According to the National Plan for Inclusive Education (2006), inclusive education arises from the conviction that everyone having the right to education is a fundamental human right that is at the basis of a more just society. Inclusive education "implies advancing the Education for All agenda, developing ways to equip schools to serve all children in their community as part of an inclusive system."
Inclusive education focuses on all learners, "paying special attention to those who have traditionally been excluded from educational opportunities, such as learners with special needs and disabilities, children from ethnic and linguistic minorities, and others."
Special educational needs
According to the National Plan for Inclusive Education (2006), students with special educational needs (SEN) are those who have difficulties progressing in relation to school learning, and should receive special help and support, either temporarily or permanently, in the most normalized educational context possible.
According to the Ministry of Education, special education "is an education system modality that develops its action in a cross-cutting way in the different levels, including in inclusive educational centres, providing a set of services, human resources, techniques, specialized knowledge and aids to accommodate the special educational needs some students may present either temporarily or permanently throughout their schooling."
Act 42 of 27 August 1999, which establishes equal opportunities for people with disabilities, stipulates that people with disabilities shall be included in the mainstream education system, which must provide them with support services and technical aids to enable them to access the mainstream curriculum and equal opportunities. Special education shall be guaranteed and provided to people who, due to their disability, require it within the mainstream education system (article 19). When support requirements are of such complexity and magnitude that they exceed the capacity of services within the mainstream classroom, the State shall guarantee these services in support centres or units within the mainstream education system (article 20).
Executive Decree No. 1 of 4 February 2000 establishes the regulations for the educational inclusion of the population with SEN. It decrees that the education of students with SEN "shall be provided in mainstream or special education centres, in accordance with the needs of the student and the characteristics of the educational context, giving priority to the education of the school population with SEN in mainstream education centres, preferably in the education centre closest to their place of residence." Mainstream education centres will make the following educational modifications to guarantee the retention and continuity of the population with SEN:
inclusion in the mainstream classroom on a full-time basis
partial inclusion for varying periods in the mainstream classroom
educational support in the special classroom.
When the nature and degree of disability do not allow for inclusion in mainstream education institutions, special education will be provided in special education centres. They will receive accreditation by the Ministry of Education and the Regional Directorate (article 7).
The 2004 Organic Law of Education decrees that special centres for gifted students will be financed with the economic resources of the Ministry of Education, trusts, foundations and private companies that offer their collaboration.
There are Educational Support Services (SAE) distributed in the schools of the National Plan for Inclusive Education in the country’s 13 educational regions. These are support services carried out by professionals in special education, psychology, social work and learning difficulties, among others that support the school temporarily to discuss plans and educational proposals for students with SEN.
Eighty-five schools are part of the Accessible Classrooms Programme under the National Plan for Inclusive Education. Also noteworthy is the Hospital and Home Classroom Project, which seeks to ensure access to education for children and young people with physical and health limitations. Hospital education is "an education system modality aimed at guaranteeing the right to education for children affected by the issue of attending an educational institution on time, thus eliminating repetition, school dropout and absenteeism, and therefore showing the human side of education, ensuring equal opportunities, allowing them to continue their studies and be integrated into the national education system."
Article 91 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama of 1972 establishes that everyone has the right to education and the responsibility to educate themselves. Official education is free at all pre-university levels. The first level of education or primary education is compulsory (article 95).
Article 1 of the 2004 Organic Law of Education stipulates that education is a right and a duty of the human person, without distinction of age, ethnicity, gender, religion, economic or social position or political ideas.
There are several acts and regulations that provide legal support to inclusive education in Panama. Indeed, the integral development of the disabled population, with equal conditions of quality of life, opportunities, rights and duties as the rest of society, with a view to their personal fulfilment and complete social integration, is considered to be of social interest.
The National Plan for Inclusive Education (2006) is based on the idea that all students are different, have different educational needs and learn at different paces and in different ways. The Plan seeks to:
guarantee a quality and equitable educational provision that provides meaningful learning opportunities for children and young people to minimize barriers to learning
train teachers, head teachers and supervisors in the inclusive education approach
strengthen knowledge of support for diversity according to the characteristics of the country's school population
determine adaptations that meet the needs of the students
use effective curricular strategies that respond to diversity in the classroom
plan forms of support and collaborative work in the classroom and with the educational community
promote strategies that favour the management of educational inclusion.
One of the goals of the National Strategic Plan with a State Vision: Panama 2030 is the prioritization of the Sustainable Development Goals, including inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of relevant learning opportunities for all. It recognizes the progress made in recent decades, such as universal primary school coverage, increased literacy levels and reduced school dropout rates, but also the challenges. For example, school dropout rates are higher among men than women, and particularly affect the indigenous comarcas and the provinces of Darién and Bocas del Toro.
According to the Panama 2030 Plan, the purpose of inclusive education is to improve access to and quality of education in the country. This involves revision of the curriculum, the development of skills and educational support, teacher training and updating, improvements in infrastructure, and the creation of a national information system that facilitates a real-time needs assessment.
The relevant actions include:
developing efficient educational management that promotes meaningful learning according to skills and abilities in order to achieve social inclusion
providing comprehensive educational training for in-service teachers
increasing the number of young people and adults with ICT skills so they can use and benefit from this technology
gradually and systematically reducing multigrade classrooms and replacing them with full-grade schools.
The National Commitment to Education is a commitment made by different sectors and stakeholders of society to ensure that the Panamanian education system promotes the effective exercise of the right to quality education with equity for all Panamanians. Inclusive education is promoted which ensures access to education for students with SEN with and without disabilities, and the promotion of educational opportunities for these students in an accessible environment with equal opportunities to the rest of their peers. It also promotes inclusive education to support diversity and intercultural education. Moreover, it seeks to guarantee affordable, available, adaptable and quality education that addresses all forms of exclusion and marginalization and to increase the provision of inclusive and contextualized, quality intercultural bilingual education for children and adolescents of indigenous peoples.
Article 18 of Act 42 of 27 August 1999, which establishes equal opportunities for people with disabilities, states that people with disabilities have the right to education in general. Furthermore, the person with a disability will be included in the mainstream education system. The State shall guarantee the education of people requiring additional support in support centres or units within the mainstream education system. The Act stipulates that "in cases where the habilitation and/or rehabilitation education process of people with disabilities is interrupted or cannot be initiated, either because their families have insufficient resources or because they live in areas that are difficult to access, the State shall allocate financial resources to ensure they can exercise their right to habilitation, education and rehabilitation."
Section three of the 2004 Organic Law of Education refers to special education. It states that special education will serve people who cannot optimally benefit from the teaching and learning process offered by the mainstream subsystem. This population includes people with physical and mental disabilities, people with specific learning disorders and people with exceptional intellectual abilities and special talents.
Executive Decree No. 1 of 4 February 2000 establishes the regulations for the educational inclusion of the population with SEN. It decrees that the education system, through the mainstream and non-mainstream subsystem, will offer quality education at all levels to students with temporary or permanent SEN, from the moment they are detected.
Executive Decree No. 30 of 16 March 2000 establishes the objectives and functions of the Ministry of Education’s National Directorate of Special Education.
In June 2006, Resolution No. 924 was approved, through which the Individual Educational Programme (PEI) was adopted in all public schools in the country to promote accessibility and curriculum adaptations to learning content for students with SEN.
The disability certification granted by the National Secretariat for Disability (SENADIS) allows those affected to receive the benefits granted by Act 134 of December 2013 in the form of grants for training and educational courses, seminars and workshops at the basic, secondary, higher and post-university levels.
Act 15 of 31 May 2016 included amendments to Act 42 of 1999. It decrees that people with disabilities have the right to education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning, without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities, through an inclusive education system with equity and quality at all levels and modalities of education.
Lastly, Resolution No. 709 of 25 February 2016 created the Outstanding Abilities and Specific Talents Programme dedicated to primary and secondary education students who in their educational development demonstrate outstanding abilities and specific talents. The programme seeks to provide timely and comprehensive support to these students and incorporate methods, plans and activities necessary to allow the full development of their potential.
The Disability Policy of the Republic of Panama (2009) sought to guarantee access, retention and graduation opportunities for people with disabilities in the education system at all levels and in both the public and private spheres, and to incorporate inclusive education in the National Education Plan to guarantee the population with disabilities access to quality education with social equity. The policy includes a series of lines of action for inclusive education that include strengthening teacher training curricula, supporting access to grant and loan programmes for low-income people with disabilities, guaranteeing access to higher education for people with disabilities, and promoting awareness-raising programmes on support for people with disabilities in the educational community, among others.
Act 4 of 29 January 1999 guaranteed equal opportunities for women and the condemnation of all forms of violence. It prohibited discrimination on grounds of gender and sought the full integration of Panamanian women into the country's political, economic, social and cultural development process.
Act 60 of 2016 amended Act 29 of 2002 on pregnant minors. Its purpose is to establish a regulatory framework to guarantee the rights of pregnant minors, including their retention in the education system.
Act 7 of 2018 adopted measures to prevent, prohibit and punish discriminatory acts. It decrees that it is incumbent upon the Ministry of Education and the University of Panama, as overseer of private universities, to promote and develop educational programmes for the prevention of sexual harassment, psychological abuse, racism and sexism. Official or private educational institutions shall also have the responsibility to establish an internal policy that prevents, avoids and sanctions this type of conduct.
The Public Policy on Equal Opportunities for Women] (PPIOM) developed by the National Women's Institute in 2012 has a strategic guideline on education that promotes "education with equity and gender equality, without discrimination, respecting interculturality, intergenerationality, nationality, social class, age, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and ideas.” It includes a number of strategic objectives in education.
According to the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to the Republic of Panama, several measures have been taken to promote the protection of women's rights and equality among women. These include the National Plan to Prevent and Address Domestic Violence and the creation of the National Women's Institute in 2009.
One of the priorities of the National Strategic Plan with a State Vision: Panama 2030 is gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women and girls. It seeks to reduce gender gaps in access to education at all levels and to promote actions around equal opportunities, diversity and the prevention of violence.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and the indigenous population
Panama offers indigenous peoples (Ngäbe, Dule, Emberá, Bugle, Wounaan, Naso and Bribri peoples) an education that takes into account their awareness of their identity and belonging and enables them to develop their communication skills at all levels of intercultural bilingual education. It seeks to preserve their native language and promote Spanish and English as a second language.
Article 108 of the Political Constitution of Panama of 1972 stipulates that the State shall develop education and promotion programmes for indigenous groups.
According to the 2004 Organic Law of Education, education for indigenous communities is based on their right to preserve, develop and respect their identity and cultural heritage and is framed within the principles and objectives of national education. It is developed in accordance with the characteristics, objectives and methodology of intercultural bilingual education (article 12).
Executive Decree No. 274 of 2007 created the National Directorate of Intercultural Bilingual Education, which is responsible for promoting intercultural bilingual education in all modalities and at all levels of the education system and for guaranteeing quality education for indigenous peoples through a process of intercultural education. According to this Decree, indigenous peoples represent 10 per cent of the country's population, so it is important to develop education in indigenous areas that is consistent with their sociocultural, linguistic and historical reality.
Act 88 of 22 November 2010 recognizes the languages and alphabets of the indigenous peoples of Panama and lays down regulations for intercultural bilingual education. The Ministry of Education, in coordination with other competent bodies, specialized educational entities and the General Indigenous Congresses or Councils, shall ensure and regulate the use of indigenous languages in all official and private schools in the comarcas, surrounding areas and collective lands.
An act for bilingual education in public schools was passed in 2017.
Population living in poverty
According to the National Strategic Plan with a State Vision: Panama 2030, educational problems in Panama are centred on considerable inequality since "the poorest 30 per cent of Panamanians have approximately nine years less schooling than the richest 10 per cent. This situation is further aggravated when the education these 30 per cent receive is of low quality."
The Ministry of Education is responsible for education policymaking at the national level. In each school region there is a decentralized unit of the Ministry of Education called the Regional Education Directorate responsible for planning, directing and guiding the education system of the school region, for the construction and maintenance of the school infrastructure, for implementing education policies and for developing and implementing the Regional Education Development Plan together with the Regional Executive Community. There are 15 regional education directorates.
The National Directorate of Special Education is responsible for providing quality educational support to students with SEN in order to achieve the maximum development of their potential. The National Directorate of Special Education coordinates and technically guides the dissemination, training and use of the Individual Educational Programme through the Directorate-General and all the national and regional directorates.
Numerous efforts are made to include students with disabilities in education. For example, the Dirección de Inclusión e Integración Universitaria [Directorate of University Inclusion and Integration] (DIIU) is working towards the admission of students with disabilities to universities.
With regard to gender, the National Women's Institute coordinates the development and implementation of gender policies in Panama.
The National Directorate of Intercultural Bilingual Education coordinates the implementation of the intercultural bilingual policy at the national level. Its objective is to guarantee the development of intercultural bilingual education at all levels and modalities of the education system, to ensure that culturally differentiated peoples develop quality education, eliminating exclusion and marginalization through a process of intercultural education (article 2, Executive Decree 274 of 2007).
The Programa Nacional de Mantenimiento de Infraestructura Escolar [National School Infrastructure Maintenance Programme] (PRONAMIE) 2017–2018 seeks to ensure the maintenance of public education centres nationwide.
The National Directorate of Special Education ensures the adequacy and construction of relevant infrastructure, and the construction of new support classrooms to ensure the educational inclusion of people with disabilities.
Act 42 of 27 August 1999 stipulates that the Ministry of Education shall create conditions that facilitate curriculum adjustments and/or adaptations, with sufficient flexibility to respond to the educational needs of diversity.
Executive Decree No. 1 of 4 February 2000 stipulates that in order to guarantee the access and retention of students with SEN within the mainstream subsystem, adaptations will be made to the curriculum with the objective of guaranteeing the same learning achievements as the rest of the students. Curriculum adaptation is understood as the process of adapting and modifying one or more components of the curriculum to respond to the individual differences of the school population.
Resolution No. 924 of 2006 established the Individual Educational Programme in all public education centres in the country as a tool for the implementation of curriculum adaptations, and the monitoring and evaluation of the achievements of students with SEN.
The National Plan for Inclusive Education (2006) promotes curricular flexibility in inclusive schooling. It recognizes that curriculum adaptations are a fundamental element in overcoming barriers to learning in the classroom.
ICT and learning materials
According to the National Strategic Plan with a State Vision: Panama 2030, a large part of the actions promoted in the field of education in the last 12 years have been oriented towards information and communication technologies.
Executive Decree No. 1 of 4 February 2000 stipulates that the classroom teacher, in collaboration with the special education teacher, will be responsible for developing and applying curriculum adaptations, under the guidance and supervision of the school’s Head or Deputy Head (article 13). Support services for students with SEN will be provided through interdisciplinary teams external to the school and will consist of psychologists, social workers, mainstream and specialist teachers. The assessment process for students with SEN is the responsibility of the interdisciplinary team with the participation of the mainstream teacher.
The National Directorate of Special Education conducts training for special education teachers and mainstream teachers. In 2018, in coordination with the National Directorate of Improvement, different workshops and training courses were developed for 985 teachers. The training sought to provide teachers with a proposal for the comprehensive educational support of students with outstanding abilities and specific talents, to train them in the identification of SEN and to offer teachers updated educational tools to strengthen classroom practices, among others.
The National Commitment to Education seeks to increase the number of teachers trained to support children with SEN and "implement the requirement that teachers who support children with special needs have the appropriate scientific and educational training."
The National Directorate of Intercultural Bilingual Education conducts teacher training programmes in intercultural bilingual education.
There is no evidence of a monitoring mechanism for inclusive education in the country.