The 2015 Special Needs Policy does not provide an explicit definition of inclusive education. However, it defines inclusion as ‘the principle that all students are entitled to equitable access to learning, achievement and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their education. The practice of inclusion is not necessarily synonymous with integration and goes beyond placement to include meaningful participation and the promotion of interaction with others.’
Special education needs
The 2015 Special Needs Policy defines special education needs as ‘those characteristics which make it necessary to provide a student undertaking an educational programme with resources different from those which are needed by most students.’ Students with special needs are learners with an ‘intellectual, physical, sensory, emotional or behavioural’ disability, with a learning disability such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or with special gifts and talents.
As established by the 2009 Education Ordinance, as amended in 2014, learners who are ‘deaf, mute, blind, mentally retarded or handicapped’ are entitled to special education. Special schools, classes, clinics or services are established as separate units or in cooperation with other institutions (Art. 28). The 2018 Alternative Schools and Alternative Education Policy also provides alternative classrooms for children with disruptive behaviour and for school-aged mothers.
According to the UNICEF Situation Analysis of Children in Turks and Caicos Islands, in 2016 there were four special schools for children with disabilities on Providenciales.
Early identification, screening and assessment
The 2018–22 education sector plan promotes the implementation of a system of physical and psychosocial screening and referral to all students until 6 years of age. At present, early identification is carried out by non-government organizations, financially supported by the Special Needs Unit.
The education sector plan further mandates the schools to identify learners at risk to develop individualized programmes and assist them adequately.
Turks and Caicos is one of the 14 British Overseas Territories. Therefore, international convention or treaties can be extended by the United Kingdom if the existing legislative framework complies with the commitments. While the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been extended, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has not.
The 2011 Constitution Order prohibits any discrimination on grounds of ‘race, national or social origin, political or other opinion, colour, religion, language, creed, association with a national minority, property, sex, sexual orientation, birth or other status whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions’ (Art. 16.3). It further enshrines the right to free primary education for every school-aged child (Art. 12.2).
As a matter of policy, the 2018 Alternative Schools and Alternative Education Policy targets learners at risk of school failure or dropouts because of ‘social, economic, physical or/and psychological reasons’ and those who exhibit disruptive behaviour. It aims to promote the right to basic education to all school-aged children and ensure school access and completion. Among its objectives, the policy intends to develop a system of reintegration of children who have left formal education.
The Special Needs Policy sets out procedures and guidelines for the provision of special education services in public schools. It aims to fulfil the right to education for each student through adequate early identification and placement by promoting intersectoral collaboration and providing educators with continuous professional development. Learners with special needs between the ages of 3 and 21 are entitled to individualized education plans (IEPs).
Started as a bottom-up initiative, the Special Needs Association of Providenciales (SNAP Centre) is an education programme for 4-to-18-year-old children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism or dyslexia. Funded by the government since 2007, it is free of charge but only available on Providenciales.
As specified in the 2018 Alternative Schools and Alternative Education Policy, students with a disability who meet the requirements for special education are entitled to an IEP including learning expectations and alternative curriculum. Standards for developing IEPs are intended to improve the consistency and quality of the programme and the communication with the family. While a teacher is assigned for the coordination of each programme, the implementation of the IEP is expected to be a team effort including parents, the community and other professionals.
In 1986, the United Kingdom extended the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to the Turks and Caicos Islands. At the national level, the 2014 Sex Disqualification Removal Ordinance prohibits any disqualifications on grounds of sex and marriage (Art. 2).
The 2018–22 education sector plan intends to promote gender-equitable outcomes in terms of education participation and performance. Particular emphasis is laid on school retention and performance of boys by raising awareness of the gender issue, including boys’ education in professional development programmes, and rolling out a mentoring programme. The plan further intends to develop a responsive programme for young mothers. Specifically targeted at school-aged mothers, the 2018 Alternative Schools and Alternative Education Policy provides alternative education in the form of optional programmes to avoid stigmatization and the risk of dropout. Conceived as a temporary arrangement, the alternative programme follows the national curriculum, including parenting classes, and takes place in regular schools during the day or after school hours. Conversely, students who become pregnant in grade 5 can conclude the class and take the exams.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Language barriers have been reported as one of the main factors challenging education access and participation.
Developing a national school feeding programme is one of the priorities identified by the 2018–22 education sector plan.
Set up in 2015 under the Ministry of Health, Agriculture, Sports and Human Services, the Special Needs Unit is responsible for conducting needs assessment, maintaining a national registry of persons with special needs, and organizing awareness campaigns and coordinating related activities with other government agencies and civic organizations under the Department of Health.
The 2018–22 education sector plan further calls for empowering the special needs officer in the Department of Education and for strengthening the collaboration of the Ministry of Education with the Ministry of Health and the Department of Social Development. The 2015 Special Needs Policy calls for the appointment of such an officer by the Ministry of Education to support special education teachers and to provide them with adequate training. The special needs officer is also expected to develop a plan for children with special needs and to act as a focal point between the Ministry of Education and the Department of Health.
First established in 1999 as the Women’s Desk by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, and then named the Gender Affairs Unit, the Department of Gender Affairs currently holds the responsibility for gender issues in the country under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Transportation and Communication.
As prescribed by the Special Needs Policy, students with disabilities are entitled to adequate accommodation and a classroom environment or task that permits them to access and participate in the classroom and perform equally to their peers. Accommodations include alternative schedules, extra time in assessment, supportive aids, and use of scribes and signers.
The 2018–22 education sector plan calls for the provision of specialized training in ‘inclusive teaching and learning, including ESL, Special Needs Education, Multi-grade and differentiated instruction’. It also intends to expose all teachers, in particular at primary education level, to training in English as a Second Language and to organize training on gender issues and gender socialization for teachers, but also caregivers and principals.
The 2018 Alternative Schools and Alternative Education Policy calls for teacher training in special education to ensure 1 teacher for every 10 learners in alternative classrooms, while educators working in alternative programmes for school-aged mothers are expected to be trained in Health and Family Life Education.
As advocated in the Special Needs Policy, a school-based assessment team consisting of a school principal, a special education teacher, a classroom teacher and a counsellor is expected to support teachers and coordinate support services for the provision of special education for students with special needs within the school. One such team is to be appointed in each zone. Special education units have been planned to be set up in each school to facilitate the learning, socio-emotional and behavioural needs of students with moderate to severe disabilities. The units include special education officers, two educational psychologists, one speech and language pathologist and an occupational therapist.
After having received appropriate training, teacher’s assistants are appointed to support teachers in regular classrooms with students with special needs and special education teachers and are responsible for designing programmes. Itinerant teachers are expected to be deployed in cases when the number of students presenting a disability is considered insufficient for establishing a class.
Turks and Caicos provides an annual education digest. The digest contains data on the number of students with English as a second language.
As part of its first strategic imperative, ‘Provide Equitable Access to Quality Learning Opportunities’, the 2018–22 education sector plan calls for the implementation of a monitoring system that reports on the number of students with special needs in public schools.