The General Education Act adopted in 2006 defines inclusive education as the process by which the school or alternative education service incorporates people with disabilities, and excluded, marginalized and vulnerable social groups, especially in rural areas, without distinction of ethnicity, religion, gender or other cause of discrimination, thus contributing to the elimination of poverty, exclusion and inequality. It seeks for all students to be treated as individuals by re-evaluating school organization and the curriculum.
Special educational needs (SEN)
The Guidelines on teaching students with educational needs in the framework of diversity (2012) define educational needs as a student’s individual needs in terms of difficulties or problems acquiring academic skills in the teaching and learning process. Disability-related SEN arise from the gap between the student's personal characteristics and responses from their education environment.
Special basic education
Special basic education is defined as that which, with an inclusive approach, supports people with SEN to integrate into community life and participate in society. It is aimed at people with a disability that makes mainstream learning difficult.
In 2007, with the advent of free education, there was a significant change in the Nicaraguan education system, namely a shift from an exclusionary model to the promotion of education as a fundamental human right.
Special education is characterized as comprehensive and inclusive. The Ministry of Education's Educational Inclusion Programme aims to ensure that students with SEN (disability-related or not) are included in mainstream education schools to strengthen inclusive education. As such, there are educational inclusion teachers available to guide the educational community in the process of inclusion.
Article 39 of the Law on the Rights of People with Disabilities (2011) refers to schooling of people with disabilities. The law states that people with disabilities shall be enrolled in the mainstream education system and shall be provided with any necessary support programmes and resources. Only children and adolescents with severe disabilities whose needs are not met in the mainstream education system will be enrolled in special education schools, either temporarily or permanently, in accordance with the provisions of this law and its regulations.
Educational Resource Centres for Diversity (CREAD), created in 2009, are located in eight teacher training colleges in the country. One of their functions is to strengthen schools that implement inclusive education practices, and provide teachers with services for information, advice, support, training and the development of teaching materials. There is also a Centre for Educational Resources for the Blind (CRECI) located at the Ministry of Education headquarters, where educational material is adapted and reproduced in Braille, topography and audio.
According to the Guidelines on teaching students with educational needs in the framework of diversity (2012), schools that practice inclusive education are schools where all students have the same rights. They are schools that are open to diversity, welcoming all students, and that facilitate access, participation and learning. The guidelines differentiate between educational needs and disability-related educational needs.
Special education schools are considered support resources for mainstream schools. According to the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education, there are 25 public special education schools for people with severe disabilities, located in the municipalities of Managua, San Marcos, Jinotepe, Diriamba, Comunidad Nuevo Amanecer (Diriamba), Masaya, Granada, Rivas, León, La Paz Centro, Chinandega, Chichigalpa, El Viejo, Corinto, Boaco, Juigalpa, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Estelí, La Trinidad, Condega, Ocotal, Somoto, Bluefields and Bilwi.
Special education schools offer preschool and primary education, and early education and socio-occupational inclusion programmes, with curriculum adaptations, particularly for children with intellectual disabilities. There are also integrated classrooms in primary schools in municipalities where there are no special education schools.
According to Article 121 of the 2007 Constitution, access to education is free and equal for all Nicaraguans. Primary education is free and compulsory in state schools, as is secondary education in state schools, notwithstanding any voluntary contributions parents may make. Moreover, no one may be excluded in any way from a state school for financial reasons. Equally, the indigenous peoples and ethnic communities of the Atlantic Coast have the right to intercultural education in their region in their mother tongue, in accordance with the law.
The General Education Act (2006) establishes the principles of equity and inclusion in education in the Nicaraguan education system. Inclusive education is broadly defined as promoting the integration of people with disabilities and excluded, marginalized and vulnerable social groups, especially in rural areas, without distinction of ethnicity, religion, gender or any other cause of discrimination, in the education system.
The Strategic Education Plan 2011–2015 promoted the implementation of education policies that guarantee the full right to education for all. The subsequent Strategic Education Plan 2016–2020 sought to move towards inclusive, culturally and linguistically relevant education, with inclusion one of the plan’s action principles. The aim is to facilitate the population's access to education services without discrimination of any kind, be it cultural, ethnic, gender, geographic or on the grounds of special abilities. To this end, it seeks to strengthen the processes of inclusive schools, to promote bilingual and intercultural education and to restructure secondary school with relevant education on diversity.
The National Human Development Plan 2012–2016 sought to guarantee and strengthen the Nicaraguan population's right to free education. The plan envisages the development of a new education policy for continuous improvement of educational inclusion of people with SEN, disability-related or otherwise.
The United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for Nicaragua 2013–2017 summarizes the collective effort of the United Nations system organizations and the Government of Nicaragua to jointly establish a programmatic framework to implement the priorities identified in the National Human Development Plan, and ensure that the most vulnerable children and adolescents excluded from the school system have access to a quality education.
In January 2020, the Ministry of Education shared with the educational community the actions of the Education Plan 2020, focused on continuing towards quality and more victories for education. The plan seeks comprehensive education for students at all levels and modalities by increasing coverage while maintaining quality, improving school infrastructure and strengthening human growth and institutional capacity.
The General Education Act (2006) establishes that public and private educational institutions are obliged to develop education programmes that include people with different abilities, applying their own systems in the teaching-learning process, including learning modalities such as Nicaraguan Sign Language. Special basic education has an inclusive approach and caters to people with disability-related SEN.
According to the Law on the Rights of People with Disabilities (2011), the Ministry of Education, the National Institute of Technology (INATEC), the National Council of Universities and the National Council of Evaluation and Accreditation, within their respective responsibilities, will ensure that people with disabilities can exercise their lifelong right to free and quality education in an inclusive system at all educational levels, with the aim of promoting respect for human rights, gender equality, diversity, the environment; and developing human potential, self-esteem, character, talents, creativity, and mental and physical aptitudes.
The Guidelines on teaching students with educational needs in the framework of diversity (2012) established that people with SEN, disability-related or otherwise, have the right to receive the same education opportunities as other Nicaraguans. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the state and private entities to provide quality education for all in the various national educational modalities. The aims is to create inclusive educational spaces that promote access, attendance and success. They must guarantee support when necessary and equal opportunity in all curricular and extracurricular activities.
Since the approval of the Strategic Education Plan 2011–2015, the Ministry of Education’s Special Education Directorate has provided support to 26 schools with 2,927 students with visual, hearing, motor and intellectual disabilities from 0 to 22 years. Likewise, 23,472 students with SEN are supported in primary and secondary education.
With regard to disability, the Education Plan 2017–2021 sought to strengthen inclusive special education for students with disabilities.
Gender equality is not one of the main components of the General Education Act. However, the Equal Rights and Opportunities Act (2008) addresses this issue extensively from a social and educational perspective. The act determines that the educational model, policies, plans, programmes and the projects derived from them must eliminate inequality in access to, and attendance of, education, as well as sexist stereotypes in curriculum design, and must promote respect for human rights, equity and solidarity. It promotes the development of programmes aimed at women, according to their regional and municipal characteristics, that guarantee a comprehensive education, including bilingual bicultural programmes for the autonomous regions, more programmes to eradicate illiteracy for real gender equality, and sexual and reproductive education. The state shall ensure that young and adolescent girls who become pregnant during the school period shall not suffer discrimination, mistreatment or exclusion on account of their condition in any public or private institution.
In 2006, the National Programme for Gender Equity was approved by Executive Decree No. 36-2006. The decree establishes that the education system must promote gender equity and technical training for women, and must develop strategies to promote women’s attendance and advancement in the education system. Moreover, it promotes non-sexist education that models gender equity and access, attendance and support for women and girls in the education system. To meet these objectives, lines of action were developed that include curriculum adaptations with a gender equity perspective and the inclusion of gender equity in teachers’ continuing education.
The National Programme for Gender Equity 2006–2010 sought to promote non-sexist education that models gender equity, and promote access, attendance and support for girls and women in the education system. The country is moving towards a new gender policy.
Ethnic and linguistic groups/indigenous population
The General Education Act stipulates that the indigenous peoples and ethnic communities of the Atlantic Coast have the right to intercultural education in their mother tongue in their region, and to study Spanish since it is the national language.
The Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions have a Regional Autonomous Education Subsystem (SEAR) aimed at providing comprehensive training for men and women in indigenous, Afro-descendant and ethnic communities, based on autonomy, interculturality, solidarity, relevance, quality and equity.
Education in the autonomous regions is a fundamental right for the indigenous, Afro-descendant and ethnic communities of the Caribbean Coast, recognized in the country's Constitution.
Article 13 of the General Act on the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific, Central and Northern Regions of Nicaragua establishes that public and private education at all levels must include interculturality, history and indigenous rights in the curriculum and teaching materials.
UNICEF has been supporting the implementation of the Strategic Education Plan to ensure that children and adolescents from indigenous, Afro-descendant and rural communities have access to and complete quality basic education that equips them for life, taking into account their sociocultural context.
An education progress report on intercultural bilingual education with quality and equity for the autonomy of the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, published in 2015, analysed the region's progress in education. With regard to intercultural bilingual education, it found that teaching texts and materials had been developed in six autonomous languages, the curriculum had been readapted at different education levels and better training provided within the bachelors and masters intercultural bilingual education courses of regional universities. However, it found that little progress had been made on the coverage of the intercultural bilingual education programme and the availability of human, material and financial resources for this purpose.
People living in rural areas
According to the General Education Act, the Ministry of Education will prioritize investing in education in less developed, rural, border, urban-marginal and Caribbean Coast areas. The Strategic Education Plan 2011–2015 sought to improve education in rural areas to reduce the urban-rural gap and improve the quality of Nicaraguan multigrade schools. In Nicaragua, there are single-teacher, multi-teacher, peri-urban and bilingual multigrade schools. Most multigrade schools are included in the Ministry of Education’s Comprehensive School Nutrition Programme (PINE). Multigrade schools serve 33 per cent of children enrolled in primary education.
The Education Plan 2017–2021 proposed the creation of flexible and relevant modalities, particularly in rural areas, for more equal coverage in the country. Work is currently being carried out on intercultural bilingual education in indigenous and Afro-descendant communities.
Nicaragua is one of the region’s poorest and most destitute countries. The percentage of poor people is three times higher in rural areas than in urban areas. The Ministry of Education has developed programmes for the delivery of educational materials and food aid to the poorest people.
The Nicaraguan Ministry of Education controls and regulates the implementation of policies in basic and secondary education. National education is complemented by the Ministry of Family, Adolescence and Childhood and the Ministry of Health for comprehensive early childhood support. The National Education Council is the highest state education body.
According to the Law on the Rights of People with Disabilities (2011), the Ministry of Education, the National Institute of Technology and the National Council of Universities are primarily responsible for guaranteeing the educational rights of people with disabilities, in coordination with other state institutions. The National Institute of Technology provides young people with disabilities with technical and vocational training courses, and the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua provides young people and adults with higher education.
There is a Directorate of Special Education with a team of educational advisers who develop curricular support, train departmental and municipal delegation staff, teachers in mainstream education schools and special schools, and provide educational support to special education schools and mainstream schools practicing inclusive education.
At the local level, SEAR organizes, directs and manages education in the municipalities and communities of the Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions. It is a participatory educational model with decentralized and autonomous management, and responds to the educational realities, needs, wishes and priorities of its multi-ethnic, multilingual and multicultural population.
Infrastructure and services
According to a study conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP), there has been a decrease in the construction and refurbishment of school classrooms in recent years. A total of 1,862 classrooms were built in 2014 and the goal is to build 1,200 classrooms for 2016 and 2017.
The Guidelines on teaching students with educational needs in the framework of diversity (2012) promotes physical adaptations to school spaces and furniture.
According to the General Education Act, the process of curriculum formulation is participatory and carried out with the educational community and other stakeholders in society. It is therefore permanently open to enrichment and respect for methodological plurality. The curriculum should respond to learners’ needs. The National Curriculum Commission is responsible for preparing a proposal for curricula and syllabuses to help define the approach and curriculum content for basic and secondary education. The commission promoted the creation of a new curriculum that includes cross-cutting themes such as the use of new ICT, a gender perspective, human rights education and sexual and reproductive education.
Curriculum adaptation is promoted for people with disability-related SEN. Together with technological equipment, auxiliary resources and personal assistance, it helps guarantee these people their right to education. Individual curriculum adaptations can be made using the current mainstream curriculum as a reference. Significant mainstream adaptations must be made to accommodate students with SEN (disability-related or otherwise) who use special education services and are referred to mainstream education, if they require them.
Multigrade schools require different learning strategies and curriculum adaptations. The quality and inclusivity of education is determined by its capacity to serve a large group with different levels and paces of learning, and with different expectations, based on a curriculum that is neither specific to the modality nor tailored to the rural context.
According to the General Education Act, teacher training is designed from a holistic perspective that combines the development of content and experiences in the aspects of academic and educational knowledge; human, ethical and moral training; professional practice, and ecological practices. It is envisaged as continuing education in integrated special education and interculturality. Furthermore, the act establishes that teacher training institutes will include Nicaraguan Sign Language training or study in their programmes.
The educational model for initial teacher training does not include training in inclusive education. However, there are educational inclusion teachers who guide the educational community in the inclusion process as part of the Educational Inclusion Programme.
Special education schools are support resources for mainstream schools. They have a total of 116 teachers known as education counsellors, whose basic function is to provide advice and technical and methodological support to preschool, primary and secondary school teachers in public and private schools for children, adolescents and young people with or without disabilities. They also provide support to parents, guardians and the educational community in general.
According to the Strategic Education Plan 2011–2015, the country still has no alternatives for exclusive studies in special education at the higher education level. However, the teacher training institutes teach a module on special education and inclusive education as part of their teacher training curriculum.
The Strategic Education Plan also sought to strengthen teacher training on multigrade education methodologies. Multigrade single-teacher and multi-teacher schools face considerable challenges since teachers must simultaneously teach several grades with children of different ages and levels. According to the document "Curriculum Design for Primary Education Initial Teacher Training", there is a shortage of specialists in multigrade education. Similarly, unequal opportunity in the training of multigrade teachers is affecting the quality of education.
With regard to gender, the National Programme for Gender Equity, adopted in 2006, promoted the inclusion of gender equity in teachers’ continuing training.
Nicaragua has not developed national inclusive education indicators.