Inclusive education is defined as an approach that aims at transforming the whole education system to respond to the diversity of learners needs to increase access to education and enhance the quality of education. All learners are different; therefore, the education system must develop responses to this diversity. It involves the process of “increasing the active participation of learners in, and reducing their exclusion from the cultures, curricula and communities of local schools”. In Eritrea, inclusive education has mainly been considered as an access to education for persons with sensory disability.
Special Education Needs
In the Education Sector Plan 2018-2022, special needs education is the “education of students with special needs in a way that addresses the students’ individual differences and needs” (p. 113). Children in disadvantaged situations are children in rural areas, girls, children from nomadic livelihood families, children with disabilities, street or working children, orphans, and other vulnerable children. This process involves the implementation of appropriate teaching practices based on data and systematically monitored and adequate equipment and materials.
Formal educational services for children with disabilities started in Eritrea in the 1960s, mainly for deaf and blind children. In this regard, there are two schools for the deaf in Maekel and Anseba regions run by religious organizations and one government school for the blind in Maekel region. They are all in urban towns and all at elementary level and are of the boarding type. No additional special school has been opened in the last decade.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) has committed to reaching a stage where segregated and special needs classes “would be phased out”. In this respect, the MOE National Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education (2008) reaffirms that “schools should accommodate all children’, including children with disabilities” and the Education Sector Plan (2018) aims to enhance education access for children with disabilities at all levels. Nevertheless, at the same time, it also aims to consolidate the existing special classes. The MoE has made efforts in this sense to integrate children with intellectual disabilities into mainstream schools in a self-contained special classroom. In 2015/16, these classes enrolled more than 300 students in about 15 special classes of 15 schools of two zobas. Once they have completed their studies in specialized elementary schools, children with disabilities are generally integrated into general education institutions.
Even if Eritrea has not ratified the Convention against Discrimination in Education and does not have an education act, Article 21 of the Constitution (1997) states that all citizens have the right of equal access to publicly funded social services and that the State shall make available education to all citizens, within the limit of its resources. In addition, Article 14 affirms that “no person may be discriminated against on account of race, ethnic origin, language, colour, gender, religion, disability, age, political view, or social or economic status or any other improper factors”.
In 2003 and 2008, the MoE in partnership with international development partners DANIDA and EU respectively, initiated an action programme aimed to promote Inclusive Education advocating for “the provision of education for children in disadvantaged circumstances, including those with disabilities and other ‘special needs’ as part of the EFA frameworks.” At the same time, the MoE developed and disseminated “the guidelines on SNE and Inclusive Education”. The 2008 National Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education aimed to increase access to education and to improve the quality of learning experience of all learners in schools through curricular modifications and education provision as a whole to achieve the following objectives: to institutionalize inclusive education within the education sector; to provide a range of diverse educational opportunities; to build an educational support system; to write a curriculum and an assessment framework that reflect the diversity of learner population; to enhance the education administrators’ capacity in inclusive education; to empower school communities to address and respond to the diverse learning needs of children without discrimination of physical, social, intellectual abilities, emotional, linguistic and other conditions; to implement inclusive education through collaboration and coordinated actions. The MoE Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education (2008) reaffirms that “schools should accommodate all children”, including children with disabilities. Various strategies were identified to achieve these objectives, such as strengthening and developing data for inclusive education; developing flexible approaches to reach out to vulnerable learner; developing an educational support needs assessment; integrating the principles and practice of inclusive education in all teacher education programmes to develop their professional capacities; strengthening education in mother tongue; diversifying curriculum content and methods; increasing communities’ and families’ participation in education.
Eritrea has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), but Articles 14(3), 41(6)(C) and 52(1) of the Constitution directly address issues relating to disability. In addition, Articles 339-379, 591, 628, 670, 791, 863, 1728(3) and 1729(1) of the Transitional Civil Code (1991) address issues on disability or persons with disabilities.
As for policies, the Government of Eritrea reported that it has drafted a National disability policy (2014, link not available). This policy identified programmes in order to provide orthopedic appliances, cash allowances, educational materials, provision of education in special schools, establishment of community-based rehabilitation programmes and so on, for persons with disabilities in the country. Moreover, the 2010 National Education Policy aims to make basic education available to all free of charge, but does not contain specific guidelines on disability. We note the absence of recognized Sign Language training for education. Finally, Objective 2 of the Education sector plan 2018-2022 is to improve the quality of learning and learning outcomes for children with special needs through the modification/adaptation of the curricula for educating children with various disabilities and the increase of local production of educational materials.
The MoE developed Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education (2008). This policy reaffirms that ‘schools should accommodate all children’, including children with disabilities. Additionally, under ESDP schemes, the MoE constructed 25 special resource rooms in six zobas, and staged awareness raising among educators
With regard to implementation, the MoE initiated in 2001 a pilot programme “Special Needs Education within the Concept of Inclusive Education”, with the objective to inform policy trends and strategies developed in the field of inclusive education over the decades and to provide a conceptual background for the proposed strategy for the development and implementation of inclusive education. The programme developed in cooperation with the international development partners allowed the construction of 25 resource rooms in various regions of the country for children with disabilities. Also, between 2012 et 2015, nine primary schools, three special schools and one middle school as well as higher education institutions participated in a pilot project in inclusive education, which helped to implement learner-centered teaching and learning methods to accommodate the diverse needs of children with disabilities in classrooms.
Eritrea ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) in 1995 and drafted in 2009 the National Education Gender Policy and Strategy. This Policy endorses the need to recruit more female teachers, to serve as role models, to construct separate toilets and to provide material and financial incentives to schoolgirls. Eritrea also drafted in 2004 an Education Sector HIV and AIDS Policy. One of the objectives of the proposal presented by the government of Eritrea in 2013 to GPE is to “enhance equitable access to quality basic education for social justice” and to bridge the gender gap in education. The Education Sector Plan 2018-2022 identified “Gender disparity specially in low land areas” as one of the major challenges and gaps of primary education. This disparity was also identified in secondary and TVET schools. An objective of the Education sector plan will be to narrow gender disparity in literacy and continuing education programmes.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Eritrea is a multi-ethnic society with nine different ethnic groups speaking nine different languages (Afar, Bedawiet, Bilen, Kunama, Nara, Rashaida, Saho, Tigre, and Tigrigna). In this regard, Article 4 of the Constitution provides that “the equality of all Eritrean languages is guaranteed” and literacy programmes are given in all local languages since Eritrean independence. In addition. The Nomadic Education Policy (2010) aims to “ensure equitable access to education for all children in nomadic or pastoral areas, to improve the chances for the girl child in these communities to enroll and stay in school; and to integrate emerging technologies in the provision of education in nomadic areas”. Finally, the Education plan 2018-2022 seeks to translate the elementary level reviewed manuals into nine Eritrean languages, to prepare monolingual dictionaries in seven languages and to produce teaching songs in three Eritrean languages. In addition to this, the MOE also follows the policy of positive discrimination in the selection procedure of TVET schools by reserving 35% of the total entrants to disadvantaged ethnic groups. Furthermore, the disadvantaged ethnic groups are enrolled free of charge in TVET schools with boarding facilities. Adult literacy is delivered in all nine local languages at the basic literacy.
People living in rural or remote areas
The Education plan 2018-2022 aims to create information centers in remote villages; to support new literates to get up to date information; to introduce ICTs-based and learner-centered approaches in remote areas and to install solar power systems in rural schools with student population of 1000 and above. In parallel, the Government has constructed elementary and middle schools “almost in every corner of the country to implement its policy of equitable distribution and expansion of schools in rural areas”. Moreover to reduce inequality to access, the MOE established Skill Development Centers (SDCs) in selected areas of disadvantaged regions.
The Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper “indorses the provision of equitable access and the delivery of quality education at all levels for all citizens”. In parallel, the MOE established Skill Development Centers (SDCs) in disadvantaged regions. Furthermore, the MoE waives any financial expenses demanded by school for the poor and other disadvantaged groups; the disadvantaged ethnic groups are also enrolled free of charge in TVET schools with boarding facilities. Waiving any financial expenses for the poor and other disadvantaged groups is also mentioned among the strategies to increase the enrolment in middle education levels by the Education sector Plan 2018-2022. Community reading rooms are planned and managed as part a of the adult education programmes to enhance literacy skills acquired at literacy centers and to cultivate habit of reading among the population (p. 51). Currently, there about 90 reading rooms in six zobas, majority of which are located in three zobas (Maekel, Debub and Anseba).
The Complementary Elementary Education programme (p. 36), a joint initiative by the government and UNICEF, was developed to respond to the OOSC challenges. It started to be implemented in 2006/07 in 4 zobas with 2 main objectives: 1) to create alternative provisions for elementary education for out of school children aged 9-14 years old and assist those eligible to be mainstreamed to the formal system at the middle level; and 2) to support the other CEE beneficiaries (who could not join formal system) continue their learning in adult education programmes. However, most of the CEE learning centers “are located in remote areas very far from the nearest elementary
School”. Between 2007 and 2012, “more than 12,000 children enrolled at the first level and more than 800 joined the formal system at middle level”.
Since 1994, a section within the Department of National Pedagogy deals with special education. It aims to establish categories for pupils with special learning and behavioral needs, including orphans, refugees, individual suffering from trauma and gifted children. The 2011 National Education Policy underlines the MOE’s commitment embracing the equity dimension in efforts to expand access to general education. The Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education (link not available) highlights the need for collaboration across the education sector. In this regard, the MOE is the first responsible for inclusive education policy formulation, curriculum development, human capacity development, setting standards, and monitoring and evaluation. Also, based on the Legal Notice No. 1 of 1991, the Ministry of Education conducts teacher training courses and workshops to promote the education of children with special needs. In addition, it conducts pilot special needs education classes in some regions of the country. Then, the MOE is in charge of the provision of textbooks and it procures school facilities including furniture, teaching and learning materials as well as constructing class rooms, teachers’ quarter, Pedagogic Resource Centers (PRCs), laboratories and other school infrastructure.
At the local level, school principals and the Parent Teacher Student Associations (PTSAs) are responsible for the school development programmes in inclusive education.
Objective 4 of the Education sector plan 218-2022 is to strengthen the supply of curriculum materials. To this end, strategies 4.1 to 4.3 aim to develop curriculum materials, to equip schools with teaching and learning materials and to produce mother tongue teaching and learning materials. Objective 1.2 aims to organize workshops to prepare and print learning materials in local languages.
Objective 6 of the Education sector plan 2018-2022 is to enhance the institutional capacity of the education sector in relation to the deployment, accessibility and utilization of ICT. In this respect, an ICT in education programme launched in January 2005 has improved the quality of education by integrating ICT as a tool for teaching and learning as well as for educational management across the education sector. Since 2005, ICT labs have been established in 155 lower and upper secondary schools across the country, which represents 33% coverage.
Grades 1-5 textbooks were adopted to suit the educational needs of blind and deaf children and “support has been provided to the Eritrean Association for the Deaf and to parents of children with autism and Down’s syndrome to enhance their children’s learning opportunities". Finally, Zoba Education Offices and disabled people organization wrote an Eritrean sign language dictionary and other teaching learning materials.
According to the proposals presented by the Government of Eritrea to GPE in 2013, “the curriculum of CEE is similar to that of the elementary education in the formal system but it is adapted to suit the needs of the learners. Text books with teachers’ guides are prepared and printed although there will be need to reprint the texts to cover the expected surge in enrolment by the new CEE learners.”
With respect to gender, the Education Sector Plan (p. 87) mentions that several efforts have been made including the “provision of material and financial incentives to school girls, constructing gender segregated toilets, opening boarding and Para-boarding schools, development of communication strategies of girls education and use of affirmative action for college/higher education admission”. The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) also provides tutorial activities in middle and secondary schools.
Noting the “shortage of qualified teachers for children with disability”, the Education sector plan 2018-2022 seeks to conduct training of trainers on mother tongue education for 150 teachers at a national level and 1500 teachers at the regional (zoba) level. In this context, many NGOs such as the National Union of Eritrean Women and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students also assist with training courses and workshops for teachers across the nation.
Different initiatives have been implemented by the MoE. For instance, more than 4000 basic education teachers and members from the communities in six regions received an orientation on inclusive education principles, policies and practices. Besides, a guideline on educational support in inclusive setting has also been developed. In addition, since 1996, pedagogical resource centers have been implemented to support systems and to offer opportunities for teachers to work together and collaborate in preparing and implementing effective inclusive teaching. Several local trainings are conducted for teachers by these pedagogical resource centers. However, some of these centers are not functioning well due to lack of resources, personnel and proper management structure. Finally, between 2012 and 2015, the State of Eritrea has been training many teachers in making curricular and teaching adaptations to suit the needs of children with disabilities. Inclusive education support groups were also established in the different administrative regions.
The College of Education (COE) offers a psychology course “Special Needs and Inclusive Education” only to the degree students of Educational Psychology and Educational Administration programmes.
Eritrea does not have a national monitoring report. However, in the Education sector plan (2018), the source of monitoring data is identified for each indicator. The Education sector plan states that the indicators are aligned with SDG goals.
EMIS is the primary source for monitoring data and there is an EMIS focal person in each regional MOE offices. The MoE works in collaboration with the National Statistics Office of the Ministry of National Development. The MoE will lead consultation with regions to gather data to measure particular indicators where there are no existing data.
Here are some indicators related to inclusive education mentioned in the last the Education sector plan (2018): Number of children with disabilities in special schools and special classrooms for both boys and girls; Number of regular schools supported to ensure access for children with disabilities; Modified and/or adapted curricula materials for K-5 for children with disabilities; Number of special schools and special classes equipped with assistive learning materials to support SNs; Refresher training of 600 existing teachers in nomadic schools; Procurement of furniture for existing 25 nomadic schools; Number of classrooms constructed and schools rehabilitated; Percentage of the villages with access to adult literacy and complementary elementary education programmes; Gender literacy gap; Procurement of library furniture and library books; Number of WASH facilities constructed; Number of textbooks distributed for adult literacy in local languages. The Plan also mention the needs to establish an adult and non-formal education data base by developing disaggregated data collection systems to identify disadvantaged groups and gender disparities, and to target them for participation and progress in learning.