An explicit definition of inclusive education has not been found. However, the 2009–19 education plan defines inclusion or mainstreaming as ‘the practice of placing students with disabilities as much as possible in regular classrooms or schools’.
Special education needs
The 1996 Education Act refers to pupils requiring special education treatment as children ‘who suffer from any disability of mind or body’ and who therefore need to be educated in special schools providing them with appropriate special methods (Art. 12.2[c]).
As regulated by the 1996 Education Act, learners with intellectual and/or physical disabilities are entitled to be taught in special schools or to receive special education treatment—namely, support through appropriate special methods (Art. 12.2[c]). According to the available resources, learners with severe disabilities are educated in special schools, while those with mild disabilities can receive education in public regular schools. However, in cases where facilities for special education treatment are not available, admission of pupils with disabilities to regular schools can be rejected if it can be seen as adversely affecting the learning of their peers (Art. 20.2).
At present, the Bahamian school system includes:
- Alternative schools that provide education for learners aged between 11 and 16 considered at risk, namely students with behavioural challenges, convicted persons, learners suffering from health problems, and students residing in rural and remote areas. With a correctional and rehabilitative approach, these same-sex institutions follow the national curriculum but do not categorize students according to the conventional grades. In one case, they provide residential services, and one targets pregnant teenage girls.
- Special schools that target students with severe disabilities, namely learners with mental, sensory, neuromuscular or physical impairments, social or emotional behavioural problems, communication difficulties and multiple disabilities. Students in special schools follow an individualized education plan and are not assessed or placed according to the conventional grading system.
According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s 2016–17 annual report, there were seven alternative schools operating in the country in the 2016/17 academic year, accounting for 1.4% of the total national schools. Special schools represented 2.8%, of which eight were public and six were private.
In 2015, the state Marjorie Davis Institute for Special Education officially opened to provide diagnostic services and instructional intervention, conduct research on special needs and education and promote public awareness, education and training campaigns.
Early identification, screening and assessment
A medical officer examines the child and advises on whether the child suffers from any intellectual and/or physical disabilities and about the nature and extent of them, upon request in writing from the Department of Education (Education Act, Art. 21.1). As established in the Shared Vision for Education 2030, adopted in 2015, as learners enter school, they are assessed to detect any special learning need. The identification of learning needs is conducted within the Bahamas National Screening Programme.
The 1973 Constitution does not enshrine the right to education. In its equality provision, it prohibits any discrimination on grounds of ‘race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex’ in the entitlement to fundamental rights and freedoms (Art. 15). Education rights are laid down by the 1996 Education Act, which regulates compulsory education up to 16 years of age. According to the law, the parents hold the responsibility for making sure that the school-aged children receive education ‘suitable to their age, ability and aptitude, by regular attendance at school or otherwise’ (Art. 23). The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is mandated to establish an adequate number of schools to ensure primary, secondary and further education provision (Art. 11), suitable to the needs of pupils (Art. 12). The 2007 Child Protection Act, as amended in 2014, reiterates children’s rights to be protected from any discrimination and to be enrolled at and attend school (Art. 5).
In terms of policy, in the Shared Vision for Education 2030, adopted in 2015 by the National Education Committee (NEC), the country commits to providing quality education to all ‘to produce productive citizens capable of caring for themselves and contributing positively to the national development process.’ To meet this objective, the NEC formulated the Profile of the Ideal Graduate, which outlines the characteristics that students are expected to develop through the national education system.
The 2007 Child Protection Act reaffirms the responsibility of the minister of education to take appropriate measures to ensure that children with disabilities benefit from equal education opportunities (Art. 8.2). In conformity with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed in 2013 and ratified by the country in 2015, the 2014 Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act endorses a human rights-based approach. It mandates the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, in consultation with the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, to take into consideration the special needs of the group when formulating and implementing education policies and programmes (Art. 31.1). Learning institutions address those needs in relation to ‘entry requirements, curriculum, examinations, auxiliary aids, and services including accessible formatting, use of school facilities, class schedules, physical education requirements’ (Art. 31.2).
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act promotes the ‘integration of students with disabilities into all schools and learning institutions’ (Art. 32[a]), while special schools are established to target learners in need of special education, namely children with disabilities (Art. 32[d]). Special education classes are set up to address specific learning needs, including Braille, alternative script and alternative communication means and formats (Art. 33.2).
In education, the country is committed to including students in regular schools ‘as much as possible’. However, it considers it necessary to establish ‘stand-alone facilitates to cater to the small proportion of students with extreme special learning needs’, as reiterated in the Shared Vision for Education 2030, based on the 2005 report of the National Commission for Special Education. Among its long-term objectives, the 2009–19 education plan, in its ‘Goal 4: Meeting the Needs of Special Students’, aims to ensure that all education institutions are suitable to meet the needs of students with disabilities, allowing greater inclusion (objective 8), and to expand the screening mechanisms to assess learners’ mental, physical and emotional needs (objective 10). According to the 1996 Education Act, categories of children in need of special education treatment are required to be identified by law to ensure that education provision includes appropriate special methods (Art. 20).
Concerning programmes, a multi-service centre for adults with developmental disabilities was launched in 2016 in Nassau to provide training and development opportunities within the safe learning environment of the facility.
In 2012, a constitutional commission was set up to examine the text of the Constitution and recommend the review of any provision containing gender-based discrimination. The inquiry led to the tabling of four bills that were adopted by the Parliament in 2016. However, in the constitutional referendum, voters did not opt for the changes, and the Constitution was therefore not amended.
In 2015, the National Task Force for Gender-Based Violence adopted a strategic plan to address gender-based violence. In relation to education, the plan highlights the limited nature of training and prevention programmes on the topic.
With support of the Inter-American Development Bank, in 2017 the Bahamas implemented the Renewing, Inspiring, Sustaining, Empowering (RISE) programme, a conditional cash transfer programme aimed to alleviate poverty. Among its conditions, the programme requires school attendance and education completion with a certain grade.
Under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Special Services Unit coordinates the provision of special education in the country and holds the responsibility for speech, auditory and visual screening, physical health assessment and intervention, diagnosis and rehabilitation of learning and behavioural difficulties. The unit is also in charge of providing professional development training and of maintaining inter-agency relationships for the provision of integrated services.
The 2014 Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act sets up the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities with the mandate to recommend measures to prevent discrimination against the group, in particular for the most vulnerable, such as women, children, the elderly, the poor and persons with multiple disabilities. Consisting of representative from the ministries, including of education, non-government organizations, and members of civil society and parents (Art. 6), it further advises on the formulation of curricula suitable for their needs and capabilities (Art. 10).
The Ministry of Labour, Social Services, Youth, Sports and Culture and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology collaborate to provide an appropriate vocational training programme for persons with disabilities (Persons with Disabilities Act, Art. 15).
Concerning gender, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs (BWA) under the Department of Gender and Family Affairs is responsible for promoting women’s empowerment by, among other measures, monitoring and reporting on compliance with international conventions. The BWA was strengthened to supervise the implementation of education and training programmes. A proposal to have gender officers at every department level is currently under consideration by the Ministry of Labour, Social Services, Youth, Sports and Culture.
All persons with disabilities have the right to benefit from a ‘barrier-free and disabled friendly environment’ in terms of building, ICT, infrastructure and services (Persons with Disabilities Act, Art. 20).
As established by the 1996 Education Act, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is mandated to implement an arrangement for the provision of transportation services aimed to facilitate school attendance (Art. 34). The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities collaborates with the responsible ministry to formulate a public transportation policy that takes into account those needs (Persons with Disabilities Act, Art. 22).
To eliminate gender stereotypes and gendered approaches, the Family Life and Health Education curriculum for primary schools was revised in 2012 and incorporated into the national curriculum in 2013.
Concerning disability, the Special Services Unit works to disseminate National Standards for Inclusive Education booklets at the school level.
As established by the 1996 Education Act, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is mandated to implement arrangements and allocate sufficient resources for the provision of in-service teacher training (Art. 39). The 2014 Persons with Disabilities Act reaffirms the need to develop teacher training programmes for professionals working in special schools and in ‘integrated’ schools for children with disabilities (Art. 30[a]) and requires that special education become a compulsory component of the teacher training curriculum (Art. 30[b]).
The Shared Vision for Education 2030 reports that teachers and education personnel are also trained to identify and address learners’ special needs. Recently, the minister of education announced a commitment to increasing the training and re-training opportunities in the field of special education needs raising the number of special units at the pre-primary and primary education levels across the districts.
Teams of special education service providers consist of special education teachers, psychologists, counsellors and school social workers who work throughout the school system.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology provides annual reports, in compliance with the Education Act requirement.
In 2016, the education management information system (EMIS) was reportedly set to be strengthened in all 14 education districts of the country to better track learners’ performance and attendance.