The 2017–22 Draft Education Policy Paper states that inclusive education is ‘a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners and can thus be understood as a key strategy to achieve Education for All (UNESCO). As an overall principle, it should guide all education policies and practices, starting from the fact that education is a basic human right and the foundation for a more just and equal society.’
In practice, the definition of inclusive education is narrowed to disability.
Special education needs
The Draft Education Policy Paper defines special needs education as ‘[e]ducational strategies designed to facilitate learning by individuals who, for a wide variety of reasons, require additional support and adaptive pedagogical methods in order to participate and meet learning objectives in an education programme.’
Special education is also defined as the provision of education for children with disabilities. The Special Education Services of the Ministry of Education listed the children that are eligible for special education, among which are children with specific learning disabilities, autism, visual and hearing impairments and ‘mental retardation’.
According to the 1966 Education Act, the minister of education may authorize the establishment of a special school, class, clinic or service, either as a separate unit or in connection with a public institution.
Students with disabilities in Trinidad and Tobago benefit from the special education services provided through the Student Support Services Division of the Ministry of Education. There are several special education schools around the country that cater for children with autism, traumatic brain injuries, emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, visual impairments and multiple disabilities.
Education of children with disabilities is provided through private special schools and public special schools, the latter funded through Ministry of Education allocation. There is a National Centre for Persons with Disabilities located in San Fernando.
The 2011–15 education sector strategic plan recognized that students vary in ‘natural ability’ and schools therefore should provide, for all students, programmes which are adapted to varying abilities.
The Inclusive School Project (ISP) was launched in January 2020 to deliver safe, inclusive and effective learning environments for all students, regardless of physical, intellectual, social, emotional or other needs. The programme, led by the Student Support Services Division, was to be implemented in 21 schools across 7 education districts in Trinidad. The Ministry of Education will partner with non-government organizations, advocacy groups and special schools to support the ISP.
The Constitution of 1976, as amended in 2013, does not enshrine the right to education. However, it promotes the principle of non-discrimination in Article 4, which notes the existence of several fundamental rights and freedoms that ‘have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex’.
The 1966 Education Act governs education in Trinidad and Tobago and underlines the responsibilities of the Ministry of Education and the chief education officer.
The 2002 Equal Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination in education.
The Ministry of Education committed in the 2002–06 education strategic plan to ensure that every child has an inherent right to an education which will enhance the development of maximum capability regardless of gender or ethnic, economic, social or religious background and to guarantee the inalienable right to an education for every child.
A 2005 Draft Policy for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Education established a regulatory framework for the use of ICT in education. Subsection 8.2 relates to inclusive education. It states that ICT represents a major opportunity for providing learners an opportunity to develop their full potential and should be used to promote individualized learning in order to reduce disparities in education development and performance. In addition, the use of ICT is encouraged to promote gender quality in education and for developing special education programmes.
In 2010, the Ministry of Education approved a Policy on Tertiary Education, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), and Lifelong Learning. The policy promoted equity and access to ensure that citizens who have been historically disadvantaged due to systemic barriers can access education. The Ministry of Education expressed its commitment to improving social equity and tertiary education access for all citizens and to promoting distance education to reach the most vulnerable. The ministry set out to design and implement funding and resource allocation mechanisms to promote greater equity of access in TVET and tertiary education and to improve the quality of related programmes and services.
The 2011–15 education sector strategic plan contained guiding principles for the implementation of policies, programmes and plans to achieve the goals of the education sector, including that it be equitable, flexible, innovative and student-centred. The Ministry of Education also committed to inclusion and expected ‘all students to learn in a welcoming environment regardless of place, culture or learning needs’. The strategic plan reflected the national education agenda and commitments to regional and international prerogatives in the achievement of Education For All and the Millennium Development Goals. The plan gave special attention to addressing the special education needs of students with learning, physical and socio-economic challenges that prevent them from fully participating in education and achieving their fullest potential.
The Ministry of Education developed a Draft Education Policy Paper for 2017–22. The policy guides programmes, projects and action plans for early childhood and care as well as primary, secondary, technical vocational and tertiary education. One of the strategic goals of the plan is to grant access to education opportunities for all learners. Through the Draft Education Policy, the Ministry of Education commits to promoting student-centred teaching and learning and to fighting against the lack of inclusivity, equity and learning opportunities for students with special education needs and gifted students.
The 2016–30 Draft National Development Strategy draws Trinidad and Tobago’s strategy for the achievement of the national development vision and goals to 2030.
Lastly, the 2015–25 National Policy Framework on the Future of Tertiary Education and Skills Training encourages inclusiveness to ‘meet the needs of the vulnerable, disadvantaged and physically and mentally challenged to achieve social cohesion’.
The Education Act establishes that in addition to the three stages of public education, ‘there may be provided special schools suitable to the requirements of pupils who are deaf, mute, blind, retarded or otherwise handicapped.’ The act establishes that the public school system may include special schools for the education and training of ‘children who are handicapped in such a way as to require educational facilities for their best development’.
The minister of education is expected to define the categories of children requiring special education, establish measures to assess the needs of those children and prescribe an appropriate type of special education programme.
The 2005 Draft Policy for ICT in Education encouraged the Ministry of Education to use assistive technologies ‘to support those who are physically and mentally challenged’. It also called for ICT to be used in researching, developing, delivering and administering special education programmes and services within the ministry.
The 2010 Policy on Tertiary Education, TVET, and Lifelong Learning encouraged access, equity and participation of persons with disabilities in tertiary education and TVET. It instated the government’s commitment to broaden support to include the ‘differently-abled’ so that each individual can develop to his or her fullest potential.
According to the 2017–22 Draft Education Policy Paper, it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to ‘[d]esignate specific schools within each Education District to facilitate students whose special education needs are identified as requiring additional support not available in regular schools’ and to ‘[c]ontinue to provide financial support to special needs students in accordance with established policy’. In addition, the Ministry of Education shall ensure that students are properly diagnosed and receive prompt remedial interventions.
With respect to gifted students, the Ministry of Education sets out to promote student-centred teaching and learning, ‘provide opportunities for development and nurture students’ gifts beyond the average curricula’.
The guiding policy statements include:
- Continuing to facilitate diagnostic testing at the primary level to ensure that students receive requisite, prompt remedial interventions
- Developing and instituting special provisions for students with special education needs to facilitate the evaluation and assessment process
- Ensuring safe and inclusive learning environments at all schools.
An inquiry conducted by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago in July 2019 determined that approximately 3,735 students in public primary and secondary schools require special education services by the Ministry of Education. Some of the key issues that were discussed included:
- The need for the engagement of the Ministry of Health to provide early screening at the early childhood level
- The efforts of the Ministry of Education to achieve the education goals identified in the National Policy on Persons with Disabilities
- The challenges related to the transition of the Special Child Grant to the Disability Assistance Grant provided by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.
The Ministry of Education has shown its commitment to inclusive education in recent years. Proof of this commitment came with the launch of an Inclusive Education Focused Consultation in November 2019 and the launch of the ISP. In addition, the 2017 National Policy on Persons with Disabilities promoted the appropriate support services for children with disabilities to facilitate their full inclusion in the education system.
The 2010 Policy on Tertiary Education, TVET, and Lifelong Learning gave great attention to issues of gender awareness and inclusion. According to the policy, the ‘issue of the continuing under-representation of females in the technical-vocational programme areas, in spite of their growing ascendancy in mathematics and the natural sciences, must be addressed. A related issue is the trend of under-representation and underachievement of males at almost all levels of the educational system.’
The 2011–15 education sector strategic plan encouraged gender mainstreaming in education.
Through the 2017–22 Draft Education Policy Paper, the government committed to eliminating gender disparities in education at all levels.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
English is the principal language in the country; however, Spanish, Hindi, English, Creole and French Patois are also spoken. The Spanish Implementation Secretariat (SIS) at the Ministry of Education was created in 2005 with the purpose of ‘facilitating a new learning environment through which the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago will learn and effectively utilise Spanish as the First Foreign Language (SAFFL) by the year 2020.’ The SIS also works to promote fruitful and effective intercultural dialogue.
The 2017–22 Draft Education Policy Paper commits to promoting equal opportunities to access and participation in education regardless of language and ethnicity. The plan mentions multilingual education but there are no specific policies related to it.
People living in rural or remote areas
The 2002–06 education strategic plan tried to ensure the provision of equitable distribution of school facilities in both rural and urban areas.
The 2010 Policy on Tertiary Education, TVET, and Lifelong Learning encouraged promoting access to tertiary education and TVET for those who have been historically disadvantaged, including those living in rural communities.
Migrants and refugees
While there is no evidence of a law or policy that guarantees the right to education for migrants and refugees in the country, in the context of the Venezuela crisis the Ministry of Education has implemented a series of reforms to guarantee the right to education for Venezuelan children. These include establishing partnerships with denominational boards to allocate students to available spaces in public schools, training teachers and sharing the primary education curriculum with organizations working to promote access to education for Venezuelan children, such as the Living Waters Community. Reforms are envisaged to allow Venezuelans to access accredited education in the country.
To overcome the language barrier for non-English-speaking refugees in Trinidad and Tobago, the Living Waters Community, a regional non-government organization, has partnered with the University of the West Indies and the JSM Language and Innovation Centre to provide English classes to refugees and migrants.
The 1966 Education Act decrees that the Ministry of Education shall ensure the promotion of the education of the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the establishment of a system of education designed to provide adequately for the planning and development of an education service related to the changing needs of the community.
In 2015, the Ministry of Education merged with the Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training. Currently, the Ministry of Education comprises 27 core divisions and units and 7 support divisions working under the authority of the chief education officer and the minister of education.
The Student Support Services Division hosts special education and diagnostic assessment intervention units. The division deploys multidisciplinary teams of specialists at each of the seven educational district offices.
Infrastructure and services
The Ministry of Education committed in the 2002–06 education strategic plan to build more schools and facilities to accommodate students with special needs.
One of the key strategies of the 2017–22 Draft Education Policy Paper is to maintain and upgrade school infrastructure. The policy recognizes that ‘in order for students to benefit maximally from opportunities provided, the environment must be safe, secure, aesthetically pleasing and conducive to learning’.
According to the Draft Education Policy Paper, 60% of primary school buildings are over 50 year old and they are in varying stages of repair. A construction programme is needed to ensure the maintenance of school infrastructure, but the high cost of construction and repairs represents a barrier for improvement.
The 2010 Policy on Tertiary Education, TVET, and Lifelong Learning promoted a curriculum reform to increase relevance, improve quality and facilitate the development of a common sense of citizenship and the mainstreaming of gender issues in curriculum planning and implementation.
The 2011–15 education sector strategic plan stated that the education system must provide curricular arrangements and choices that ensure that cultural, ethnic, class and gender needs are appropriately addressed.
In 2011, the ministry commenced the process of updating and diversifying the primary school curriculum. Special focus was placed on students with special learning needs. The 2017–22 Draft Education Policy Paper sought to ensure that the curriculum is accessible to students with special education needs and to ensure the provision of learning tools and materials to facilitate their learning.
Learning materials and ICT
In 2005 the Ministry of Education approved the Draft Policy for ICT in Education, which established a regulatory framework for the use of ICT as a vehicle for transforming the education system. The ministry recognized that the use of ICT is critical for the transformation of the society and the education system and promoted ICT as a tool to enhance learning and teaching, communication and research and to generate innovative processes.
According to the 1966 Education Act, the minister of education should make the provision for the professional training of teachers for the entire system of public education and lay down standards which are applicable to their recruitment and training. The act establishes that the minister may create regulations for the provision of training for special education teachers.
The Draft Policy for ICT in Education encouraged the use of ICT in teacher education and teaching. The policy established that ICT should be used in promoting and providing teacher training in special education.
One of the goals of the Policy on Tertiary Education, TVET, and Lifelong Learning was to improve the quality of teaching and learning throughout the system and, in particular, to ensure that curricula are relevant and responsive to the national and regional contexts. The policy recognized that quality teaching was vital at the tertiary level and that there was a need for ‘technological re-skilling to prepare teachers to function effectively in modern, technologically advanced learning environments’.
The 2017–22 Draft Education Policy Paper states that teachers should receive training to identify and meet the needs of students with a range of physical and intellectual abilities, from those with special needs to gifted students. With respect to gifted students, the policy underlines that teachers need to be trained to identify and meet their needs.
The Ministry of Education created the ICT Teacher Professional Development programme to train teachers in ICT.
The 2005 Policy on Tertiary Education, TVET, and Lifelong Learning encouraged the establishment of an education management information system (EMIS) to ensure the effective management of the education system.
The Ministry of Education has a Monitoring and Evaluation Unit that plays an important role in facilitating and supporting continuous improvement of the ministry through the results-based management approach to monitoring and evaluation.
There is no evidence of monitoring and reporting mechanisms for inclusive education.