There is no explicit definition of inclusive education in the 2006 Education Act, the current major legal document governing education in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Nevertheless, the act determines that a student shall not be refused admission on any discriminatory ground relating to that student or a parent of that student. Discriminatory grounds include those based on race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, physical handicap and, in the case of mixed-gender schools, sex.
Special education needs and special education
The 2006 Education Act has no explicit definition of special education needs. Special education is defined as ‘education suitable to the requirements of persons who are mute, deaf, blind or otherwise physically or psychologically challenged or mentally challenged’ and ‘education suitable to the requirements of students who are gifted or have exceptional ability’.
The 2006 Education Act determines the nature of the provision of special education in the country. The chief education officer shall provide ‘a special education programme for any student of compulsory school age and may provide such education for student beyond that age, who by virtue of intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities is in need of special education.’ The act also establishes that a student who is entitled to a special education programme shall have the programme delivered in the ‘least restrictive and most enabling environment that resources permit’. Special education programmes may take the form of individual education plans tailored to the specific need of the student.
The Ministry of Education and National Reconciliation provides a list of primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, including two special schools for children with special education needs.
One of the special schools in the country, the Sunshine School for Children with Special Needs, works to provide a nurturing learning environment for students with special education needs where students can grow and accomplish academic learning skills, thus allowing them to re-enter mainstream schools where possible or to go directly to high school if their academic level allows them. The Sunshine School uses the basic curriculum for primary schools adapted to the specific needs of the school.
The Situation Analysis of Children in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, prepared by UNICEF, concluded that one main challenge for children with disabilities to access education in the country is that there are only three centres for children with intellectual or mental disabilities and their location does not coincide with the areas in which this population resides.
The 1979 Saint Vincent Constitution Order does not enshrine the right to education.
The 2006 Education Act regulates the provision of educational service in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for both the public and the private sectors.
According to the UNESCO International Bureau of Education (IBE) in 2007, inclusive education is ‘mainly addressed as a fundamental human right that guarantees quality education for all.’ The Education for All 2015 National Review affirmed that the government had committed to ‘maintaining and intensifying its emphasis on equity of access to educational opportunity. All forms of class, religious, gender, ethnic, or geographical inequalities will be eliminated’, and policies that seek to ensure access to education for all will be encouraged. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has advanced towards the elimination of any form of discrimination in its education system.
The Ministry of Education seeks to provide all persons of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines with learning opportunities appropriate to their learning needs and to ensure quality education. According to the Ministry of Education, achievement, equity, access, quality and efficiency are the principles and values guiding the education system and are given full expression in the Education Development Sector Plan.
According to UNICEF, as part of the discussion of the 2012–17 Education Sector Development Plan, there is an acceptance that children with special education needs have the right to additional or different provision tailored to their needs so that they can receive an equivalent education to others of a similar age. Although the term inclusive education is not employed, the plan acknowledges that there is not yet sufficient integration of children into mainstream primary and secondary schools. The construction of special units in some schools is considered as part of the plan. Gender equity is mentioned throughout the plan and the tables provide gender-disaggregated data. Equity, to be assessed by gender, socio-economic status, geographical location, and ethnicity, is another area of focus.
Section 113 of the Education Act determines that the minister of education shall ‘refer children who have been identified by the Chief Education Officer as having learning difficulties to appropriate medical, education and social services or other agencies, where they exist, for remedial treatment or assistance’. The chief education officer ‘shall provide a special education programme for any student … who by virtue of intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities is in need of special education.’
The act also determines how the special needs shall be assessed. Written consent of the parent shall be obtained and the assessment shall if possible be multi-disciplinary. The results of the assessment shall be provided and explained to the parent and, when appropriate, the child shall be consulted prior to the determination and during the implementation of the special education programme. The parent has the right of appeal to the minister. While the act underlines the specificities of the screening process, the Ministry of Education noted in 2007 that there are difficulties in identifying and diagnosing children with special needs and that there is no system of record keeping. Accurate data is needed to determine the number of learners excluded from the school system.
Lastly, according to the Education Act a student is excused from school attendance if ‘the child is suffering from a physical or mental disability that, in the opinion of a medical practitioner, makes the student incapable of being educated by ordinary methods of instruction’.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol in 2010.
The Education For All 2015 National Review determined that there was no outreach provision for children with special needs, including high achievers and children at risk, and insufficient integration of children with special education needs into mainstream primary and secondary schools. One of the national targets for 2015 and beyond was to provide appropriate access to education for all children with special education needs.
According to the IBE, several programmes have worked in partnership with donor agencies to facilitate inclusion of children with special needs at school and classroom levels. These programmes entail the diagnostic assessment of learning difficulties; the remediation of learning, literacy and numeracy deficiencies; and the development of remedial education strategies with an emphasis on slow learners.
Social stigma and discrimination towards people with disabilities in Saint Vincent and Grenadines have led to the exclusion of some children with disabilities from the school system, or, when they are included, to low expectations of them by teachers and society. The Committee on the Rights of the Child presented in 2017 its concluding observations on the combined second and third periodic reports of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The committee recommended the country adopt ‘legislation to ensure the provision of the services necessary for the realization of substantive equality for and the protection of the rights of children with all types of disabilities’ and ensure ‘that laws, policies and programmes, including the education development plan, prioritize inclusive education over the placement of children in specialized institutions and classes.’
The 2006 Education Act had as a specific objective to promote the principle and practice of gender equality.
According to the Education For All 2015 National Review, equality of opportunity and the elimination of discrimination are of particular significance in the government’s policy where it refers to the educational rights of both males and females. Women and girls are entitled to equal access with men and boys to academic, vocational and professional opportunities. The elimination of any form of gender discrimination and inequality within the educational system remains a priority. Nevertheless, as is often the case in many Caribbean countries, boys and young men appear to be disadvantaged within the system.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous people
According to the Education For All 2015 National Review, there is relative equity and equality in access to the education system. There are no distinct ethnic minorities despite the heterogeneity of the population.
People living in rural and remote areas
According to the IBE, more geographically accessible schools to cater for students in rural areas are being established. The Review of Education Plans and Policies in the Eastern Caribbean Area, conducted by UNICEF, determined that the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines plan makes ‘frequent mention of those in rural areas and the Grenadines, who are perceived as being disadvantaged.’ Saint Vincent supports the poor through a social support program that ‘includes a textbook loan scheme and school uniforms. However, even in this state there is no actual evidence of these disadvantages except in the case of tertiary education.’
At the early childhood education level the Ministry aims to facilitate the full participation of children from indigent and poor homes. A number of activities relating to the poor appear in the logframes and are also costed in the action plans.
The National Disadvantaged Student Loan Programme is offered to students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds.
The Ministry of Education and National Reconciliation has the responsibility of establishing a varied, adequate and comprehensive education system that is characterized by its excellence according the 2006 Education Act (Part II: Administration of the Education System).
The chief education officer is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the act. Responsibilities of the office include identifying students with learning difficulties and referring them for remedial treatment or assistance; curriculum innovation and reform; organizing and conducting training courses for teachers; and ensuring that all educational institutions are administered in a proper and efficient manner.
The Education Advisory Board is to advise the ministry on regulations, training for teachers and any other matter.
Infrastructure and services
To remove barriers for persons with physical disabilities, the Ministry of Education committed to build ramps in schools where access to wheelchairs is difficult. Newly constructed schools are now being designed to allow for full accessibility for students with disabilities.
According to the IBE, limited access to transport for schoolchildren with disabilities makes it particularly difficult for parents to bring their children to school regularly. Operators of regular buses do not want to transport disabled children and other passengers complain if they do.
There is no evidence in the 2006 Education Act of measures to ensure that the national curriculum is taking into consideration the needs of learners from each of the target groups. In past years, the National Curriculum and Assessment Framework (NCAF) has supported education reforms aiming to provide equal access to education for all children. The NCAF aims to promote a shift to curriculum integration to include differentiated learning in the classroom and raise standards by providing attainment targets and basic learning outcomes that all students can achieve to motivate improved performance by teachers and students.
Learning materials and ICT
According to the Education For All 2015 National Review, Saint Vincent is one of the few countries in the Caribbean to have a One Laptop Per Child initiative at the primary level. The programme, which was unveiled in 2010, saw the distribution of 15,000 laptop computers to primary students and their teachers in 2011. The second phase of the programme, which commenced in July of 2014, involved the distribution of 12,500 laptops to all secondary students and their teachers. High-speed wireless broadband internet access is also provided at all educational institutions.
Although there was a wide range of equipment (including ICT) that would allow many children with special needs to have much greater access to education, there was little provision for this in the system.
While the Education Act has a section dedicated to teachers (employment, conduct, duties of principals) there is no evidence of teacher training for inclusive education.
The government undertook an Education Evolution which aimed to maximize the number of trained teachers within the classrooms. The proportion of teachers in primary schools with professional training increased from around 60% to more than 85% over five years. However, the Education For All 2015 National Review concluded that mainstream teachers were not sufficiently trained to teach children with special education needs and noted ‘an acute shortage of trained staff, including therapists, for speech impairment and mental, ADHT, and physical disabilities.’ Likewise, it found limited expertise in the assessment of disabilities and impairments (currently head teachers make their own assessment, which is sometimes inaccurate).
The IBE acknowledged that some donor-funded programmes have promoted teacher training in special needs education at the graduate and post-graduate level. Thirty teachers were trained in diagnosis and assessment of learning difficulties for primary and secondary students in mainstream classrooms. The Ministry of Education provided a Remedial Education Strategies Training Programme, emphasizing ‘special education for slow learners, basic literacy and numeracy for 100 primary and secondary school teachers, with the supply of educational materials and trained primary teachers in learning support to remediate learning difficulties.’
There is no evidence of a national reporting mechanism to monitor inclusive education in the country.