There is no definition of inclusive education in the Education Act of 2008.
The 2013 special education needs policy outlines measures for the Ministry of Education to ensure that all children benefit from education through inclusion. It decrees that the ministry ‘will use its best endeavours to facilitate inclusive learning, and ensure that teachers in the schools are able to identify and provide for those pupils who have special educational needs to allow pupils with special educational needs join in the activities of the schools together with pupils who do not have special educational needs, so far as is reasonably practical and compatible with the children receiving the special educational provision and the efficient education of the pupils with whom they are educated.’
Special education needs
While there is no official definition of special education needs in the 2008 Education Act, the act decrees that special education programmes should be provided for ‘students of compulsory school age who by virtue of intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities are in need of special education.’
The 2013 special education needs policy defines ‘special educational needs’ as concerning children with ‘learning difficulty or challenge while using the regular school plants, or difficulty or challenge with using the regular school plants, or difficulty or challenges learning with the regular school curriculum that calls for special educational provision to be made for them through inclusive learning.’
The 2008 Education Act directs that the school system shall be organized in the following categories: public schools, private education institutions, denominational schools and assisted private schools.
Part 4 of the Education Act refers to the categories of schools and the stages of education. It decrees that the relevant ministry may, as resources permit, include as part of the system of public education:
- Early childhood education
- Education to meet the requirements of pupils who are gifted or have exceptional ability
- Special education
- Adult education
- Distance education.
According to the Education Act, students of compulsory school age with intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities are entitled to special education programmes delivered by the director of education. Special education programmes may take the form of an individual education plan tailored to the specific or individual needs of the student.
The 2013 special education needs policy determines that the education officer for special needs is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operation of schools in adhering to the policy and providing support to teachers and principals to advance towards inclusive learning. Students with special education needs are to be mainstreamed in primary schools. The education officer for special needs is expected to provide support to these students, their parents, teachers and principals and to liaise with external agencies, including the Ministry of Health and the Welfare Department, to help identify the needs of students and provide tailored support.
According to the 2013–18 draft education sector plan, the government policy for children with special education needs involves a programme to eventually mainstream students with special needs to ensure that they can access education. As part of the policy to mainstream students with special needs, two primary schools and two secondary schools were expected to enrol such children from January 2012.
Despite this effort, there are still special schools in the country, such as the Adele School for Special Children. The Saint Anthony Secondary School offers a programme for students with literacy deficiencies, dyslexia and high-functioning autism.
The 1981 Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda includes human rights guarantees but not the right to education.
The 2008 Education Act provides the regulatory system for the delivery of education services in Antigua and Barbuda.
The 2013–18 draft education sector plan outlined the education strategies and priorities for Antigua and Barbuda for a five-year period. The plan recognizes that the country has shown a strong commitment to improve access to quality education and achieved universal access to primary education, but there is room for improvement for children living in poverty, boys and children with special education needs.
Antigua and Barbuda is a protocol member of the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The 2012–21 OECS education strategy guides the education directions and priorities of its members and provides a framework for Member States to align their national strategies and plans. The strategy recognizes that there has been significant progress in some OECS States in implementing universal early childhood education and achieving universal primary and secondary education enrolment, but key areas of concern remain. These include the fact that inequality has become more obvious and in some areas the most disadvantaged economically and socially may not be enjoying the benefits of the education system; inadequacies in access at the pre-primary and tertiary levels; and the fact that gender disparities in performance are evident at all levels. The country’s 2013 policy on ICT in education and other national policies are consistent with the broader OECS regional education policy.
UNICEF published its Situation Analysis of Children in Antigua and Barbuda in 2017. According to the report, the country has been progressive in the protection of children when compared to other OECS countries and has ratified several UN conventions to ensure the right to education for children in Antigua and Barbuda, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Special education is regulated under Division 4 of the Education Act. The act directs that special education programmes should be provided for ‘students of compulsory school age who by virtue of intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities are in need of special education’ in ‘the least restrictive and most enabling environment to the extent that resources permit’. Special education programmes may take the form of an individual education plan.
According to the act, the director of education must have the written consent of the parent prior to the assessment to determine if the child has special education needs. Where possible, the assessment should be multidisciplinary. If the student has special education needs, the director of education, in consultation with professional staff and parents, shall determine the special education programme that is appropriate to meet the student’s needs (Article 84).
The minister of education is responsible for ‘the referral of children who have been identified by the Director of Education as having learning difficulties to appropriate medical, educational, social services or other agencies where they exist for remedial treatment or assistance’.
The 2013 special education needs policy outlined measures to ensure that the necessary provisions are made for all children to benefit from education through inclusion. The policy envisions the creation of individualized education plans and appropriate curricula to support children with special needs and to ensure that special education provisions are made for them through inclusive learning. The individualized education plan should include information about the short-term targets for the child, the teaching strategies to be used and the special education provision to be put in place.
Antigua and Barbuda ratified the CRPD in 2016.
According to the Education Act, the minister of education shall establish and pursue an understanding of the principles of gender equality and equity in the education system.
Antigua and Barbuda does not have a gender policy. Nevertheless, the country developed a National Strategic Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence for the period of 2013–18.
According to the 2013–18 draft education sector plan, boys are not succeeding as well as girls and are dropping out of school early. Strategies are needed to ensure that boys attend schools more regularly and perform better at all levels of the education system.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
According to the 2013 special education needs policy, children must not be regarded as having special education needs solely because their native language or the form of language in their home is different from the language in which they will be taught. The policy states that ‘the identification and assessment of the special educational needs of children whose first language is not English, requires particular care.’ Limitations in the command of a language may constitute special education needs.
UNICEF’s 2017 Situation Analysis of Children in Antigua and Barbuda highlights that female-headed households in the country are defined by low levels of education and poverty. In addition, there are low school attendance rates among children living in these households. Despite an improved network of public schools that are free and accessible for children aged 5 to 16, poor families have to cover the costs of books, transport and uniforms.
According to UNICEF, migrant families are ‘a significant feature of the poverty landscape and represent about 17% of the total number of students in primary and secondary schools. More students from migrant families are enrolled in private schools than public schools, which some believe to be an indication of their difficulty matriculating in the public system.’ In addition, with many Spanish-speaking economic migrants, language difficulties may also lead to learning difficulties.
The minister of education, science and technology has the responsibility, subject to available resources, to establish and pursue a varied, relevant and comprehensive education system and to frame and execute an education policy that is in line with the specific goals and objectives of the Education Act (Subsections 2 and 3). The minister of education is responsible for ‘devising a system of education designed as far as possible to ensure that the intellectual and vocational abilities, aptitudes and interests of students find adequate expression and opportunity for development’ (Subsection 4).
The Education Act states that the director of education shall ensure that schools and other education institutions are administered in a proper and efficient manner and shall develop and direct training of all professional personnel. He or she is also responsible for providing special education programmes tailored to the special needs of students. According to the act, the minister may establish a Council on Special Education to advise on guidelines for the implementation of special education (Article 86).
The 2013 special education needs policy establishes that the provision for children with special education needs is a matter for the government of Antigua and Barbuda as a whole. In addition to the Ministry of Education, the education officer for special needs, the coordinator of special needs, school principals and other members of staff share the responsibility for ensuring that these children are identified, assessed and able to access education.
The education officer for special needs aims to facilitate the identification and assessment of the level of attainment of children and determine whether they have special education needs. In addition, the officer oversees the day-to-day operation of schools adhering to the special education needs policy.
The policy directs that in some cases outside professionals from health or social services may be involved with the child. In these cases, the Ministry of Education and the education officer for special needs ‘will support the further assessment of the child, assisting in planning future support for them in discussion with coordinator, principals, teachers and parents and monitoring the actions taken.’
Infrastructure and services
The 2013–18 draft education sector plan included strategies to upgrade existing physical facilities of primary and secondary schools across the country. According to the plan, except for the new buildings that were constructed under the Basic Education Project I, the school infrastructure in the country is over 35 years old. In addition, in some schools the student/teacher ratio is high, reaffirming the need for upgrading physical facilities and building new secondary schools.
The 2013 special education needs policy foresees interventions for teachers or educators to use a differentiated curriculum for children with special education needs. Under the policy, a ‘school action’, or intervention plan, will be triggered when the child:
- Shows signs of difficulty in developing literacy or numeracy skills, resulting in poor attainment in some curriculum areas
- Presents persistent emotional or behavioural difficulties which are not ameliorated by the behaviour management techniques usually employed in the school
- Has sensory or physical problems and continues to make little or no progress despite the provision of specialist equipment and/or a differentiated curriculum.
Antigua and Barbuda developed a policy for ICT in education in 2013. The policy showed the commitment of the government to improve teaching, learning and administrative processes in the education system through the effective use of ICT and to provide all students with basic, essential ICT.
The Education Act states that the minister of education shall provide for the professional training of teachers for the entire education system and lay down standards for their recruitment, conditions of service and professional development.
According to the 2013 special education needs policy, ‘All teachers are teachers of children with special educational needs.’ The policy dictates that at the heart of the work of every primary school class, there is a continuous cycle of planning, teaching and assessing that takes into consideration the wide range of abilities, aptitudes and interests of children. The education officer for special needs is to assist principals and teachers in helping their schools advance towards inclusive learning by training all school employees in accommodating different learning needs, liaising and advising principals and teachers, managing learning support assistants, facilitating the in-service training of staff and liaising with parents of children with special education needs.
Under the policy, teachers are in charge of ‘school action’. When a teacher or any educator identifies a child with special education needs, the teacher will provide interventions that are additional to those provided as part of the school’s usual differentiated curriculum or school action. Furthermore, a ‘school action plan’ identifies the challenges that the child faces to achieve the same education results as their peers. The policy foresees that under the school action plan, the teacher will develop tailored strategies to support the children with special education needs.
The teacher may request more support from the principal of the school if the needs of the student are not being met and has the responsibility of informing the planning and measurement of a pupil’s progress.