An explicit definition of inclusive education does not exist. However, the 2013 National Policy for Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development referred to the inclusive education concept. The Strategic Plan for Education 2005-2015 included the provision of equitable access to basic education as a strategic goal. Among the activities to achieve this goal the plan mentioned the development of “policy guidelines on inclusive education … for the integration of learners with special needs, OVCs, indigenous language minorities and religious minorities’. Aspiring to a paradigm shift from integration to inclusion, mental retardation to intellectual disability, special Education to inclusive education, the Education Sector Plan 2016-2026 intends to cater for the diversity of learners with respect to abilities, language, culture, gender, age, ethnicity and other forms of human differences.
Special education needs
According to the Education Sector Plan (ESP) 2016-2026, learners with special educational needs are children and youth with physical and sensory impairments, with intellectual disabilities (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Down syndrome, autism, and learning disabilities).
A pilot of inclusive schooling in 1995 in 10 primary schools lasted three years and its evaluators suggested to scale it up by adding two new schools per year. In 2006, another pilot programme attached supportive reception classes within regular primary schools to provide education to children with disabilities. By 2010, 228 reception classes had been created, mostly within church-run primary schools. According to the Education Sector Plan 2016-2026, seven inclusive lower basic education schools and four inclusive upper basic education and secondary schools provide learners with special education needs with adequate standards throughout the country. At present, special education is still provided in 5 special education institutions for children with hearing and visual impairments, intellectual disabilities and multiple disabilities, respectively.
As endorsed in the ESP 2016-2026, inclusive education is expected to be progressively implemented. However, special education is planned to be continually provided to persons with severe and profound disabilities in the transition phase towards inclusion, as long as educational resources, such as inclusive curriculum, qualified teachers, appropriate teaching and learning materials, are made available.
Early identification, screening and assessment
Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development (IECCD) training manuals and the Community-based Rehabilitation programme have been developed with the aim to support early identification of children with disabilities. To include persons with disabilities into regular education, the 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy calls for the development of specialized Assessment and Resource Training and Examination Centres.
The 1993 Constitution, amended in 2004, compels the state to make education available to all, in line with fundamental human rights. While primary education is compulsory, secondary education and technical and vocational education are made progressively free (section 28). The 2010 Education Act (art.4.2.c), the main legislative instrument regulating the national education system, as well as the 2011 Children’s Protection and Welfare Act contains a non-discrimination provision. In line with this principle, the new school supervision and management regulations oblige school principals and officials to supervise cases of discrimination on any grounds within the school environment based on, among others, race, nationality, religion, physical abilities, and gender.
The 2006 National Policy on Orphans and Vulnerable Children, followed by the 2012 implementation plan, addresses specifically the education needs of orphaned or abandoned children, poor children, and children residing in remote rural areas and those marginalized because of their ethnicity or language. The 2013 National Policy for Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development commits to making all services inclusive for children with disabilities and/or with developmental delays and for children from ethnic minority groups.
The ESP 2016-2026 recognizes the need to apply a paradigm shift from a special to an inclusive model of education provision, addressing the diversity of learners’ needs in terms of abilities, language, culture, gender, age, and ethnicity. Among its priorities, it aims to adopt an Inclusive education policy. In 2018, the Ministry of Education has “completed the inclusive education policy and are currently about to develop the inclusive education strategic plan”.
Lesotho does not have disability-specific legislation. However, the 1993 Constitution, as amended in 2004, contains provisions for the rehabilitation and training of persons with disabilities and the 2011 Children’s Protection and Welfare Act affirms child rights to education, regardless of the type and severity of the disability (art. 11.3).
The 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy promotes equal access and inclusion of persons with disability in education and training programmes, involving all relevant ministries, the private sector and civil society organizations. The objectives of the Priority Policy on Capacity Building focuses on establishing accessible and equipped resource centres throughout the country with multi-disciplinary assessment teams. The ESP 2016-2026 intends to sensitize the population on the issue of disability and special needs, strengthen the capacity of the special education unit and expand training on special education. In the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) 2012/13-2016/17, disability is a cross cutting issue and requires the government to adopt strategies that promote the welfare of people with disabilities in many areas including by increasing the number of teachers who are trained to educated children with disabilities; ensuring access to formal and non-formal education.
Reaffirming the principle of non-discrimination, the 2003 Gender and Development Policy serves as a guiding tool to promote gender equality and to address gender issues across all ministries. In addition to international commitments, Lesotho is also signatory of the 2008 regional SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. In 2011, the country also adopted the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act that explicitly prohibits the expulsion from any educational institutions and the denial of the right to education to pregnant girls and women (art.11.4). The cross-cutting nature of gender has been recognized throughout the ESP 2016-2026.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
According to the Ministry of Education, education at the first grades is provided in Sesotho, while English is the medium of instruction in the upper grades of primary and in secondary schools.
People living in rural or remote areas
Accessibility to school for children residing in rural areas is a challenge. To reach children in remote areas, a school mapping exercise was developed in 2005 to provide a school within 3km to every child. Schools in rural areas are generally small and multigrade teaching is a norm. More schools in the mountain areas have been built to avoid children traveling long and unsafe distances.
Free Primary Education was introduced in 2000, and was made compulsory by the 2010 Education Act. In addition, the School Feeding Programme aims to ensure that each child receives at least one meal a day at school. To encourage the participation of poor children in IECCD, bursaries are provided and the school feeding programme at primary school has been extended to IECCD nationwide.
Cooperation across sectors
In 1991, a Special Education Unit (SEU) within the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) was established to integrate learners with special educational needs into the regular school system at all levels.
Within the MoET, the Local Education Group (LEG) brings together all education stakeholders, including other relevant Ministries, such as of Finance, Civil Service, Social Affairs, but also school owners and churches, parents’ associations, teachers’ unions, and NGOs. Organised by the MoET on a quarterly basis, the meetings are chaired by the Principal Secretary of the Ministry. In particular, the MoET collaborates with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to ensure provision of friendly health services to learners at schools. Recently, it has closely worked with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for the introduction of a system of testing financial capacity for all higher education students applying for state funding.
Cooperation across government levels
The process of decentralization dates back to the 1990s, when District Resource Centers and School Advisory and Management Committees were built and recognized, respectively. Inspectorates are the main form of interaction form the central to the local level. Their role is largely advisory for schools. The 2010 Education Act aims to further strengthen the decentralization of educational services in consultation with local authorities.
Infrastructure and services
The Building Control Act 1995 provides for physical access in all public buildings. However, only a few schools have been reported to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities. The 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy advocates for a review of the Act and the enforcement of the Lesotho Standards in design for access.
The 2009 Curriculum and Assessment Policy provides principles and guidelines for the national curriculum reform and assessment system. Against this backdrop, the national curricula and assessment materials revision have started in 2010 by the National Curriculum Development Centre and the Examinations Council of Lesotho.
The 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy calls for a review and reform of the national curriculum to include assessment and individual education programmes to integrate children and youth with disabilities into regular schools. It also advocates for appropriate education and training adjustments, including the extension of assessment time for persons with learning difficulties, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neurobehavioral disorders. Yet, the ESP still acknowledges the rigidity of curricula in accommodating special education needs. Curricula not aligned with inclusive education are therefore planned to be revised, especially in higher learning institutions.
Both early childhood and primary level curricula are gender responsive. Life-skills Based Sexuality Education, piloted in 2017 with the aim to be integrated in secondary level curriculum, addresses gender issues. The participation in certain secondary level specialisations has been reported to favour gendered models, with boys enrolling in subjects, such as woodwork, metalwork and science; and girls in home Economics, needlework and languages.
Lesotho’s ESP indicates that ‘the Ministry shall produce and procure materials for children of minorities (e.g. Xhosa, Ndebele, Baphuthi, etc.)’. To make the curriculum accessible ‘a curriculum language policy for different levels of education to render curricular materials accessible to educators and learners’ will be developed. The 2008 Curriculum and Assessment Policy Framework stipulates that ‘while acknowledging, as the Lesotho Constitution states, that Sesotho and English are the two official languages, and in recognition of the fact that there are other languages besides Sesotho and English, mother tongue will be used as a medium of instruction up to class 3 while English will be taught as a subject at this and other levels. From grade 4 English shall begin to be used as a medium of instruction and to be taught as a subject as well’. Primary school curriculum encourages the promotion of multiple cultural identities;
The National Curriculum Development Centre in partnership with teachers’ representatives is in charge for the development of syllabuses and educational materials.
The ESP 2016-2026 acknowledges learning materials, textbooks and appropriate technology for learners with special needs in schools need to be improved. In this regard, the Global Partnership for Education has supported additional educational resources, such as learning materials in Braille. The curriculum and assessment policy framework indicates that ‘Sign language and its use in the teaching and learning processes shall form an integral part of the new Language policy in order to ensure access to information and effective communication’.
With reference to gender, the Education Sector Plan 2016-2026 addresses the persistence of gender stereotypes in learning materials. Learning materials for primary level education have been translated into Xhosa.
Within a 2010 pilot project, itinerant workers were trained to support the implementation of inclusive education in six out of ten districts of the country. As prescribed in the 2011 National Disability Policy and Rehabilitation Policy, special needs education has been incorporated in the teacher-training curriculum. In particular, the Lesotho College of Education provides an introductive programme on special education for both lower basic and secondary school teacher students and a sign language training to support schoolchildren with speech and hearing impairment. The National University of Lesotho offers an advanced degree in Special Education among its specialization programmes.
The Lesotho College of Education admits students with special educational needs, who want to take a diploma in education. Within the Faculty of Education, a special education needs unit addresses the education needs of students from all faculties.
Lesotho has no annual monitoring report and there is no evidence of indicators that monitor inclusive education.