There is no evidence of an inclusive education law in Suriname and therefore no official definition adopted in the country. UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (MOESC) in implementing several education programmes that have an inclusive education component, such as the Lifelong Learning programme and the I Believe in You in-service teacher training programme. Suriname has tried to increase access to education and other services for the most vulnerable segments of the population; however, there is no evidence of a law or policy framework on inclusive education. In addition, there has been no clear attempt to include children with disabilities into regular schools.
Special education needs
The 2008 National Report on the Development of Special Education contains provisions for the development of special education in Suriname and support for children and youngsters with special needs, such as mental, physical, sight or multiple handicaps; learning, behavioural or emotional problems; or a specific affection like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism or Down syndrome.
In the Preparatory Report for the 48th Session of the International Conference of Education prepared by IBE-UNESCO in 2007, it was mentioned that due to the newness of the concept, a clear definition of inclusive education was lacking in Suriname. At the time the report was published the country had not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and students were strictly separated in special schools, regular schools and private schools. In private and regular schools parents would pay extra money for special care.
The Health Care Network for Special Education, in place to support students requiring a special education, underwent a reform to increase its quality and effectiveness. Starting points for the formulation of a vision policy for special education included official instruction from the Ministry of Internal Affairs for developing inclusive and special education, acknowledgment by Surinamese society of the target groups of special education, and inquiry into the current situation from the target groups, education institutions and network.
According to the National Report on the Development of Special Education, in the last count before the report was published, 831 boys and 343 girls attended primary and secondary schools for special education. Special schools are not equally divided into the constituencies in Suriname. Paramaribo has 18 special schools, while Nickerie, Wanica and Para have 2 each. In the constituencies of Coronie, Saramaca, Commewinje, Brokopondo and Sipaliwini there are no special schools.
The 2014 consideration of reports submitted under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child underlined that most service providers, including teachers, are not adequately trained in providing care to children with disabilities. There are ‘a few special schools or other provisions for children with disabilities, and in general, even a lesser number adhering to young adolescents and none for children with a disability living in the interior.’ The schools that do exist are often not officially recognized as such by the Ministry of Education.
Data from UNICEF shows that few services exist for early stimulation from birth to age 3. Many of them are privately operated with very few provisions offered to indigenous children, children living in deep rural and riverine areas and children with disabilities. In addition, the country has very limited capacity for early detection of disabilities, which has long-lasting consequences for children and their families.
The Constitution of Suriname of 1987, amended in 1992, enshrines the right to free education on all levels. Article 39 determines that the State shall recognize and guarantee the right of all citizens to education and shall offer them equal opportunity for schooling. In the execution of its education policy the State shall be under the obligation:
- To assure obligatory and free general primary education
- To assure durable education and to end illiteracy
- To enable all citizens to attain the highest levels of education, scientific research and artistic creation, in accordance with their capacities
- To provide, in phases, free education at all levels
- To tune education to the productive and social needs of the society.
Article 8 determines that no one shall be discriminated against on the grounds of birth, sex, race, language, religious origin, education, political beliefs, economic position or any other status.
Access to education has been guaranteed by ensuring that primary education and lower secondary education are free of charge. Compulsory education is currently set by law for the ages of 6 to 12.
The Education for All 2015 national review identified among future prospects guaranteeing equity in education, increasing completion of primary education, ensuring access to basic education for all, and improving data availability and quality for evidence-based policies. Implementation of all Education for All goals within special education took place from the Pedological Institute, and a pilot project for students with education difficulties was designed to offer inclusive education in small groups with an adapted curriculum.
As reported in the country’s 2016 national report to the Human Rights Council, the MOESC has undertaken several actions to improve the quality of education, such as:
- Reforming teacher training colleges to meet the needs of the future student
- Strengthening the capacity of inspectors to monitor the quality of education and guidance for teachers
- Drafting programs to implement ICT in education.
The 2012–16 multi-annual development plan states that specific government policies will increase social security for the most vulnerable segments of the population. The policies focus on groups with reduced access to basic commodities such as safe water and electricity – particularly inhabitants of the interior, including Maroons and Amerindian – or limited access to health care and social services, including the inhabitants of the interior, the poor, elderly, pregnant women, children and people with a disability. Between 2010 and 2013, the State alleviated some of the needs of the most deprived.
In 2012, Suriname received a US$13.7 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to modernize the education system and help improve learning outcomes among schoolchildren. The first phase of the plan focused on developing the curriculum framework for the entire basic system and increasing learning outcomes in pre-primary and primary education. Phase two of the Second Basic Education Improvement Program (2nd BEIP), dating to 2017, focused on improving access to schools and teachers in the interior and building capacity within the MOESC.
UNICEF has been supporting Suriname and Guyana to target the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach children. A decentralized approach was implemented in regions bordering Brazil. Results indicated an increase in youth-friendly access to health and higher connectivity using smart classrooms to improve access to secondary education. One of the expected outcomes of UNICEF’s programme in Suriname and Guyana was that by 2021, all children and adolescents, especially the most disadvantaged, would have improved their education and developmental outcomes and accessed equitable and inclusive learning environments across the life cycle, including in emergencies.
The 2008 National Report on the Development of Special Education acknowledged that while a clear policy for special and inclusive education had not yet been developed, the Ministry of Education intended to develop a sustainable policy on this issue based on the vision for inclusive education of the Salamanca Convention. This implies the promotion of integration and participation and the fight against exclusion of students in need of special education.
The 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) showed that 23.7% of children aged 2 to 9 had at least one reported disability, with little differentiation between urban, rural coastal and rural interior areas. A new MICS survey was conducted in 2018 and was in the stage of data processing and analysis. According to UNICEF’s 2010 situation analysis of children in Suriname, children with physical or mental disabilities are facing numerous challenges, including inadequate care in child care institutions, lack of or limited opportunities for adequate education, lack of opportunities for recreation and social development with other children, stigmatization within society and families, and risk of violence or abuse by service providers and family members.
On 25 September 2015, the National Assembly approved the accession of Suriname to the CRPD. The country ratified the CRPD on 29 March 2017. In anticipation of the ratification, the State executed the 2005–10 Policy for People with Disability. The minimum standards for services, provisions and institutions for people with disabilities were drafted and adopted through the 2014 Act Alternative Care, which applies to registered alternative care institutions.
As reported in the 2016 national report to the Human Rights Council, the MOESC is working with the private sector to reform vocational training, especially for children with disabilities. More schools for special education were planned and existing schools were to be made more accessible for those with a disability. The Foundation Training Projects for Juveniles with Disability in Suriname has the objective of teaching skills to children and juveniles with a learning disability between ages 14 and 20 so that they can actively contribute to the labour market in Suriname. The foundation provides vocational training in machine woodworking, textile handicrafts, construction and woodworking, metalworking and horticulture.
UNICEF supported the Ministry of Social Affairs to carry out a study on the status of children with disabilities, with a focus on access to services, existing policies and laws and children’s most pressing needs.
Suriname developed an Integral Gender Action Plan in 2006 and a Gender Work Plan in 2013.
The National Review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action +20, prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2014, indicated that gender parity in primary education is almost achieved; however, from the secondary level onwards, the gender parity ratio favours women. Despite increased enrolment of women at all education levels, there are persistent disparities in access to education and health, which is greatly influenced by socio-economic conditions, education level, ethnicity and place of residence.
The 2016 national report to the Human Rights Council stated that the Ministry of Home Affairs financially supports non-government organizations’ projects to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. In 2015, male students in technical and vocational education and training received training in preventing and taking responsibility in cases of teen pregnancy and gender equality. The MOESC has promoted a number of policies and actions aimed at eliminating factors which tend to perpetuate gender inequalities. The Basic Education Improvement Project (BEIP) management was instructed to include gender equality in the implementation of the 2012–16 BEIP II. Religious leaders and teachers from secondary schools received training in gender and gender-related issues, such as domestic violence, from the Bureau for Gender Affairs.
UNICEF supported the MOESC in assessing inclusion and school completion using national surveys of out-of-school children. As part of its support for school retention, UNICEF partnered with the ministries of education and health to support policies and programmes aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy, reintegrating adolescent mothers in school, and strengthening healthy behaviours and services, all tailored to adolescents.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous people
Suriname has a multi-ethnic population. Dutch is the lingua franca, but more than 30 languages are spoken across the country. Suriname’s 2009–14 National Action Plan for Children, the second such action plan, aimed to improve the quality of education for children from underprivileged and minority groups, indigenous children and children in the interior.
In 2008, the comprehensive Implementation Plan for Education in the Interior was drafted to cover the period of 2008 to 2015. The plan focused on priorities including the construction and restoration of schools and classrooms; improving the quality and relevance of education by increasing the percentage of households that speak Dutch as a second language; and increasing the number of qualified teachers.
People living in rural and remote areas
Many schools in the interior, both public and private, are overcrowded and lack adequate infrastructure and access to basic services such as water and electricity. According to the IDB, in regions such as Brokopondo and Sipaliwini, many students have to walk long distances or use canoes to attend school; 29.4% of schools are only reachable by boat. In addition, the student–teacher ratio in these regions is higher than in the rest of the country. The 2nd BEIP aimed at reducing dropout in remote areas, improving teacher capacity and improving school facilities.
The Ministry of Education and Community Development of Suriname is in charge of the design and implementation of education policies. In 2004, the government established the National Advisory Board for the Policy on Disabilities, a multidisciplinary team consisting of psychologists, educationalists, school social workers, speech therapists, dyslexia experts and physical therapists. The National Bureau for Gender Policy is in charge of the implementation of gender equality in education and across other sectors of society.
Many international organizations are involved in the education sector, including the IDB, the Flemish Association for Development Aid and Technical Assistance, UNICEF and the Caribbean Community.
Infrastructure and services
A study into the staffing situation at institutions focused on people with disabilities was conducted by Care for People with Disability in cooperation with the Commission Policy for People with Disability. Existing schools are being made more accessible for children and youth with disabilities.
With the help of the IDB, Suriname reformed its curriculum in 2012. The last curriculum reform had taken place in the 1970s, and the previous curriculum was outdated and not relevant for current learning needs.
The Education for All 2015 national review acknowledged that in the revised national curriculum, minimal attention was being paid to special education needs and disparities in education needs. Taking this into consideration, the MOESC was preparing a policy document for special education at all levels.
Learning materials and ICT
As part of the BEIP supported by the IDB, a draft national education policy and strategy was completed and adopted by the MOESC. With support from this programme, 106,000 textbooks and learning materials were provided.
Embracing innovation and digital technology, UNICEF supported the use of ‘smart’ classrooms allowing children in the hinterland to connect with coastal areas and access remote education.
The I Believe in You in-service teacher training programme was implemented by the MOESC with the support of UNICEF between 2009 and 2013. The programme aimed to make a positive contribution to pupil-oriented and child-friendly education in Suriname. A comprehensive training programme for all primary school teachers was developed to ensure that all 10,000 teachers would understand how to implement this new approach in their classrooms. One of the subthemes of the programme was inclusive education. UNICEF focused on all primary schools in the four interior districts (Brokopondo, Marowijne, Para and Sipaliwini) and gave technical and financial support to the MOESC to develop and implement four in-service teacher training modules. Its overall goal was that ‘at least 80% of girls and boys in the interior have access to quality inclusive pre-primary and primary education.’
The evaluation of the programme published in 2016 concluded that there were no significant improvements in education indicators during or following the implementation of the programme in the four interior districts. The lack of a functional administrative system including a logframe, baseline data necessary to establish net impact of the programme, well defined programme goals and measurable indicators was one of the weaknesses of the programme. Furthermore, the programme activities were not directly related to indicators of ‘quality inclusive’ education, which was the primary goal of the programme. In addition, it remains unclear to what extent changes in teachers’ knowledge and skills can be attributed to the in-service teacher training programme.
A lesson plan was published in the period between 2008 and 2011 for teachers in primary education covering how to deal with people with a disability, in particular children.
Remoteness impacts the supply of qualified teachers in the interior. As of 2010, approximately 30% of the teachers working in the interior were not qualified to teach in the coastal areas. Although coastal teachers receive monetary incentives to move to the interior to teach, fully qualified teachers believe these are not enough to compensate for the compromises they have to make to teach in rural areas, especially because housing is not adequate. In this sense, there is a need to guarantee that teachers in the interior are provided with adequate housing close to the schools as an added incentive to work in the remote areas of the interior.
Suriname has no national education reporting mechanism and no indicators have been developed to monitor inclusive education in the country.