate approaches that support the learning needs of all students, including those with disabilities’ and to guide differentiated learning. It also specifies that ‘assessment processes including the Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (LANA) must be inclusive and accessible to students with disability.’ The current National Curriculum Framework has been designed to address students' differences.
Both the 2010–19 Women’s Plan of Action and the 2014 National Gender Policy affirm the need to incorporate gender into the national curriculum and promote the elimination of gender biases in education materials.
Six institutions throughout the country provide teacher training in the area of disability-inclusive education, including the Australia Pacific Technical College, supported by Australian Aid, and the University of the South Pacific, which trains primary and secondary teachers. They provide a four-year Bachelor of Education in Special and Inclusive Education and a post-graduate diploma in Special and Diverse Educational Needs. In addition, several non-government organizations and donor projects provide short-term training opportunities. For example, courses in Braille and sign language are provided by the Fiji School for the Blind and Fiji Association for the Deaf, respectively. By contrast, the Fiji National University does not provide subjects targeting special and inclusive education. AQEP has also facilitated professional development opportunities for practitioners. A study focusing on lessons from AQEP’s IEDS found that teacher aides are needed to support inclusion of students with disabilities in schools.
Supporting the strengthening of pre-service and in-service teacher education is one of the priorities of the 2016 Policy on Special and Inclusive Education. The policy recognizes the need to provide teachers with quality training, including in screening and referral of disabilities.
Concerning gender, the country is committed to increasing the number of male primary teachers and to having a teaching workforce that reflects gender parity, as outlined in the 2015–18 Education Sector Strategic Development Plan.
Incentives to attract teachers to rural, maritime and remote areas have been allocated through local allowances since 2011.
Fiji produces annual education reports.
With technical and financial support from AQEP, in 2013 the Ministry of Education launched the Fiji Education Management Information System (FEMIS), an online database system that provides information on schools, students, teachers and education facilities.
The 2016 Policy on Special and Inclusive Education also mentions that ‘Indicators to enable monitoring and evaluation of the Special and Inclusive Education Policy and Implementation Plan 2017–2020 were selected according to their relevance and ability to be measured by existing data collection mechanisms, primarily those in FEMIS.’ A FEMIS Disability Disaggregation Package was developed along with the policy and implementation plan. The latter also enables early identification and referral of young children with disabilities and accurate planning. In particular, primary and secondary schools are requested to collect data in relation to the type and severity of disability, accessibility of school infrastructure and transport, and qualifications and training of school staff in relation to disability-inclusive education according to a standardized means described in the 2015 Package.
Other data are collected through the disadvantage index, which takes into account social, economic, location and remoteness issues affecting schools and according to which the level and scope of school assistance allocation is decided.
With reference to gender, the Ministry of Education’s annual reports provide little disaggregated data by sex.