The 2015 Rights of Persons with Disability Act defines inclusive education as an education system that ‘embraces a set of values, principles and practices that seek meaningful, effective and quality education for all students’ and ‘nurtures and encourages the diversity of learning conditions and requirements not only of children with disabilities, but of all students.’
Special education and special education needs
The Marshall Island Public School System Act (MIPSSA) defines ‘special education’ as the ‘instruction, programs or related services specifically designed or provided to assist children with disabilities in responding to or promoting equal educational programs and opportunities for all children.’ The act provides guidelines to support the inclusion of all students, ‘especially those who are educationally disadvantaged or who have special educational needs, including but not limited to counseling, guidance, health education and related services and programs to help students develop academically, personally and socially’.
The 2015 Rights of Persons with Disability Act enshrines the right to inclusive education. It aims to support disability-inclusive development and effective development partner collaboration and coordination in support of government efforts to promote disability-inclusive development.
There are two Deaf Education Centres, one in Majuro, established in 2013, and one in Ebeye, established in 2014, for students who are deaf or deaf-blind.
The 1979 Constitution of the Republic of Marshall Islands, amended in 2005, enshrines the right to education for all (Art. II, Section 15). Article II, Section 12, states that ‘all persons are equal under the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the laws’ and that ‘no law and no executive or judicial action shall, either expressly, or in its practical application, discriminate against any person on the basis of gender, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, place of birth, family status or descent.’ The constitution does not specifically list disabilities as prohibited ground for discrimination.
The 2015 Child Rights Protection Act states that ‘every child has the right to education which would develop his/her cultural knowledge, intellect, abilities, views, moral and social responsibility.’
The country does not have an inclusive education policy but adopted the 2015–18 National Policy on Disability Inclusive Development, which aimed to ‘provide a comprehensive framework for improving the quality of life of person with disabilities’. The special education programme develops an individualized educational plan for each student, which is followed by the special education teacher assigned to that student. The programme adopts a flexible approach to providing support to students. The 2009–14 National Youth Policy sets out priorities for youth, covering seven policy areas, including education.
The Marshall Islands ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The 2015 Rights of Persons with Disability Act aims ‘to declare the equal rights and freedoms of all persons with disabilities and provide for the protection, promotion and enforcement of those rights and freedoms’. According to the act, disability constitutes ‘a long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with various attitudinal and environmental barriers, may hinder full and effective participation of a person in society on an equal basis with others’.
Section 16 on the right to education states that ‘persons with disabilities have a right to education without discrimination and are entitled to quality and inclusive education as a measure of their inherent dignity and their right to equality, non-discrimination, the full development of their talents and creativity, and their effective and equal participation in society.’ In addition, ‘a person must not be denied admission, whether directly or indirectly, to any public or non-public school or other educational or training establishment, on the basis of an actual or perceived physical, sensory, mental, intellectual or psychosocial impairment.’
Finally, the act states that ‘persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation of their individual needs’. These accommodations include, but are not limited to, ‘physical access to classrooms and other school buildings and facilities, accessible transport, and alternative modes of instruction and educational materials, including Braille and sign language’; ‘adequate support measures, including learning support assistants’; ‘adjustment of entry requirements, curriculum examinations and pass marks’; and ‘instruction by teachers trained in inclusive education and qualified to teach alternative modes of instruction including Braille and sign language’.
The National Policy on Disability Inclusive Development was drafted in 2013 and aims for the Marshall Islands to ‘become a barrier-free society that respects the rights of all persons with disabilities by empowering, including and providing them with the means of achieving their rights.’
The 2014 Child Protection Policy states that all teachers and staff must treat children with respect regardless of disability. Children with disabilities are dependent on their teachers to care for and protect them.
The Marshall Islands receive funds under the United States government’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for services to special education students.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It also enacted a Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act in 2012 and drafted the National Gender Mainstreaming Policy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 2015. This policy aims to advance gender equality and ensure women have an enabling environment to enjoy their human rights, including to education. It pursues the objective of expanding boys’ and girls’ access to higher levels of education and vocational and technical training. It also aims to engage adolescents and youth as strategic actors for ending the cycle of violence by implementing education programmes based on gender equality and human rights. Finally, the non-government organization Women United Together Marshall Islands, established in 1987, aims to empower women, including through education.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
English and Marshallese are the official languages of the Marshall Islands. The MIPSSA states that instruction in the Marshallese language, customs, culture and history is compulsory and is to be provided at all preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools. In addition, all secondary-level students are required to pass an examination on the Marshallese language, customs, culture and history in order to obtain a secondary education diploma or certificate, ‘except for students who are not in the system for three (3) years.’ Article 317 of the 1991 Education Act states that the Department of Education must develop a course on the Marshallese language, traditions, culture and history, to be known as Marshallese Studies. Instruction is provided in English and Marshallese.
The 2015 Child Rights Protection Act states that ‘children belonging to national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities shall be protected from neglect, abuse, maltreatment, and exploitation. ... In particular, it shall be prohibited to ... [r]estrict or exclude the child from full, active, and effective participation and inclusion in society; and ... [d]eny opportunities for education, development, health, and self-realization equal to those of children not belonging to a minority group.’
People living in rural or remote areas
UNESCO’s 2015 Education for All report highlights that due to the small size of many schools in the Outer Islands and atolls, teachers are often required to teach unfamiliar subjects in multigrade classrooms, and to students with diverse education needs, without the necessary training. In addition, students attending schools in more remote locations are disadvantaged in terms of high transportation costs and delays in receiving on-site technical assistance. Furthermore, the report states that training programmes for teachers tend to be located in urban centres, meaning teachers in the Outer Island/atoll schools have limited access. There is no set policy for this group of learners in official documents.
The 2015 Rights of Persons with Disability Act aims to promote disability-inclusive development as part of a rights-based approach to development and poverty reduction. The MIPSSA refers to the provision of a school meal programme, stating that ‘the Commissioner through the Board may assist any community in establishing a school meal program under such rules and regulations as the Board may promulgate.’ In addition, the commissioner, through the board, shall establish a meal programme for all schools with dormitory facilities.
The 1979 Constitution, amended in 2005, states that ‘the Cabinet shall be responsible for establishing and maintaining such public schools and for making such other provision as may be reasonable and necessary to provide educational opportunities for the people of the Marshall Islands’ (Art. V, Section I [h]).
The Disability Coordination Office provides support for the Marshall Islands Disabled Persons’ Organization (MIDPO), which includes assistance in accessing funding. MIDPO promotes and protects the rights and interests of persons with disabilities and serves as the central point to combine efforts for disabled persons in all of the Marshall Islands. To this end, MIDPO coordinates its efforts and works hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Public Service System and the Marshall Islands Disability Task Force.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for treating mental and physical disabilities, while the public school system is responsible for supporting special education for children with disabilities. The ministry also provides visits to sick children in their home and a range of other services for children and young people aged 0 to 21 years.
The United States Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides technical assistance for entities providing special education services. The Marshall Islands Special Education Program, under the Ministry of Education, Sports and Training, reports annually to OSEP. The Special Education Program aims to identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities.
The MIPSSA states that the public school system ‘may provide suitable transportation to and from school for Special Education, preschool, elementary and secondary students as resources permit.’ It also states that ‘in developing such rules, the Public School System shall consider the school attendance area in which a child normally resides; the distance the child lives from the school; [and] the grade level, physically disabled or special learning disability of a child’.
The National Gender Mainstreaming Policy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands aims to strengthen ‘family life education’ through the school curriculum.
Learning materials and ICT
The MIPSSA states that the ‘Board shall establish a textbook committee to review and evaluate textbooks and materials before purchase in order to determine their suitability as may be consistent with economy and desirable within any curriculum differences in the schools of the Republic.’ The Marshall Islands launched a national ICT policy in 2012 which sets goals and objectives in education and human resource development.
UNESCO’s 2015 Education for All report states that the limited availability of teaching materials is a barrier to ensuring quality education. To address these concerns, the Ministry of Education launched a project, with the assistance of the Fiji Volunteer Scheme, to develop a range of lesson plans to be used by teachers in grades 1 to 8. In 2015, data on the impacts of this project were not available.
The Ministry of Education Teacher Certification Act of 2007 sets the standards by which teachers are to be certified and licensed to teach in the Marshall Islands. The act does not mention inclusive education either directly or indirectly. According to the 2015 Rights of Persons with Disability Act, persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation of their individual needs, including ‘instruction by teachers trained in inclusive education and qualified to teach alternative modes of instruction including Braille and sign language.’
The National Gender Mainstreaming Policy aims to implement a core basic teacher-training program that includes compulsory areas in family life education and the promotion of gender equality and human rights. The 2014 Child Protection Policy mentions that teachers and staff working with children with disabilities are required participate in ‘induction training that raises their awareness of particular risk factors and provides examples of good practice.’
Finally, specific skills training services for special education teachers are provided via the Navigating Student Success in the Pacific (NSSP) project. The training focuses on students with severe disabilities and deaf education.
The 2015 Rights of Persons with Disability Act aims to develop improved disability statistics as a basis for evidence-based decision making on disability. According to this act, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on the advice of the Human Rights Committee, ‘must collect appropriate information, including reliable and internationally comparable statistical and research data, to enable Government to formulate and implement policies to give effect to the Convention and this Act.’ In parallel, in its state report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2015, the government stated that its ‘Special Education Program requires monitoring and reporting for all students who have an Individualised Education Plan.’
The Ministry of Education, Sports and Training does not currently collect data regarding numbers of persons with disabilities engaged in tertiary education or in primary and secondary education. Completion rates and disaggregated data for these learners are also unavailable.