The British Virgin Islands are one of the 14 British Overseas Territories, and British Virgin Islanders are British citizens since 2002.
Replacing the 1976 Constitution, the 2007 British Virgin Islands Constitution Order includes for the first time a section on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. The section enshrines the right to education (art.22), laying down the entitlement of every child to receive free primary education (art.22.2). It further prohibits any restriction and/or discrimination of those rights on grounds of “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, association with a national minority, property, family relations, economic status, disability, age, birth, sexual orientation, marital or other status” (art. 9).
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture holds the responsibility for all education services, including budget allocation and carrying out the strategic objectives. The 2015 Strategic Social, Economic, Environmental and Direction/Governance (SEED) framework identified the improvement of quality and accountability of the management, the strengthening of teacher learning and qualification, and the increase in technical and vocational education and training opportunities for all as ones of the main objectives in relation to education. Along these lines, sponsored by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and implemented by the Ministry of Education since 2017, the Education Sector Support Project intends to enhance the quality, equity and effectiveness of the Islands’ education system by improving teaching and learning environment and empowering education leadership.
Concerning disability, the 2004 Education Act regulates the provision of special education programmes for school age children who have “intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities” (art.91.1). Provided “in the least restrictive and most enabling environment”, a special education programme consists of an individual education plan, tailored to the special or individual education needs of the learner (art.91.2-3). Learners with moderate disabilities are entitled to financial support aimed to encourage them to attend regular schools at primary and secondary education levels.
The assessment of special education needs and identification of the most suitable programme to address their needs are carried out by school principals, in consultation with education staff and parents (2004 Education Act, art.92.2). The implementation of the Early Intervention programme up to 8 years of age is conducted by the Elderly and Disability Services Division, under the Social Development Department (SDD), which plans and manages the service provision for persons with disabilities throughout the country.
In 2015, there was only one public primary special school, out of a total of 27 primary schools operating in the country.
In relation to gender, the British Virgin Islands has committed to complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) provisions since its extension by the UK Government in 1986. The 2004 Education Act promotes the understanding of the gender equality principle (art. 4.2(f)). In 2011, a National Policy for Gender Equity and Equality was developed in collaboration with the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, and Trinidad and Tobago. Influenced by the European Union Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010-2015 and by the CARICOM Plan of Action to 2005: Framework for Mainstreaming Gender into key CARICOM programmes, the Policy urges a review of education practices for school age pregnant girls. It further calls for data collection and analysis disaggregated by sex and advocates for a review of national curricula and scholarship allocations to ensure gender balance and representation.
Established in 1992 as Women’s Desk, the Office of Gender Affairs (OGA) under the Minister of Health and Social Development (MH&SD) coordinates awareness campaigns and acts as focal point within the government for gender equality and equity.
In addition, the 2004 Education Act mandates the Ministry of Education and Culture to promote the understanding of the local language, culture and values (art.4.2(g)) and to develop a Caribbean identity through regional cooperation (art.4.2(i)).