While an official definition of inclusive education does not exist in Jamaica, the 2011–20 National Education Strategic Plan states that the country aspires to be inclusive in its provision of formal education for the entire Jamaican school-age population (3–18 years). The government recently reaffirmed its commitment to ‘an inclusive education system that caters to the needs of all children, particularly those with special needs.’
Special education needs
According to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI), students with special needs include students with hearing and visual impairments, physical disabilities, mental retardation and learning disabilities and those who are gifted and talented.
The 2007 UNESCO International Bureau of Education country profile for Jamaica noted the efforts undertaken by the government of Jamaica to include children with disabilities into regular schools. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a focus on mainstreaming as part of the inclusion process with the support of the Dutch government. At the primary level, special education units were built and incorporated by host schools to provide small groups/class interventions and resource services for students with special needs, including those with disabilities. Students were expected to remain in those units for a maximum of two years and then be fully mainstreamed. A special education unit was established at Chetolah Park Primary School in Hannah Town to cater for the needs of primary-age children attending that school and other institutions in western Kingston with learning and other developmental challenges.
Nonetheless, there are segregated facilities or special schools in the country providing specialized services and programmes for students requiring special support. According to the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), the Salvation Army School for the Blind and Visually impaired – which has over time mainstreamed a number of students in high schools through itinerant teachers – the Maranatha School for the Deaf, the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf and schools for students with intellectual disabilities are among special schools across the country.
Besides those in special schools, students with special needs are educated in a general school setting or in public, grant-aided or independent special education schools. In 2015–16 a total of 3,402 students, the majority male (60%), were enrolled in learning institutions catering for students with special needs. Of that enrolled population, 31% percent are persons with intellectual disabilities. The MoEYI provides support to community-based organizations offering early-intervention and community-based rehabilitation to students with disabilities.
The MoEYI has recently opened two diagnostic centres which assist in identifying students with special needs as well as providing short-term intervention and assigned US$1.2 billion to the Special Education Unit.
The 1980 Education Act governs the education system in Jamaica.
One of the strategic objectives of the 2011–20 National Education Strategic Plan was to promote and support inclusive education in the provision of formal education for the entire Jamaican school-age population and ensure that all children have access to education opportunities appropriate for their developmental age and stage. The plan acknowledges that special needs students and gifted students are currently underserved in the education system. The aspiration for the country is to nurture these students with the opportunities they require to develop in circumstances that encourage them to move at their own pace and expand their areas of interest beyond the confines of the established curriculum. The plan also aimed to strengthen efforts to increase equity in the education system.
To achieve this objective, a special education policy was to be implemented together with programmes to support students with exceptionalities. The draft special education policy was presented to the cabinet in June 2019 for approval.
Section 24 of the 1980 Education Act establishes that ‘The Minister may direct the Educational Board for any compulsory education area to ascertain for his information which children of compulsory school age residing in such area require special educational treatment; and after considering the report of the Educational Board the Minister may take such steps as he thinks fit to provide for the education of any such children requiring special educational treatment.’ The act establishes that the educational board may require the parent to submit the child, at a time and place specified in the notice, for examination by the medical officer for advice as to whether the child is suffering from any disability of mind or body and as to the nature and extent of any such disability. If the parent does not comply with such requirement, ‘he shall be guilty of an offence against this section’.
Jamaica was the first signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which it ratified in March 2007. In 2014, a Disabilities Act was approved. It sets that an education or training institution shall not deny a person with disability to enrol at or attend the institution due to the disability. Education and training institutions shall provide the support necessary to ensure that a person with a disability has the most reasonable training provided, has access to facilities in the least restrictive environment and best suited to his or her individual needs, and receives the support by the institution that is required to effectively facilitate his or her education. The act also establishes that examinations and trainings should be conducted in a manner and with facilities accessible for persons with disabilities. The Disabilities Act has helped to remove stigma against persons with disabilities and to improve their access to education, health, transportation and employment. The inclusion of specific disability-friendly clauses to promote and protect the rights of these students is also being contemplated in the revision of the Code of Regulations governing the education system.
Other measures to ensure that all children with disabilities receive the best-quality interventions and education possible include the Child Find and Enrichment Initiatives, which are being implemented under the Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP). Under the special education component of the ESTP, a special education policy has been developed. The policy, which started being drafted in 2019, will lay the ground for the inclusion of special needs students in the regular classroom setting with appropriate support services and instructional materials for different groups of learners, including resource rooms where necessary. The policy, which will allow for the implementation of the Disabilities Act, was submitted for the approval of the cabinet in late 2018 and in June 2019.
Jamaica developed a National Policy for Gender Equality in 2010 to address the underrepresentation and underperforming of men in the national education system, especially at post-secondary and tertiary level. The last Economic and Social Surveys of Jamaica noted that enrolment rates of women in tertiary institutions are roughly twice those of men. However, while females outperform males at all levels of the education system, the female unemployment rate is significantly higher than the male unemployment rate. A programme called Advancing the Education of Boys, executed by the MoEYI through the Jamaica Teaching Council and the Commonwealth Secretariat, started in 2013 as a pilot in Jamaica and three other Caribbean countries.
The MoEYI has tried to address the structural barriers that reinforce sex segregation in education by removing sex segregation in curricula, particularly in technical–vocational areas. In 2014, the ministry together with the United States Agency for International Development developed a gender-based manual entitled Closing the Gender Gap: A Guide for Improving the Literacy Performance of Boys and Girls at the Primary Level. The guide, intended for the use of principals, members of school leadership teams and teachers, includes a list of steps to be followed to improve education outcomes and literacy for boys and girls.
Jamaica also developed a policy on the reintegration of school-aged mothers.
People living in rural or remote areas
To improve access to education across the island, the North West Jamaica Project, created in the framework of the 2011–20 National Education Strategic Plan, resulted in the creation of 5,000 new places for students in the north and western parishes of Jamaica.
At the primary level, there is a difference in quality between small multigrade schools and their larger urban counterparts. The structure of the institutions at the early childhood level, highlighted by the difference between community-operated institutions and public institutions, also attests to the existence of inequity within the system.
Many children living in rural western Jamaica are missing from school because they cannot afford it. UNICEF developed a project to keep children in school by encouraging and supporting schools to grow what students eat. The project has been implemented in several schools in Westmoreland and Hanover, which receive small grants to invest in chicken farms and school gardens, supplying meat and vegetables to their school canteens – which in turn are used to provide breakfast and lunch programmes free of cost to students who are frequently out of school.
Because of socio-economic issues including poverty, transportation costs and poor weather, attendance is often lower for boys and students from rural areas and low-income households. In an attempt to tackle these issues, the government established the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), a conditional cash transfer modality, in several parishes in 2001. More than 40% of households are in PATH, and in many schools in rural areas more than 90% of students are in the programme.
The 1980 Education Act establishes that the minister can from time to time divide the island into educational districts and shall establish an education board for each district.
The MoEYI has a Special Education Unit that is in charge of developing and implementing policies for the education of students with special needs. It is also responsible for the supervision of the special education schools and units island wide that are government owned or government aided and those which receive special grants. The unit also supervises special education facilities in private homes and community-based schools and groups. It assists with the supervision of the curriculum and provides monitoring, assessment and training services. It also encourages parents to register students with special needs for the Primary Exit Profile. The unit monitors the special education programme for children through six areas: Hearing Impairments, Visual Impairments, Physical Impairments, Mental Retardation, Giftedness and Learning Disabilities.
The MoEYI has deployed seven regional special needs coordinators (one per region) across the system to provide support to schools; they cater for special needs students who are placed in both public and private schools with government support.
The Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) is the mandated government agency under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security responsible for implementing government policies and programmes for persons with disabilities. The JCPD identifies persons with disabilities in Jamaica and maintains a confidential register which allows for planning and resource allocation, offers trainings, conducts assessment and advocacy, monitors the implementation of the Disabilities Act and creates awareness on matters of disability to ensure that the CRPD is understood by both persons with disabilities and the public.
The MoEYI works with the Ministry of Health to do a health screening of students upon entry in primary and secondary levels. Children are issued a Child Health and Development Passport at birth which is used by health and education professionals to record information on growth and development.
Infrastructure and services
The MoEYI has been working to eliminate shifts and ease overcrowding in schools. As part of the 2011–20 National Education Strategic Plan, several projects aim to improve access to schools and infrastructure and services at schools, such as the Primary Education Improvement Project and the New Deal in Education project, which resulted in 16,800 additional school places for primary-level students through the construction of 40 schools.
Newly constructed schools are provided with access ramps, and where possible, schools make special efforts to accommodate physically challenged students who are placed at these institutions. A few special schools for students who are visually or hearing impaired are government funded; however, their reach is not island wide or universal. The school for the blind and all the schools for the deaf, with the exception of one school, receive government funding.
The government aspires to strengthen its services for students with disabilities. According to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, in 2016 some parishes, such as Clarendon, Hanover and Westmoreland, did not have any private special schools, while others, such as Kingston and Manchester, had three. These parishes, however, had publicly funded special schools. In addition, the parish of Saint Andrew had six special schools.
One of the strategic objectives of the 2011–20 National Education Strategic Plan was to enable all learners in the education system to manage challenges and achieve their developmental goals through integrated curriculum offerings and support services. At present, the Core Curriculum Unit is responsible for all curriculum elements in the education system from primary up to the end of secondary school. The levels and subjects operate independently and compete for scarce resources. However, cross-cutting issues such as gender, citizenship, student behaviour and social inclusion, special education, inclusive education, partnerships and student welfare are approached in an integrated manner.
The new National Standards Curriculum (NSC) was introduced in 2016. One of the core values of the NSC is inclusivity. The NSC therefore promotes differentiation and allows all learners to access content based on their functioning level. In grades 7 to 9, students access the curriculum on one of three pathways through the Alternative Pathways to Secondary Education approach. Students on Pathway 3 are supported by student support pathway coaches (special educators) who co-plan and co-teach with general education subject specialists.
Jamaica launched a special needs curriculum with the help of UNICEF. The Curriculum for Students with Moderate to Profound Intellectual Disabilities includes an assessment component and a number of developmental checklists to aid teachers to provide education services tailored to the needs of every student. In February 2021, Jamaica introduced sign language into the national curriculum.
In terms of gender, the National Policy for Gender Equality tried to eliminate gender biases in the curricula by developing curricula support materials and textbooks that promote gender equality with the help of the MoEYI Textbook Unit.
The government of Jamaica, through its e-learning project, has secured modern equipment and software for six special education institutions across the island. Through this initiative, these six schools have been provided with advanced technologies that cater for the needs of persons with various disabilities. Children who are deaf or blind or have physical, mental or intellectual disabilities now have access to technologies that will enable them in their educational development.
The MoEYI established the Jamaica Teaching Council in 2013 to improve the character of the teaching profession, promote training and facilitate retention of qualified teachers. The council is expected to ensure that the teacher force consists of an equal number of women and men.
There is no evidence of any teacher training programme on inclusive education in the country. However, to realize the special education policy, the MoEYI has trained teachers from 29 primary schools.
Across the system, there are 424 trained special education teachers employed to support students with special needs. Additional special education teachers are being recruited.
The government also provides shadows/learning support assistants for students with disabilities in the general education system. This has allowed these students to access education in their neighbourhood schools, including students who are blind, who would otherwise have to attend the school for the blind, a residential facility in Kingston.
Special accommodations are also provided for students with disabilities who require additional support when sitting national examinations.
There is no evidence of indicators to measure inclusive education in Jamaica. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica collects education statistics, including some indicators on special schools.