The 1987 Education Act does not include provisions for inclusive education.
Special education needs
According to the Education Act, special education is the ‘education suitable to the requirements of persons who are mute, deaf, blind or otherwise physically or psychologically disabled or mentally retarded and includes education suitable to the requirements of pupils who are gifted or have exceptional ability’.
The Education Act provides that the minister of education may, in addition to the three stages of public education (primary, secondary and tertiary education), provide as part of the system of public education:
- Preschool education
- Special education
- Adult education
- Education and training in the schools established under the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Act
- Education and training cooperation or association with penal institutions or rehabilitation centres
- Any other category of education that is necessary.
Article 53 prescribes that ‘the Minister may, where practicable, provide special schools appropriate for the education of children requiring special educational treatment; but where it is not practicable to do so the Minister may provide facilities for special education at any school’.
According to the Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports’ 2002–12 strategic plan, between 1990 and 1999 the ministry upgraded four special education annexes located at various primary schools in Barbados. Financial assistance to private special education institutions such as the Challenor School and the Learning Centre was significantly increased to meet their operational expenses.
In the framework of the strategic plan, the ministry decided to adopt a policy for mainstreaming students with special needs wherever possible. As stated in the plan, ‘This policy of inclusion will ensure that there is equality in educational opportunity and that all students benefit from the same quality education being offered.’
According to Barbados Children Directory, special needs education is addressed in regular classrooms, in special classrooms at regular schools or in special units or special education schools. At present special education services are provided in specially equipped classrooms or special units in eight public primary schools. At the secondary level, the Ann Hill School caters for secondary school-age children with global developmental delays and other disabilities. Children who are deaf or hearing impaired, blind or visually impaired attend the Irving Wilson School.
The 1966 Constitution of Barbados, as amended in 2007, does not enshrine the right to education. Nevertheless, it includes human rights guarantees and provisions for non-discrimination.
The 1987 Education Act regulates the education system in Barbados.
The White Paper on Educational Reform developed by the Ministry of Education in 1995 indicated that education must ‘cater more effectively to the learning and emotional needs of children whose education could be in danger as a result of deviant behaviour followed by suspension or expulsion from school’.
The Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports’ 2002–12 strategic plan summarized the country’s education priorities and strategies for a 10-year period. The plan sought to improve the quality and delivery of education, youth and cultural development activities in Barbados. In particular, it was designed to provide a framework for ensuring that each child matters in the education system and can develop their abilities to the maximum.
The plan encouraged the development of an integrated system to: ‘Recognise the existence of multiple intelligences and abilities, and ensure that these are addressed in the classroom ... Accommodate and address the different learning styles of our students [and allow] each student to develop at his/her own pace.’
One of the missions of the ministry, as underlined in the strategic plan, is to ensure equitable access to quality education for all citizens so they can realize their full potential. In addition, the ministry sets out to work to ‘provide special education facilities for the disadvantaged to enable them to lead full, active and interesting lives’. At the secondary level, the plan recognizes that equal access to secondary education cannot be achieved without a recognition of the need for a diversity of educational ‘supply’. Ensuring equal access does not mean that all students have to follow the same pathway.
At the national level, the country’s 2006–25 national strategic plan articulates the vision for Barbados in 2025; among its objectives, the plan seeks to expand the level and quality of education and training in the country. It reports that Barbados has a literacy rate of 99.7% and free compulsory education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels and that education for persons with disabilities is provided in special schools.
In July 2019, the Minister of Education announced that a special education policy would be approved in the coming months.
Article 53 of the Education Act includes provisions for special education in Barbados. It states that the Ministry of Education may provide special schools appropriate for the education of children requiring special education treatment or facilities for special education at any school. The chief education officer may serve the parent of any child of compulsory school age a notice requiring the parent to submit the child to an examination by a registered medical practitioner to ascertain whether the child is suffering from any ‘disability of mind or body’ and the nature and extent of the disability. Lastly, the act states that the minister may provide transport and other facilities to enable children receiving special education treatment to attend school.
According to the 2002–12 education strategic plan, the Ministry of Education is to ensure equity in the delivery of education, taking the special needs of students into account. All children have an equal right to receive education appropriate to their individual development needs. The plan underlines that special education is an integral part of the education system in Barbados and presents a series of strategies, such as promoting teacher training, introducing a systematic referral process and more support services, creating additional placement facilities in the north of the island, and expanding the recruitment and deployment of learning needs coordinators.
The 2006–25 national strategic plan seeks to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities (objective 3.5). It envisages measures to improve teacher training for special education teachers, improve education infrastructure to support persons with disabilities, encourage the development of positive attitudes towards persons with disabilities and review legislation to facilitate equality of opportunities for all. In addition, one of its strategies is to expand the capacity to undertake diagnostic testing for those who may have learning disabilities or who may be sight and/or hearing impaired.
A special needs policy is being drafted.
Gender equality is not a priority under the 2002–12 education strategic plan.
The 2006–25 national strategic plan seeks to fight against all forms of discrimination and stigma based on age, gender, religion, disability and race. It states: ‘Gender equity and equality must be assured if all Barbadians whether male or female are to be full participants in nationhood.’ The plan underlines measures to promote gender mainstreaming of national development policies and programmes so that equality and equity between men and women can be achieved. In addition, it encourages amending legislation where necessary to reflect gender equality and the adoption of a national policy on gender by 2008.
A review of the situation of women in Barbados prepared by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in July 2017 acknowledged that while there has been an improvement in the situation of women across the country, in the education sphere concerns remained due to the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the country. The committee was not aware of measures in place to ensure that girls were not expelled from school for being pregnant and that they could return to and stay in school after pregnancy.
A gender policy is in the process of being drafted.
Barbados provides free primary, secondary and tertiary education for all its nationals. According to the 2002–12 education strategic plan, public education is free at the point of delivery and compulsory for all children, ‘providing for 100% participation at the primary and secondary levels.’ In addition, there are a number of programmes provided by the government to ensure the active participation of all students, including the provision of school meals at the primary level, subsidization of school transport and the provision of a wide range of grants and scholarships at the tertiary level.
Objective 3.9 of the 2006–25 national strategic plan relates to the eradication of poverty in Barbados. It commits to provide the basic necessities for the poor and disadvantaged, to improve the management of all poverty eradication programmes and to strengthen social security systems and the social protection network.
Since 1997, Barbados has had a programme for conversational Spanish in primary schools. The major objective of the programme is to stimulate the teaching of language as a foreign language. The 2002–12 education strategic plan promoted the introduction of a Spanish awareness programme in the curriculum of primary schools.
The 1987 Education Act establishes the functions of the minister of education, who shall promote the education of the people of Barbados and establish and develop institutions for this purpose.
The Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training of Barbados works to ensure equitable access for all citizens so that their potential is fully realized. It works to ensure the provision of education services through different departments and units. The Information Technology and Quality Assurance Unit, for example, works to increase the efficacy of the teaching/learning process by encouraging teachers to shift to child-centred and more collaborative forms of learning in their classrooms, repairs and upgrades the existing school plant and promotes the integration of ICT within the school system. The Student Support Services section seeks to provide support to parents/guardians, teachers and guidance counsellors. It facilitates placements in special education programmes across the island and works in the identification of students with special education needs through multidisciplinary evaluations.
According to the 2002–12 education strategic plan, the ministry in conjunction with other government and non-government agencies will ‘continue to offer a multi-sectoral approach to the delivery of social services to young people in Barbados’. Emphasis is placed on the identification of needs and addressing them through relevant programmes. Concerning special needs education, the strategic plan underlines that the Ministry of Education will work together with the Ministry of Health and supporting agencies to offer children with special needs an education tailored to their needs and abilities.
Infrastructure and services
The 2002–12 education strategic plan sought to improve the physical conditions at the schools to provide ‘comfortable and safe environments for teachers and pupils’. It encouraged provision of the necessary resources to ensure ongoing maintenance and protection of schools, centres and agencies on the island.
Through the plan, the ministry committed to providing relevant equipment for special needs institutions and creating a dedicated transportation service for children with special needs attending state-sponsored special needs institutions. In addition, it envisaged the creation of an Education Project Implementation Unit to look after the rehabilitation and repairs of primary and secondary schools and the supervision, monitoring and building of new primary and secondary schools as needed.
The 2006–25 national strategic plan aims to provide the education infrastructure to support persons who are ‘physically or intellectually challenged’.
The 2002–12 education strategic plan signaled the need for a new curriculum to mirror the social and economic changes in Barbadian society. The ministry was in the process of revising the primary and secondary curriculum to include a series of core topics such as health and family life education, conflict resolution, drug prevention and conflict resolution.
Learning materials and ICT
In 1997, Barbados issued a master plan for the integration of information technology in the school system, outlining measures for the integration of ICT in the teaching/learning process.
According to the 2002–12 education strategic plan, an integral part of the curriculum reform process was the integration of ICT in the curriculum. The plan envisaged continuing to use ICT as an additional tool in the classroom. It was envisaged that in the five years that followed, ‘all primary school pupils will have been exposed to technological literacy programmes, and therefore, it will not be necessary to continue the mastery programmes as part of the curriculum in secondary schools.’
The 2006–25 national strategic plan included in its objectives for 100% of households to have access to computers and ICT and the inclusion of these technologies in all youth education and training programmes by 2010.
The Education Act directs that the minister of education may establish, maintain or assist in the maintaining of teacher colleges or other institutions as necessary for the training of teachers and take actions to ensure that the requirements for teachers in public education institutions are fulfilled. There are no provisions for teacher training for teaching persons with disabilities.
According to the 2002–12 education strategic plan, training for teachers in special education was intensified ‘with a view to upgrading their skills to meet the demands of training this population of students.’ The plan acknowledged that Barbados has traditionally deployed successful measures for training teacher staff at the primary and secondary level and made a call to promote teacher empowerment and to ensure effective recruitment, selection and ongoing professional development.
In addition, the plan envisioned teacher and professional training and development at every level to ensure effective management and teaching in all learning institutions. It also envisioned providing training for teachers and all personnel involved in the delivery of education ‘which emphasises student-centred methodology and the requisite skills and attitudes for effective implementation.’
One of the strategies of the 2006–25 national strategic plan was to provide appropriate teaching aids and support to enhance the skills of children with disabilities as well as training and support for special education teachers.
There is no evidence of indicators or reporting mechanisms on inclusive education in Barbados.